Saiga

Photo by Dasha Urvachova

When you look at a saiga, probably the first thing you notice is its comical, bulbous nose that is slightly trunk-like. In some ways, they resemble something conjured up by Dr. Seuss. And yet the saiga is a real-life antelope living on the Eurasian Steppe, an open grassland that stretches practically uninterrupted from Romania to central Asia into Mongolia and China.

It will come as no surprise that the fun nose of the saiga is an adaptation against the cold, dusty plains. The nasal cavity of saiga is similar to a whale’s, yet in saiga habitat the nose warms and moistens inhaled dry, frigid winter air. In warmer, drier months, their noses help to filter out dust. That nose may also play a role in choosing a mate. A loud nasal roar by males is thought to be a way for them to show off their size and condition. Those noses are also apparently very good at smelling with.

Even full grown, these animals are about the size of a German shepherd. Like on other grasslands around the world, the saiga of the Eurasian Steppe also migrate in herds numbering into the thousands. And, fun fact, on a saiga’s second day of life they are already able to run faster than a human!

 

Self-Decapitating Sea Slug

Yes, you read the title of this blog correctly. There are actually two species of sea slugs that can (and DO) remove their own heads. This process of voluntarily shedding a body part is called autonomization. Other animals shed tails or limbs. But a head???

Perhaps a better way to explain this is that the slug sheds their body and the head moves along on its merry way. When the slug head leaves behind its body, it also leaves behind most internal organs, including the heart. A new heart regenerates in about a week and the whole body in about 20 days. The left-behind body does not grow a new head but can still move for over a month.

Researchers aren’t yet sure why these slugs do this, but one theory is that they shed their body when it is infected with parasites. That is one of the coolest, and strangest, adaptations out there! See the video and learn more here.

Bobcat

The other day at lunch during home learning, one of my sons looked out the window and yelled, “Bobcat!” We get a lot of wildlife through our yard, but in over a decade, never a bobcat. And yet, I’ve learned to pay attention when he says he sees something. Sure enough, an enormous, beautiful bobcat passed right by our window. It sauntered into the yard. We ogled.

This cat was an amazing site. On average they are twice the size of a housecat (and much faster!), but this one was larger than that, probably a male. It was healthy, with an amazing coat. Given the time of year, I wonder if it was on the prowl for a mate. I should be so lucky to see kittens in early summer.

Bobcats can live in a variety of habitats, yet not often in areas of heavy snow (like their close cousin the lynx). They’ve adapted to the suburban setting, too. While part of me is sad that this creature must share space with humans, I am so grateful that it is thriving. Though I do worry about the wild rabbits in our yard…

Cue the music…happy birthday to you…

Yes, the aliens have landed and my new picture book science series about space publishes today. My hope is that they help make space science engaging, enjoyable, and fun for kids. That’s one reason I chose to have the Universe as the narrator. After all, who knows more about space science than the Universe herself? And, of course, there are the aliens.

If I’m being completely honest, the aliens are my favorite part of the series. I have my editor, Andi Diehn, to thank for allowing me to include the aliens, and the illustrator, Hui Li, for bringing those guys to life. Even as I wrote the dialogue for those two, I didn’t have mental image of what they might look like. As soon as I saw the first sketches, I was in awe. I LOVE them – they’re perfect! So…come travel the universe with our aliens and learn about the Earth, moon, sun, and stars!

THE SUN: Shining Star of the Solar System

Oh, the sun…it’s slowly, slowly, slowly sticking around longer each day in the northern hemisphere. Daily temperatures are a little warmer. Spring is near. At last.

Our sun is one of hundreds of billions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy and yet, for us Earthlings, it’s obviously the most important one. Not only does it keep all the planets in the solar system in orbit, it gives us heat and energy and light. But what is most amazing about that to me is that our sun is not too far away from Earth, it’s not too close…it’s JUUUUUST the right distance. In fact, Earth is called the Goldilocks planet for that reason. If we were any closer or further away from our sun, life on this planet would be very different (or not even possible at all!).

If that isn’t amazing enough, the potential to use the sun’s energy to power the world is limited only by our imaginations and willingness to do so. In fact, the sun radiates more energy in an hour than we use in one year! See? One more reason to love and admire the sun! There’s a lot more to learn in The Sun: Shining Star of the Solar System, which publishes next week (March 15!) with its space companions The Earth, The Moon, and The Sun.

THE STARS: A Gazillion Suns

If you are lucky enough to look up at a dark night sky, it will shine with stars. They look like tiny dots of light. Lots of them. Yet have you ever considered how many stars are out there? Before writing this picture book series I hadn’t really focused on the number. In our galaxy alone, the Milky Way, there are 100 billion stars. Of course that is only an estimate – a low one. And on the high end of the estimate there may be as many as 400 billion.

Hold onto your head. There are that many stars in just our galaxy. Now, consider that there are approximately 200 billion galaxies in the universe (that we know of). That’s a lot of stars out there.

Stars have fascinated humans since ancient times. We’ve used them to imagine pictures in the sky – constellations, like giant dot-to-dots. We’ve also mapped the night sky to help us navigate (looooong before technology) and to determine agricultural planting and harvesting schedules. The Stars: A Gazillion Suns makes its way into the world on March 15 along with its 3 series companions (The Earth, The Moon, and The Sun) – come travel the universe!

THE MOON: Small-but-Mighty Neighbor

The moon is a small, unassuming celestial body – Earth’s natural satellite. We watch the moon through its phases, but other than that I’d bet most people don’t give it much thought. Neither did I. But as it turns out, life on Earth would be much different without our moon, if it were possible at all. Wait, what?

It’s true. The moon keeps Earthy steady; without the moon, Earth would be very wobbly, tilting too much on its axis. All that wobbling would mean a crazy climate. The moon also keeps the earth from spinning too fast. In addition to really short days, if the earth spun faster, winds and storms would be stronger. It’s incredible to think about. And small though it is (for a size comparison to Earth, set a green pea next to nickel), our moon is a mighty cosmic ally that we truly can’t get by without.

As I did my research about the moon my mind kept coming back to these facts. One random event in space that is responsible for the creation of our moon changed Earth forever. Want to learn what that event was? Or learn more about the moon? Well then, travel the universe with a couple of snarky, adorable aliens starting March 15!

THE EARTH: One-of-a-Kind Planet

In 2019 my editor at Nomad Press asked if I wanted to do another picture book science series, this time on space. Of course I said YES! But then I thought, oh no, space science is hard! And, it wasn’t a subject I was familiar with. As a kid I didn’t even much like space science. Right there was the challenge – how could I deliver information about complex subjects in a way kids like me could understand and enjoy? And maybe even be inspired to learn more about?

I started noodling. There were a lot of choices to make before drafting:

  • What tone did I want for the series?
  • Who would be the narrator?
  • Would there be layered text?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What do I want the reader take-away to be?
  • What is the hook?
  • What is the entry point for each book?
  • What else is already out there on these subjects?

These are all things an author considers, usually before writing a single word. And because these books were going to be a series, there needed to be consistency. Once I had all that figured out, it was time to write (of course there was A LOT of research too).

Now, on March 15, The Earth: One-of-a-Kind Planet will make its way into world, introducing students to Earth’s place in the solar system, how Earth was created, how life evolved, and more.

P.S. There are aliens in the book too!

Ponderosa Pines

Ponderosa pines are one my favorite trees. They grow straight and tall (they can grow to well over 100 feet!), have striking red bark, and smell like butterscotch. It’s true. They are like a living scratch and sniff. If you get close, scratch the bark with your fingernail, and sniff, it does smell somewhat like butterscotch. Other people say they smell like baking cookies. Either way, it’s always nice to get up close and personal to a ponderosa.

They are remarkable in other ways too. These giants can live 400 years. Quite possibly the trees you pass on hikes in the West were around long before our country was founded. Ponderosas are also fire resistant, thanks, in part, to their thick, insulating bark that acts like armor. The outside layer of bark can burn, but if the inner layer isn’t, the tree will survive.

Of course ponderosa pines are critical habitat for wildlife, too. Abert’s squirrels feed on the trees’ cones, buds, and twigs, and even fungus and tree sap. In addition, many types of birds including finches, chickadees, nuthatches, and jays, as well as chipmunks, enjoy the ponderosa pine’s seeds. Even the bark is choice food for beavers and porcupines. Clearly these trees are a favorite among wildlife too!

World Wetlands Day

When people hear the word “wetland” they often think “swamp.” Or they think of someplace mucky, stinky, and gross. Many people envision wetlands as overrun by disease-carrying insects. As a result, they are often drained, dammed, filled in, and used as dumps. But the truth is, as with any ecosystem, that healthy wetlands have few insects, aren’t smelly, and are vital to the overall functioning of our interconnected world.

World Wetlands Day is a day to celebrate wetlands and bring attention to their importance. For example, did you know that wetlands store and clean fresh water?  They do! A healthy wetland actually filters pollutants, working in much the same way kidneys do in the human body. Wetlands also act as a buffer against storms. Because they absorb water, they can help prevent flooding downstream. On coastlines, wetlands act as a buffer between storms and the mainland. Even more importantly in today’s world, wetlands capture and store carbon. In fact, peatlands, marshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds store more carbon than forests. And if all that isn’t enough to convince you of the value of wetlands, they are home to 40% of Earth’s species.

Learn more about wetlands here. Better still, go visit a wetland near you. There’s a lot to see and celebrate.