#3: CARRY

One simple thing that everyone can do is CARRY a reusable water bottle. Do you already do that? Congrats! If you don’t, are you wondering why you should? Because carrying a reusable water bottle eliminates the use of bottled water or juice, which is usually sold in plastic. Not only that, those bottles are used only one time and discarded.

Let’s say you’re on a sports team and there are 12 players, and no one brings their own water bottle. Instead, an adult provides bottled water or a sports drink for everyone. That’s very kind, but that’s also 12 bottles going into the trash or recycling (assuming they are properly disposed of). Doesn’t seem like such a big deal, does it?

But, maybe you have 10 games per season. So, if everyone on the team brings their own water bottle instead of drinking bottled waters all season, that is now 120 bottles saved. How many teams are in your league in your town? Multiply 120 by that number. See? The number is growing. And the amount of waste is decreasing.

What if everyone in the state did that? It may seem like such a small thing, but it can make a big difference, especially if you get your teammates, classmates, friends, and family to join you. And, remember, it’s…

…#YourPlanetToo

#2: WATCH

I encourage you to WATCH documentaries about Earth. Now surely you’re wondering, how does watching television help the planet? Good question. The answer is that by watching documentaries you learn. You can learn more about our amazing planet and its biodiversity. You might discover velvet worms, peacock spiders, or saigas. The documentaries will take you on journeys to the ends of the earth to wild places – remote islands, deep in the rainforest, or far below the surface of the ocean. Documentaries also reveal what’s happening to our planet. Some of them are hard to watch.

Jane Goodall once said, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall all be saved.” I truly, truly believe this. In our modern, fast paced world, it’s so easy to live our lives in a bubble. Really, we can easily ignore what’s happening. Documentaries, though, expose what’s at stake.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite:

  • Planet Earth (BBC)
  • Planet Earth II (BBC)
  • Human Planet (BBC)
  • Blue Planet: Seas of Life (BBC)
  • Chasing Coral (Netflix)
  • Chasing Ice (Netflix)
  • Mission Blue (Netflix)
  • Kiss the Ground
  • Dancing with the Birds (Netflix)
  • Our Planet (Netflix)

I know that there are many others out there, but this is a list of ones that have had the most impact on me and on my family. Feel free to suggest others. So, like my alien friends here, grab a snack, curl up with a friend, and watch a documentary because it’s…

…#YourPlanetToo.

#1: START

Dear Readers,

Like so many people around the world, I’m concerned about our planet and the biodiversity we share it with. Humans are affecting Earth like no other species before us. But we also have the ability to slow, stop, and reverse the damage we are doing. The time for change is now.

This amazing planet belongs to all of us. Therefore, we should all be part of the solution; we also have a right to demand change. Yet for most people, kids especially, where to start seems very daunting indeed. Yet youth activists from around the world have shown us that kids CAN and DO make a difference. Can I myself make a difference? Can I help kids make a difference? I’ll never know the answers unless I try. And I invite you to join me.

Today I START…I am taking the first step in honor of Earth Day on April 22. For the next year, I will post new ways for kids to get involved in protecting the planet. This is not to say that I expect you to do it all. Instead, I invite you to pick one action you believe you can commit to and do it. And don’t stop. The idea is that we all need to start somewhere, even if the steps are small. Remember, though, that a lot of small steps by different people can add up to whole lot of change. Get your friends, classmates, and family to join us. Take that first step because it’s…

…#YourPlanetToo.

Biofluorescent Springhares

Olson, E.R., Carlson, M.R., Ramanujam, V.M.S. et al. (2021)

I would imagine that just about everyone associates pink rabbits with Easter and children’s toy stores. Think again. Biofluorescent springhares are real animals. And they are biofluorescent (not to be confused with bioluminescent).

If an animal is biofluorescent, it means that the animal absorbs short wavelengths like blue light and emits it as longer wavelengths of a different color (red, orange, yellow, and green) when viewed with ultraviolet light. In the case of the springhares, we see them as pink. It’s almost as if the springhares glow.

There are two species of these hares that are biofluorescent, both of which are found in Africa. And, despite being called hares, these nocturnal creatures are actually rodents. Scientists are increasingly discovering mammal species (as well as birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish) with this same quality, yet are still unclear about the ecological importance. Most, though, are nocturnal or crepuscular, suggesting that animals that are active in low light environments use the biofluorescent cues for mate selection, avoiding predators, and foraging.

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!