I am currently working on a series of picture books about animal adaptations. We all know about camels’ humps, bats’ echolocation, and rabbits’ camouflage. But as I research, I’m learning about so many obscure and wonderful adaptations that get little credit. Right now I’m working on mammals.
In the animal world, there are many different ways that species fight. Conflict resolution ring-tailed lemur style is a whole different approach…STINK FIGHT! Lemurs have glands that produce horrible odors. When male lemurs need to settle an argument, they rub the odor on their tails. Then they waft their tails at each other. The one who can stand the stench the longest is the winner! This kind of stinky stand-off allows lemurs to fight without risk of getting hurt. If only people could learn from this.
I couldn’t believe it when my editor at Nomad told me that Biodiversity earned a starred review from Booklist. I’m honored. But not just because it’s my book. I’m honored because it has such valuable information in it about the amazing biodiversity on our planet and the threats to it. My hope is that the starred review will get the book into more kids’ hands. And that more kids will awed by Earth’s biodiversity. And that kids will be inspired to act.
The full review is on Booklist.
I know that spring officially arrived over a week ago, but it has seemed like winter just doesn’t want to let go. Despite this, the birds are singing, things are greening up, and the flowers are starting to make an appearance. Oh, how I love spring.
So as I wait patiently for warmer, flip-flop days, I will enjoy the flowers and watch the transformation.
I came across a Jane Goodall quote I’d never heard before and it summed up everything I’ve been thinking:
Only if we understand, will we care.
Only if we care, will we help.
Only if we help, shall all be saved.
What more is there to say?
Yup, you read right: whale earwax. Scientists study a lot of strange and amazing things, but that’s not one I thought I’d ever read about. Not that I’d thought about it at all.
As it turns out, whales produce earwax just like humans do. In whales, the buildup of earwax actually creates a plug in the ear canal; instead of impeding hearing, this plug acts as a hearing aid. The plug matches the density of water, allowing sound to travel through the ear canal unimpeded. Studying the layers of earwax allows scientists to learn more about a whale’s history. It reveals stress levels around mating. And, it shows exposure to pesticides and other pollutants. With advances in technology, scientists hope their whale earwax collection will open up new research possibilities. Gross. But really, really cool.
It probably comes as no surprise that many pollinators, especially bees and butterflies, are in danger due to pesticide use in agriculture, and habitat destruction and degradation. Monarch butterflies are among them. In some places the numbers have dropped by more than 80% of historical averages.
Understanding the problem is the first step to solving the problem. So, conservationists are working gather more data about the habitats that monarchs use during migration. One way they are doing this is by attaching tiny tracking devices to butterflies. Yes, you read right. These devices weigh less than a chicken feather, and, according to biologists, do not affect the flight and movement of the butterfly. Then, using an antenna and radio receiver, the butterfly can be tracked both on the ground or from an airplane. The information gathered about the monarch’s multi-generational migration not only brings awareness to the public, but can also be used to guide policy about conservation
In the meantime as spring approaches, plant a pollinator garden! Do some research to find out what kind of pollinators are in your area. Then research the types of flowers they are attracted to. Plan a garden that will bloom spring, summer, and fall then watch who visits!
Alligators may seem like an unlikely subject on a snowy March morning in Colorado when it is below zero outside. The thing is, when I’m waiting, waiting, waiting for spring to come, my mind turns to warmer climates. And lately, the alligator seems to be a recurring theme in my life.
I was never a big alligator fan, but after a trip to the Everglades last year my mind was changed. The American alligator is often misunderstood as simply a fearsome, prehistoric creature or considered the source of a pair of boots. By the mid part of the 1900s, they had been hunted almost to extinction in the Everglades. Eventually they were placed on the Endangered Species List, the hunting was banned, and some of the natural hydrology of the Everglades was restored (that’s a whole other story!). Now they’ve recovered to the point where a trip to Shark Valley will reveal a landscape dotted with them.
The most interesting thing I learned about alligators though, was that they are a keystone species and ecosystem engineers. Prior to the dry season, when most of the water disappears, these creatures dig alligator holes. These holes hold water throughout the dry season and provide refuge for many other species. And without the alligator holes, these other species would not survive. Now you may think these alligator holes turn into something of a buffet for their hosts, but they don’t. Most of the other species that take refuge there make it through the season because the alligators are estivating (something akin to hibernating).
There really is such a thing as a coral nursery! In fact, there are many. In the early 2000s, a man named Ken Nedimeyer discovered that he could purposefully grow and transplant coral back onto damaged reefs. In time he founded the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF). He experimented with different ways to grow the coral, ultimately settling on a tree structure anchored to the ocean floor. Each “tree” has a main trunk and many perpendicular branches; up to 100 coral fragments are hung from those branches. Many trees together make up a coral nursery! Once the coral has grown it is “outplanted” on a reef.
In 2009, CRF made history when their nursery-raised coral spawned naturally after being reestablished on the reef. It was the first documented case of this in the world. To date, CRF has seven offshore nurseries and is cultivating 11 different species of coral. They have planted more than 70,000 corals off the coast of Florida.
Admittedly, I am not a fan of winter. In fact, I am quite ready for winter to be over – for the birds to return, for the flowers to bloom, for the air to warm. That said, winter is not devoid of wonder. I’ve made a conscious effort this winter to get outside more, aside from my regular runs. I’d say I’ve been moderately successful.
This quest has set off a series of questions that could one day become a picture book. Why don’t geese’s feet freeze? Where do worms go in the winter? What do fish do when a lake freezes over? How does a marmot know it’s time to hibernate? How do rabbits find food? What do birds do during a blizzard?
I’ve also tried to focus on the parts of winter that are beautiful. On a recent snowshoe hike, on a cloudless Colorado day, I indeed found what I was looking for.
The invention of plastic certainly revolutionized the world. And slowly but surely people have found more uses for it. It’s crept into just about every aspect of life. Look around you. You’d be hard pressed to NOT find something made, either wholly or partially, from plastic within arms’ reach. Yet much of the plastic made is single-use. Much of is not properly disposed of. And 8 MILLION METRIC TONS of it ends up in the ocean every year. The thing about plastic is that it NEVER biodegrades. It simply breaks down into smaller and smaller bits. What that means is that EVERY bit of plastic ever made on the planet is still around in some form or another.
Enough is enough.
There are efforts taking place to stop plastic use. Many places are banning plastic bags. Some cities and countries are banning plastic straws. Individuals and groups are on the beaches doing clean-ups. One young Dutchman is exploring technology to actually clean up the masses of ocean debris swirling in the water. Others are developing biodegradable plastic. And I am writing.
The problem seems overwhelming, to say the least. But I think slowly, slowly we can change the way people think. I am starting with kids. I want to make kids aware of what is going on and start the hard discussions. Right now I’m fiddling with a story about too many hats – hats being the metaphor for plastic. The goal is to make it funny and a bit ridiculous. Because, well, isn’t the real mess we’ve created a bit ridiculous?