Let’s talk about tardigrades. Also known as water bears, they are an average 1 mm in size. Yet despite their size, they are among the hardiest organisms on Earth. To start, this micro-animal has survived all five mass extinctions. Yes, they’ve been around for a VERY long time (at least 500 million years). These hardy creatures survive being frozen or being heated above the boiling point of water. They are found in Earth’s most extreme conditions – from the hottest to the coldest environments. And because they are so hardy, they live everywhere on the planet including (Antarctica) and in every imaginable habitat. They prefer moist environments or bodies of water they but can go without water for decades.
Chances are there’s some near you – possibly in moss or lichen. If you have a high-powered microscope and need an activity, go on a bear hunt! Collect a sample of moss or lichen and place in a shallow dish with water for 24 hours. Then remove the excess water from the dish. Next, shake or squeeze the moss or lichen to collect the water that’s left. Transfer the water to a microscope slide and look for the bears!
Every year I anxiously await the return of meadowlarks to my area. For me they are a true sign that spring is actually coming. In the past couple weeks, I’ve been actively listening for them when I’m out on a run or walk. Alas, not yet. But, I have heard the grackles. They are a noisy lot, but they fill the air with song. I appreciate their boisterous chatter even if it is at 5:00 in the morning on a summer day. They make the world seem alive.
Grackles looks like stretched out black birds, with glossy black-bronze feathers. As I see in my own area, they like to flock together in those noisy groups, often in pine trees. These birds forage on the grounds in fields, parks, and lawns for seeds and grains; they’ve adapted well to human landscapes. In some areas, Colorado included, they migrate back in the spring to raise a family (or two!). The females are responsible for building the nest, usually in pine trees, but the males will help with repairs. They use twigs, grass, leaves, and other materials, and then line the nest cup with mud and soft grasses. Once the home is complete, females lay 1-7 eggs. Grackles may nest in colonies of up to 200 PAIRS. That’s a lot of chatter, but it’s awesome.
BIODIVERSITY: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth (Nomad Press, 2019) IS ON A TOP 10 LIST!!!
Specifically, it is on the Booklist editors’ Top 10 Books on the Environment & Sustainability for Youth 2020. I couldn’t be happier. Not only is this a true honor, but I hope this will get the book in the hands of more young readers.
As an author I have done a great deal of research about nature and the environment. I thought I knew a lot. Yet as I researched BIODIVERSITY, I began to understand how much more there is to know. The biodiversity on Earth is so remarkable it is beyond description. Through my close and careful investigation, I came away with an even deeper appreciation of the natural world than I’d had. I learned about extremophiles (look it up!), the wood wide web, the microorganisms that live between grains of sand on the beach, bee bacteria, and SO much more. More importantly, my research reinforced how intricately tied together everything is.
I hope is that readers will gain a deeper understanding of the biodiversity on our planet and will be inspired to help preserve it. If ever there were a time for change, it is now.
On November 27, 1995 Bill Watterson published this cartoon.
Its message is as important today as it was over 20 years ago – maybe more so. Calvin may be known, in part, for being cynical, mischievous, and adventure seeking, but so often he spoke the truth we all need to hear.
World whale day was actually yesterday, the third Sunday of February. But in my opinion, any day is a good day to celebrate whales. Whales are marvelous, mysterious, powerful, and highly intelligent creatures. They are mammals, like humans: they are warm-blooded, breathe air, give birth to live young, and nurse their young with milk.
There are two types of whales, baleen whales and toothed whales. Baleen whales tend to be larger, though they feed by filtering their food through their baleen plates which act like a sieve to catch small marine organisms. Toothed whales have teeth and eat larger prey such as squid, octopus, fish, and other marine species. This type of whale includes dolphins, porpoises, and narwhals!
The largest of all whales is the massive blue whale. It is also the largest creature to ever live on Earth. They can grow to a length of up to 100 feet – that’s the length of three school buses! If you can imagine it, their heart is the size of a car. And, of course, these huge animals give birth to huge babies. These babies are about 23 feet long and weigh as much as an adult hippo. The babies will nurse from their mothers for 6-7 months. They have a long life ahead of them, living an average of 80 years.
So, to celebrate and honor whales of all sizes on World Whale Day, learn more about whales and what we can all do to protect them and the oceans they call home.
With this blog I’ve reached the end of my cover reveal party. Antifreeze, Leaf Costumes, and Other Fabulous Fish Adaptations (Nomad Press, August 2020; illustrated by Katie Mazeika) is the last of the five picture books about animal adaptations coming out in August. Fish-wise, I usually prefer the pretty, tropical ones moving about a coral reef. Yet, like with the other books in this series, I learned so much about fish during my research and gained a new appreciation for them.
You may already be familiar with salmon runs and their migration back upstream to spawn in the same location where they began their own lives. The feat is epic. But while writing this book, I learned of another fish that must climb waterfalls to reach their spawning grounds. Yes, waterfalls. Even more epic. The Nopoli rock-climbing goby uses two suction cups on its body, one under their mouth and one under their belly, to inch up the rock. Mind you, these fish are not very big and they can climb waterfalls more than 300 feet tall. For their body size, it would be like a human climbing Mount Everest three times! A fabulous adaptation indeed.
Cover reveal 4 of 5: Water-Walking, Sidewinding, and Other Remarkable Reptile Adaptations (Nomad Press, August 2020; illustrated by Katie Mazeika). I’ll be honest…I’m not much of a reptile fan. Or at least, I wasn’t. But, in researching these prehistoric creatures, I’ve gained a new respect – they truly are remarkable.
I’ve written before about painted turtles that breathe through their butts in the wintertime and the American alligators that are truly the keepers of the Everglades ecosystem – helping to keep the system stay balanced and functioning. One of my other favorites in this picture book is the chameleon. Not only do chameleons have 360-degree eyesight, they have amazing tongues. Once they spy a tasty treat, they lash out their tongues with remarkable speed. The end of a chameleon’s tongue is a ball of muscle that works like a suction cup, snatching up the prey. These extra-long, elastic, spring-loaded tongues are so quick the poor insect doesn’t even know what happened (if they were a car, they’d be able to go from 0 to 60 in 1/100th of a second). Maybe it’s better that way. Chameleon tongues are so amazing that they are a source of interest in the science of bioinspiration.
The third of the five books in the adaptations picture book series is about amphibians – Sunscreen, Frogsicles, and Other Amazing Amphibian Adaptations (Nomad Press, August 2020; illustrated by Katie Mazeika). Amphibians are the evolutionary link between fish and land-dwelling critters. And they are a strange lot.
One of my favorites is the Emei mustache toad. During mating season, the male toads grow a mustache. Mind you, they aren’t hairy mustaches. Theirs are made of spikes – 10-16 spikes made of keratin (like our fingernails). It gets better. They use these to have mustache fights! True fact. The males fight for the best nesting spot in the water that will attract females. They use those mustaches to stab their rivals and defend their spot. Eventually a female will show up, deposit eggs for the male to fertilize and tend to, and hop back into the woods. The males hang around caring for the eggs. Their spikes fall off. Once the eggs hatch, the males too head for the woods. And when mating season comes around again, they’ll be wielding an all-new mustache.
Today’s adaptations book cover reveal is for the bird book – Spit Nests, Puke Power, and Other Brilliant Bird Adaptations (Nomad Press, August 2020). I love birds, but researching this book made me appreciate them even more.
I have always found hummingbirds especially fascinating. Yet my research uncovered new findings about how hummingbirds feed that made me go WHOA. Obviously their long, thin beak allows them to get inside a flower to reach the nectar. They also have a long, thin tongue. Yet it doesn’t work like a straw. Instead, they use the tongue to lap up the nectar, as much as 20 times per second! Researchers used a “glass” flower filled with nectar so they could film the feeding in slow motion. The results are incredible.
Last year I was given the incredible honor of writing a series of five nonfiction picture books for Nomad Press about animal adaptations (they will be published in August 2020). I knew right away that I wanted to go beyond the simple adaptations we think of right away – cheetahs are super-fast so they can hunt down a meal and turtles have a hard shell to protect themselves. I wanted to find and write about the little-known adaptations that make people go, “Whoa!” Researching and writing these books was SO MUCH FUN.
The education market doesn’t generally make a big deal out of cover reveals. But, the covers of these books (thank you Katie Mazeika!) are brilliant. So I am going to throw myself, and these books, a little cover reveal party over the next five weeks. Today, it’s the mammal book: Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations. Ta da!
In this adorable book there are many mammals with marvelous adaptations, including the giant anteater. So these animals, which can be as large as golden retriever, have that long snout. That snout houses a long tongue. TWO FEET long to be more accurate. Oh, it gets better. The tongue is like a long strand of spaghetti and is covered in sticky saliva small, backward-pointing spines to help the anteater better slurp up termites or ants (once they’ve used their long, sharp claws to tear open a mound). They can flick that tongue in and out up to 150 times PER MINUTE. They don’t even chew. They just swallow – up to 30,000 insects in a day. D-lish!