“In every curving beach, in every grain of sand, there is a story of the Earth.” [Rachel Carson]
Whenever I get the chance to go snorkeling, I’m always happy to see parrotfish. I’m not sure why I like them so much. Maybe it’s because they always look like they are smiling. Or that you can see their perfect teeth (which form a parrot-like beak). Or how colorful some of them are.
Recently I learned an especially cool fact about parrotfish – they poop sand. Like many people I’d always thought that sand was the byproduct of hundreds of years of erosion and the weathering of rocks. That is still true. But there’s more to the story. On some beaches around the world, the sand is the byproduct of parrotfish. Here’s how it works. Parrotfish scrape off coral with their beaks. The soft tissues of polyps, bacteria, and algae are absorbed. The hard calcium carbonate skeleton of the coral, however, is processed and pooped out as sand! A large parrotfish can produce hundreds of pounds of sand a year. I will never look at sand or parrotfish the same.
I’m in the middle of researching and writing a series of nonfiction picture books (for Nomad Press) about animal adaptations. One of those includes a book about fish. I honestly never had too much of an appreciation for fish that weren’t tropical fish until now. Fish actually come in all kinds of shapes and sizes with a myriad of bizarre adaptations.
In honor of Father’s Day, I present one of my favorites: the leafy sea dragon. They are peculiar and beautiful and wonderfully camouflaged. And, like seahorses (they are different species but are in the same family), the male sea dragon is responsible for taking care of the eggs (up to 300 of them!). He broods the eggs in a special pouch under his tail for about 6 weeks. That’s some kind of daddy daycare. Kind of makes you wonder where the mom goes…
I saw whales. Lots of them. In real life. And it was awesome.
While I am definitely a mountain girl, I do love the ocean and had the privilege of spending the past week on the Atlantic. One night, about a half hour before sunset, we looked out across the vast expanse of sea and saw a spout of water. Then another. And another and another and another. There were well over a dozen whales right there. As the falling, orange sun shined on the water, and the spouts and flukes of the whales rose above the surface, it was nothing short of magical.
June 8 was World Oceans Day. So in honor of the oceans and the whales that I saw, my next few posts will be about the marvels of Earth’s oceans. Stay tuned…
Writing about animal adaptations is fun. I’m not talking about giraffe’s long neck (to help it reach leaves on the tallest trees) or a woodpecker’s beak (perfect for tap, tap, tapping into the bark of trees to find insects). No. I am talking about all of the CRAZY adaptations out there that get so little press.
Take, for example, the shoebill stork. It has a big powerful beak. It can move stealthily through the swamps of eastern tropical Africa. But those are not its most interesting adaptations. The one that takes the cake is the fact that the birds poo on their legs to help them cool down. You read that correctly. Vultures do this too. Wow. Biodiversity is so cool.
Hooray! Spring has finally arrived. In the Rockies it certainly took its time this year. But now, the world is green, the birds are happy, and the flowers are up. Finally, it is warm. It is time to celebrate.
My writing goal is to teach kids about the amazing biodiversity on the planet and inspire them to act to protect it. Some days, though, it is hard to stay positive. Recently the UN released a report about the grim future facing other species on our planet. The report, written by 145 experts from 50 countries, estimates that of the eight million species on Earth, one million are at risk of extinction as a result of human activity. ONE MILLION. Think about that for a minute.
The main causes are pollution, habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation, invasive species, and, of course, climate change. I do not want to dwell on the details here. What I do want to highlight is that the report also says that it’s not too late. So the question is, what will you do to be part of the positive change?
How did I make it this far in my life without knowing about the velvet worm? These caterpillar-like creatures have been around for over 400 million years and there are close to 200 different species! These little critters, with waterproof skin and retractable claws on their stubby, cone-shaped feet, live in the tropics.
But while all of that is truly fascinating, the most interesting thing about the velvet worm is the way it hunts. They slime their prey. Velvet worms sneak up on an unsuspecting bug, and using nozzles under their antennae, spray the victim with a slime that quickly hardens into a trap. The story gets even better. Once the prey is subdued, the velvet worm bites into it, injecting it with a digestive saliva that liquefies the inside of the insect, making it easier to eat! Oh, they also eat their own slime. D-lish.
Meet the star-nosed mole. It is an unfortunate looking creature, but that nose is quite amazing. Those 22 creepy-looking, fleshy tentacles are not used for smelling, but for feeling. They are super-sensitive and quick, touching up to 12 objects per second. The star-nosed mole has possibly the best sense of touch in the animal world. Essentially blind, this helps them find their prey in the water or underground tunnels.
I never cease to be amazed by the diversity of life on Earth and how well-adapted this life is to their environments. I feel lucky to be able to write for kids to show them these wonders and maybe, just maybe, inspire them to help protect it.
I always look forward to spring the way a kid looks forward to their birthday…counting the days, waiting, counting, waiting. And then it arrives. And it is a gift to be treasured.
In the desert especially, spring is wondrous event. I’ve been doing an annual trip to Utah in April for many years now and am always awed by how the landscape is transformed for a short time. The desert itself is always amazing but the fact that life survives there is even more so. In the spring, there are potholes filled with water and blooming flowers. I always feel lucky to witness that transformation.
Today is a day to celebrate our planet and its amazing biodiversity. The first Earth Day was in 1970 and marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement to raise awareness about the human impact on the environment and to inspire action to preserve it. The movement had been building steam since the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, in which she warned about the effects of DDT on living organisms. Despite vicious backlash from the agriculture and chemical industries, Carson was able to stand behind her exhaustive scientific research and said, “We must begin to count the many hidden costs of what we are doing.”
So today take the time to hear the natural world around you. Slow down to watch the birds or discover a flower in bloom. Hug a tree. And perhaps, even if you are not joining an Earth Day event in your area, make pledge to make one change in your life that will have a positive impact on the planet and all that lives here.