Watch Elaine in her Arizona Illustrated feature video as she talks about passionately spreading science education through her many rescued animals and whimsical rhymes in her storytelling.
It’s Not Our Planet, It’s WePlanet
Older generations are known for disparaging the younger generation. Even Aristotle complained about youth in the 4th century BC, stating “they think they know everything and are always quite sure about it.” Perhaps we older folks are jealous of the exuberance of youth, but having “the wisdom of age” that comes from enduring life’s challenges that those youngsters have yet to survive.
Famous songs have been written about the concern parents have about their children. One of my favorites is “Kids Today” from the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” by Harry MacAfee. The lyrics clearly summarize the attitudes. It’s a fun little ditty but is closer to the truth than we care to admit.
So, it was refreshing that during my trip to Dominica, I met a group of young women who give me great hope for the future.
I was introduced to a social enterprise created by five incredibly talented young women: Christianna Paul, Mhea Bardouille, Kyanna Dyer, Kyra Edwards, and ZebadiJah Maxwell. They created WePlanet “to protect and improve the natural environment in the Caribbean for present and future generations by encouraging and rewarding individuals to adopt small eco-friendly decisions.”
At first, their mission struck me as rather typical of efforts I’d seen before: “WePlanet Inc. acts on its motto, “Small Actions, Big Change” by creating innovative solutions that encourage all sectors to be more environmentally conscious. One of these solutions is the creation of a mobile application that optimizes the use of Progressive Web Application (PWA), technology. The functionalities of the mobile app are specially curated to motivate, educate, and encourage everyone, including businesses in the private sector, to implement eco-friendly strategies and choices.”
But what struck me as brilliant and the feature that will make this effort successful is that it uses monetary rewards to get everyday people to participate!
Little Things Make a Big Impact
With the WePlanet mobile app, when a shopper uses reusable bags, buys eco-friendly products, or try the app’s Eco-Challenges, they receive money, discounts, and vouchers that can be used at their partner locations. The developers worked hard to cultivate partnerships with public and private businesses. The rewards are big enough to get people interested and involved.
This effort to educate people about the environment involves not only education but also putting environmentally-friendly activities into daily life. They have attracted attention. WePlanet was selected as a semi-finalist in the 2021 Technovation Girls – a global competition for girls in STEM; as a finalist in the 2021 Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP) Youth Innovation Challenge; winner of the OECS Island Ideas Challenge; and recipient of the Dominica Youth Business Trust’s Social Enterprise Incubator Grant.
These women have convinced me that the future is in good hands with innovators like them. Maybe not everything is wrong with the younger generations! For more information about this amazing organization, visit their website: https://createcaribbean.org/create/weplanet-inc/ or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/weplanet767
Join Me at TFOB!
The festival is coming! The festival is coming! On March 4 & 5, 2023, the best book festival in the country, the Tucson Festival of Books, will be held at the University of Arizona mall. If you’re a newbie to TFOB, or even a seasoned professional, planning your visit can be a bit overwhelming. Not to worry, I have some recommendations!
Join Me and My Fellow Authors
I’ll be sharing booth #325 with fellow author/illustrator Anderson Atlas. “Grab an Adventure by the Tale” will be in the Children’s section. We have books for kids of all ages, including those who are only kids at heart. Between the two of us, we have an incredible array of locally written and illustrated books. In addition, Atlas always comes up with an interesting decoration for the booth – you don’t want to miss what he comes with this year!
As you stroll around the mall, be sure to stop at the Arizona State Poetry Society, booth #413, and Tucson Sisters in Crime, #427. All of these booths will have books for sale by Arizona authors. Whether you prefer poetry or mysteries, these organizations will fulfill your desires.
Unfortunately, this amazing event only lasts one weekend. Clear your calendar and come on out. If you want to hear your favorite author, search for that one special tome, or enjoy learning some science, the Tucson Festival of Books is the place to be. Oh, and the funds raised go to support local literacy programs.
Love is in the… Cactus?
Ah, the heart! ❤️ The symbol of romantic love. An appropriate topic for February 14th is Valentine’s Day. It was in the fifteenth century that today’s typical heart symbol was developed. With the establishment of Valentine’s Day, the use of the symbol exploded. Its popularity reached the ultimate pinnacle when the ❤️ became a verb! It’s used in marketing (I ❤️ NY) and even on television show titles (Bob ❤️ Abishola)! What a compliment for a noun to become a verb. Yes, you can find love almost anywhere, in the form of a ❤️. Even in nature…
The Natural Romantic
Many of us delight in finding “hearts” in nature. Stone beaches provide countless opportunities to find objects, such as this heart-shaped stone:
There are rock enthusiasts who spend their time searching for these treasures around the globe. If you search for “heart-shaped rocks” on the internet, a lot of sites come up. We humans are fascinated by oddly shaped rocks. Heart-shaped rocks are particularly desired.
How did the rocks come to have a heart shape? Perhaps a vein of another rock type ran down the middle of it and erosion created the indentation. There must be a lot of veins running through the rocks to produce the enormous number of heart-shaped rocks found around the world; there must be a regular circulatory system running through the ground!
People are encouraged to place heart-shaped stones around their homes to bring love and peace into their domicile.
Walking around my neighborhood, here in the Sonoran Desert, I’ve noticed the prickly pear cacti have joined in heart production.
Many of the clusters have a pad in the shape of a heart.This nicely shaped heart was in my neighbor’s yard.
You can see several heart-shaped pads in this grouping. Perhaps this prickly pear has an abundance of love to share. Or perhaps the pads’ heart shapes are the result of damage early in the growth of the pads. An insect may have enjoyed taking a bite out of each of the pads when they were young and tender. Not all of the cactus pads are perfectly shaped, but we can forgive the insects’ lack of artistic ability.
With the indentation off the side, this one looks more like a mitten or oven glove.
So, along with celebrating the loved ones in your life, be sure to celebrate our earth and the plants we share it with. They’re producing hearts for us and our enjoyment. And give us flowers every year. What more could you want? For more natural valentines, check out this website: https://eos.org/geofizz/heart-shaped-valentines-from-nature-to-you
Hare, There, Everywhere!
Hares! Here, there and everywhere. I seem to be finding hares everywhere. I live in the Sonoran Desert with the very large rabbits known as desert hares. The actual common name is Antelope Jackrabbit with the scientific name of Lepus alleni. I’ve tried many times to get a photo of a jackrabbit with its long, pointed ears, but they are very wary and take off before my cell photo camera can focus. This really large rabbit is found in the deserts of southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico. They prefer an area with some grass and mesquite trees. Whenever I’m out in the washes in the surrounding desert, I look for these incredible creatures.
The Hare of the Ocean
But the antelope jackrabbit isn’t the only hare I’ve been hanging with lately. After the flooding of my house in Fort Myers, FL, due to the storm surge of Hurricane Ian, I sought solace on Bunche Beach. I wanted to see life returning to normalcy after the storm’s destruction. I hoped the ocean had repaired its injuries and that I would find creatures crawling in the shore waters. Sadly, the plants along the shore were severely damaged and mostly killed.
I looked for the usual King’s crowns, Melongena corona, but they were missing along with the grass beds that they lived in. What I did find on the sand bars (it was low tide) were little round balls of jelly or what I thought were gelatinous algae.
But when I saw more of them in the puddles, they were elongated and gliding! I had never seen them before but suspected they were some sort of nudibranch. Using my handy iNaturalist app, these creatures were identified as the ragged sea hare or shaggy sea hare, Bursatella leachii. Sea hares are opisthobranchs or marine gastropod mollusks that have a small or missing shell. Nudibranchs are a kind of opisthobranchs. I was close in my guess.
When I stopped and surveyed the beach, I realized there were thousands of these sea hares either sliding over the sand or awaiting the returning waves.
A Hare Beach Party
Why were all these sea hares congregated on the beach? I’ve visited Bunche Beach for years, during different seasons, and never seen them. Believe me, I would have been excited by the presence of such interesting critters.
I guess that the hurricane’s winds and currents pushed them onto the beach. Another possibility is they were mating, but why now, for the first time? No, I suspect their presence is the result of the hurricane.
I didn’t perturb the mollusks. It turns out that they release purple ink when disturbed. If I had known that, I might have disturbed some. of them, just to see the purple ink.
Without the seagrass beds and being forced on the shore, I was worried about my new sea hare friends. What were they eating? Apparently, the sea hares eat cyanobacteria, so the lack of grass wasn’t a problem.
Many authors find the slugs unattractive. But I think they are quite attractive. There were some nice color variations.
However, what fascinated me the most was the way they were gliding across the sand, seemingly effortlessly, like hovercrafts zipping along. This movement will always be the sea slug slide to me.
I like the hares in my life, both on land and in the sea. Perhaps next will be flying hares! Is wishing for a flying hare, hare-e-sy? I am willing to admit to being a hare-a-tic and I definitely like my hares, here today and not gone tomorrow.
If you’d like to learn more about the wildlife on both the land and air, explore more hare-lariously fun and educational downloadable workbooks!
What Strange Food is This?
I recently wrote a blog about popcorn for National Popcorn Day. Microwave popcorn is very popular these days. Microwave ovens often have a designated popcorn button built into them. In addition, various foods have been produced specifically for cooking in microwave ovens. I understand the need for speed when preparing meals. Most people need to get out the door early in the morning, or in my case, I had 30 minutes to get changed after work, eat supper, then get to a theater rehearsal. I greatly appreciated the convenience of those rapid preparations that sometimes left me time to look through my mail, too! The other day, in my local grocery store, I saw a microwave food product I didn’t know existed. I had to try it and obviously had to blog about it.
I’m, what I like to call, cuisinely curious. I was raised by a father who had the philosophy of “if someone else can eat it and not turn green, so can I.” When I travel, I prefer to eat the local foods to fully experience the culture. After all, food is essential to each area’s identity. I like to taste local dishes, learn about their origins, and how the food reflects the daily lives of the locals.
But this blog isn’t about any far-flung locale, No, this blog is about a discovery during a routine shopping trip. Microwaveable pork rinds! I didn’t know my usual grocery store carried microwaveable pork rinds. I’ve purchased regular pork rinds in bags next to the potato and corn chips, but never seen this intriguing creation: microwaveable pork rinds! I had to try them.
Time for a Taste Test
They came in the usual microwave popcorn paper bag and cellophane wrapper.
And like the popcorn bags, the paper bag had instructions, which I followed very carefully. Unlike popcorn, pork rinds don’t have any popping sound indicators to signal it is cooking or when it’s cooking is finished.
I admit I was a little surprised at the result. I peeled open the bag, cautiously. After all, the contents were hot. They actually looked like the bagged, popped pork rinds. Ah, but how did they taste?
They tasted like bagged pork rinds. Amazing!
About This Snack
Pork rinds, or chicharrones, are usually made of pork belly, but when I was a child, they were made from real pork skin. My father would bring home a strip of pig skin with an inner layer of fat. He would cut it up and fry it until the skin was crisp and the fat was cooked through. I enjoyed scraping the tasty fat off with my teeth and then chewing the crispy skin. It was a rare treat but one I still treasure today.
Today’s pork rinds today are puffed-up, airy pieces of protein. They are certainly crunchy with good flavor. I find them more satisfying than potato or corn chips and they are considered a “healthier” snack option. Okay, pork rinds may be better than chips, but they still can’t beat an apple or carrots.
Unfortunately, the microwavable pork rinds were relocated to the “reduced for quick sale” section of my local grocery store. If I had known about this product before it became a close-out item, I would have been a frequent purchaser. I may never again get to experience the remarkable microwave pork rinds. Unless it’s sold online…
The Tale of an Old Time Term
One of my favorite pastimes is listening to Old Time Radio (OTR) shows as I drive around. The other day while captivated by a comedy show, I heard an unusual word. I thought it was perhaps a slip of the tongue or a word created for comic effect. But then I heard it a few more times on other OTR shows. The word was “discombooberate.” I’m familiar with “discombobulate,” since my parents used it frequently during my childhood, but I had never heard discombooberate. The BOOB sound lands very differently on the ear than BOB does. Every time it was said, I paid more attention. The first broadcast was a comedy, but the subsequent occurrences were on mystery shows.
I learned about the impact of sound in audio stories when I was involved with the Hunterdon Radio Theatre (HRT) back in New Jersey. The ear catches details much more effectively than the eye. For example, I still remember a police drama episode where the door opened and never closed, even though the sound from the other room decreased as if the door had closed! I worried about that unclosed door through several scenes. Not a good thing for the show. Details like this are important when writing scripts, which I was doing for HRT.
I was curious about this new word version. I assumed correctly that it was another form of the word that I knew. Both versions are intentional comic alterations of the word “discompose” or “discomfit” which are old-fashioned terms for upsetting, confusing, disturbing, or frustrating a person. Word historians consider them be derivatives of “discombobricate.” The intentionally reworked word first appeared around 1834, as “discombobracated.” Since then, it has become “discombobberate,” “discombooberate,” “discombobulate” and “discomboomerate,” according to an article in the Times Leader (January 22, 2001). Wow! What a ever-changing word. I’m considering creating a new version. How about “discombobboberate”? That has a nice rhythm.
If you’d like to check out my New Time Radio theater or audio scripts, you can see them on elaineapowers.com. They are family-friendly. They are different lengths from five minutes to ninety minutes in length. Some of them, I based on the OTR style of talk show hosts, like the Bob and Ray comic duo. Of course, my talk show hosts are lizards, a green iguana, and a water monitor. They are entertaining and educational, just like my books. Don’t worry, they won’t make you feel discombobulated!
This Blog is Popping!
What food do you put down when a survey asks for your favorite food? I always put down popcorn! I love popcorn. I love the flavor, the crunchiness, and the childhood memories it brings. My father’s favorite snack was popcorn cooked with bacon grease. Many years later, I read a survey of popcorn produced in New York City that declared the best-tasting popcorn is made with bacon grease! I could have told them that. As you can see, popcorn has a special place in my heart. This is why I’ve dedicated this blog to my favorite popping snack.
The Magic of Popcorn
It’s magical how applying a little heat makes the small kernels explode into a fluffy white flower-like ball. No matter the color of the kernel, all popped popcorn is white fluffiness. Popcorn contains 15% water and is the only corn that pops. When the internal pressure from steam is too great for the shell, the innards explode, inflate and turn the kernel inside out. How great it is to have food that is both tasty and entertaining.
My father would make big batches that he first put in a big roasting pan, then transferred to large paper bags. I still use his pan, but mine never lasts long enough to make it into a paper bag. Occasionally, I’ll keep some in a plastic storage container, but it doesn’t last very long. I can eat it every day!
Apparently, I’m not the only person who loves popcorn, since there is National Popcorn Day on January 19. Popcorn can be prepared in many ways: plain (my preference), buttered (sometimes), sweet, savory, mixed and molded into a ball, or tossed with nuts and chocolate. So many choices of flavoring, if you feel the need for flavor enhancement. I even add it to soup instead of crackers. Popcorn is a good source of roughage, too! However, my dental hygienist did complain about having to pull pieces out of my gums.
The History of Popcorn
Americans consume 13 billion quarts of popcorn a year! It’s not surprising that the US consumes the greatest amount of popcorn in the world. After all, it is a local crop. The Old English term “corn” referred to the most prominent grain grown in a region. When Native Americans shared their most common grain, maize, calling it corn was their obvious term to use. Popcorn is a special kind of corn.
Maize has been cultivated for a long time. In the 16th century, Aztecs used popcorn in the worship of their god, Tlaloc, the god of maize and fertility.
In the mid-1800s, popcorn gained popularity in the US. Popcorn became part of American culture, when Louise Ruckheim added peanuts and molasses, creating Cracker Jack. The iconic snack was immortalized by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer Jack in their baseball song, Take Me Out to the Ball Game!
Even today, popcorn it’s a given to be sold in any movie theater. Popcorn is the perfect long-lasting snack to consume while enjoying visual entertainment. A bowl/bag/tub of popcorn can be consumed alone or shared with a friend.
Perhaps, some of your first cooking, like mine, either on the stove or a campfire as a child involved the disposable frying pans of popcorn kernels – Jiffy Pop. No dishes to clean up afterward. You can still buy it!
With the invention of the microwave, it’s obvious that microwaveable popcorn would be developed. In fact, Percy Spencer used popcorn in the experiments during the initial microwave experiments. Today you can use microwaves, hot air, or the traditional oil/grease to cause the water within the kernel to turn to steam and burst open the kernel.
The creators of National Popcorn Day encourage us to pop some popcorn, share it with friends and then post photos of it on social media using #NationalPopcornDay. Popcorn has been honored with a national day since 1988, perhaps longer. What a tasty way to celebrate one of the most important foods! Now, go pop some popcorn and dig into your favorite book or grab one of my science-based workbooks.
Bobbleheads and… Blue Iguanas?
On January 7, we as a nation will celebrate the spring-connected figurines known as Bobbleheads! I don’t remember bobbleheads from my childhood, but now they seem to be everywhere. I see them most often for athletes and teams. I often wonder how significant those figurines will be in the following season. And yes, this topic is a little unusual for my blog. But I just happened to find an unusual bobblehead worth blogging about.
A Short Bobble History
I was stunned when I learned that bobbleheads have been around for more than one hundred years! Bobbers or nodders, as they were originally known, were developed in Germany. They gained popularity in the US in the ‘50s and ‘60s, then again in the late ‘90s when those sports teams used them as promotional items.
You can probably guess by my dismissive tone that I’m not a big fan of bobbleheads. I’m not, except for one, very special, very important and very unique bobblehead. The only worthwhile bobblehead in my eyes is the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana Bobblehead. This amazing figurine was created by Joel Friesch and John Binns.
The Story of the Blue Iguana Bobber
Joel is known for his whimsical artwork that features the Blue Iguana. John Binns, of course, is known for his International Reptile Conservation Foundation. You might also have noticed that he formatted the iguana identification booklets I created to help people tell the difference between endemic iguanas and the invasive green iguanas. I provide the content and he makes them look fabulous!
The critically endangered Grand Cayman Blue Iguana, Cyclura lewisi,has inspired not only this great bobble head, but other marketing souvenirs as well. The bouncing of the head reminds me of the head bobbing by my hybrid blue iguana, Blue, which you see me holding in one of my marketing photos.
The blue iguana bobblehead was designed to help raise funds for the Blue Iguana Recovery Fund (BIRF). Note the details of the scales on the face and tail, the stripes on the torso and the lovely black hands and feet. The butterfly looks like it was carved from the unique Caymanian gemstone caymanite.
The BIRF provides support of the conservation effort of the blue iguana found on Grand Cayman. This is the only place, the only island, where this iguana species is found. So, blue iguanas are bred to provide juveniles for release in native environments, community education and habitat conservation programs.
Saving the Blue Iguanas
Conservation of the blue iguanas only started in 1990; most Caymanians didn’t know anything about their endemic lizard. Then came the invasion of the green iguanas (Iguana iguana), whose population exploded, destroying large parts of the island’s ecology.
Determined scientists and volunteers have brought the blue iguanas back from the brink of extinction. Education programs have introduced their fellow Caymanian to the locals. Visitors are greeted at the airport with a blue iguana statement “His ancestors have been here for 2 million years.” Perhaps these large lizards were mistaken for caimans by early European explorers, who gave the islands their name. Modern-day tourists are encouraged to meet the blues at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park. They are a remarkable color of blue.
Although I have authored children’s books and workbooks on Iguanas in general, I haven’t written any books about the blue iguanas. I have created identification booklets to help people differentiate between the magnificent blue and the invasive green iguanas. I’m honored to do my part for their conservation.
For more on the blue iguanas at www.blueiguana.ky
Elaine’s Latest Bilingual Book Featured in the AZ Daily Star
Elaine A. Powers and her recently released bilingual book, Guam: Return of the Songs, was featured in Arizona Daily Star on Sunday, December 4, 2022.
This is her 27th picture book and first to be presented both in English and the Guamian language of Chamorro.
The article touts the tale of “how non-native snakes decimated Guam’s ecosystem, and the subsequent remediation efforts is told in this rhyming picture book about invasive species; a section on Guam’s birds (including those now extinct) is lovely to see.”
Read the entire feature online at AZ Daily Star.
My Explosive Mauna Loa Tale
I woke up on November 28, 2022, to the headline announcing “Hawaii’s Mauna Loa is erupting for the first time since 1984.” Mauna Loa erupting always gets my attention. Before 1984, the volcano on the big island of Hawaii had last erupted on July 5, 1975. I know because I was on the side of it when it did! My volcanic adventure was certainly a tale to remember and share…
A Summer Like No Other
After graduating high school, I attended a summer science course on the island of Hawaii before starting college in the fall. It was a great trip with visits to the black sand beaches, scuba diving off the coast, making a rubbing of a petroglyph, walking across the lava field of Kilauea volcano (my shoe soles got really hot!), and camping on the side of Mauna Loa in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park campground.
The camping trip was almost canceled because the seismologists had detected 26 separate earthquakes in the previous 24 hours. Something was going to erupt! However, everyone assumed it would be Kilauea, as usual. Many tourists had checked into the hotel that had an overlook of Kilauea, specifically for that reason. Nothing like enjoying a meal as you watch lava splash.
A cabin in the campground had been rented for our group, but when we arrived, we quickly realized that there wasn’t enough room for all of us to sleep inside. No problem, some of us hardier folks volunteered to sleep outside in our sleeping bags. We were quite comfy and the night sky was magnificent.
An Explosive Night
Around midnight, we saw an orange flame leap into the sky. At first, the flame was thin but increasingly widened across the top of the volcano. Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, was erupting. That answered the question of who was going to erupt. This was exciting because it hadn’t erupted in decades! We, the outsiders, got up and enjoyed the show. Mauna Loa is not an explosive type of volcano, instead, the lava fountains fill the summit caldera, Moku‘āweoweo, and then spills over. Fortunately, the flow usually goes over the other side, so we felt safe in the campground.
We decided we should share this incredible event with the other campers, so we ran around the campground yelling “the volcano is erupting, the volcano is erupting.” Our classmates believed us and came out to enjoy the show. However, the majority of the other campers told us to be quiet (in stronger terms) and didn’t come out. They were rather upset with themselves the next morning when they realized we had been telling the truth. Hey, we tried.
One of the leaders yelled that we could drive to the top! We jumped in the van to go to the top of the volcano where the park service had erected a viewing platform over the summit caldera. However, halfway up, our driver stopped and turned around. We were low on gas and wouldn’t be able to outrun the lava flow if it came our way. Lava flows at 30 mph. People run up to 8 mph. It wasn’t a risk we wanted to take. Our retreat turned out for the best since the molten rock consumed the viewing platform on its way down the volcano’s side. Another 3 feet of land was added to the island that night
Unlike the current eruption, the 1975 eruption lasted less than 24 hours. Starting just before midnight, all activity stopped by 7:30 pm on July 6. After all, we had returned to the school that day, so why would Mauna Loa keep erupting if I wasn’t there?
If you found molten rock as amazing as I do, you might enjoy my downloadable workbook all about rocks!
No Ordinary Button
November 16th is National Button Day. What do you think of when you hear the word “button?” Do images of the many colors, diversely shaped garment fasteners come to mind? I remember selecting colors and shapes to add interest to my clothes. Then there’s the time spent searching through the massive collection that my mother had amassed over the years to find one that matched, or came close, to matching a missing one. But there is more to that word than one would expect. Join me as I explore more about buttons and share all about my favorite Button!
All About Buttons
I had never thought that much about buttons as a child, until my father mentioned harvesting freshwater mussels from the Illinois River to make buttons. In fact, it was quite the lucrative business in the area. The mussels’ shells were punched to create disks that were polished to reveal the shiny nacre, otherwise known as mother of pearl. Unfortunately, this industry led to the demise of many of the mussel populations. The loss of these water filtering mollusks increased the degradation of the river’s water quality. I tried to find the species names for the mussels involved in the button manufacture and could only find a few. Mentioned are yellow sandshells, pistolgrips, ebonyshells and the drilled threeridge mussel (Amblema plicata).
Or perhaps, your mind wandered to the phrases “cute as a button” or “to push my buttons.” Did you ever wonder where the phrase “cute as a button” came from? If someone was cute, you were saying they were clever or intelligent. Certainly, a compliment. But how does that relate to a button sewn on clothing?
The “button” in the phrase probably actually referred to a flower bud, which are attractive. The tip of a rattlesnake tail when it’s born is also called a button. The rattler can’t rattle until its first shed, when the first keratin segment is added. But I don’t think the phrase originators were thinking of a rattlesnake when they came up with “cute as a button,” although I do think they are cute.
The phrase “to push my buttons” refers to intentionally making someone angry. How it evolved from household appliances going electric and “push button,” I’m not really sure.
My Favorite Button
But when I hear the word “button,” I think of Button, my first and my heart horse. Button was my second lesson horse when I was learning to ride bareback. She is a Missouri Foxtrotter, one of the gaited horse varieties. She is both a “cute as a button” and “pushing my buttons,” kind of girl. Buttons taught me a lot about horse philosophy and the mind of a prey animal. But mostly, she taught me about the bond that can occur between females of different species.
Before Button, I never really liked horses. I like all animals and plants as a biologist, but reptiles have always been my thing. I had no interest in “owning” dogs and cats, which was enhanced by my allergies to them.But from the first time I climbed on Button’s back, we had a special connection. Given a choice of lesson horses, I always chose Button. Apparently, Button felt it too, since she chose me as her preferred human. I’m sure that rankled her owner, my trainer, at the time. When her owner’s life took a significant change, I was offered Button as my own and I took her. I really knew nothing about caring for a horse and the next few years were a rapid course in horse care, disease, attitude and how to ride! I’ve learned a lot.
Button is a gorgeous copper-colored chestnut with a flowing mane. With her seeming calm manner, she is definitely “cute as a button.” And with the attitude of a dominant mare, the stereotypical red-headed mare who feels she should be in charge, she can definitely “push my buttons.”
With age and the advancement of a non-operable tumor, Button has retired from riding. But we still take walks together and we still talk and share views of our world. Okay, I do the talking, but she communicates quite well.
On November 16, when the intent is to celebrate the world of buttons produced for clothing, I will be celebrating Button who brought such a wondrous change into my life. If you are interested in learning more about Button read my previous blog all about her on the Lyric Publishing website.
My, What Big Leaves You Have!
When I need an ocean fix, I head to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But when I need a green fix, I head back to my hometown of Peoria, IL. I call it my writing retreat because I sit on my cousin’s back porch, where my muse refreshes and my writing output increases. Having his two dogs draped on the furniture around me helps with the inspiration. I often take his Goldendoodle for a walk around the tree-filled neighborhood, to get some exercise and increase blood flow to my brain. After living in the Sonoran Desert for over a decade, the trees strike me as so…green! The trees are tall with thick branches and really big leaves! Why such a big difference in the flora? I’m glad you asked.
Small vs. Big Leaves
I’ve become used to the small, thin leaves of the desert trees. Their short stature, their thin branches, and the sight of the landscape through the leafy sparseness are what I now expect. This is a mesquite tree, common in the Sonoran Desert.
The significant differences between the leaves got me thinking about how the tree species have adapted to their environments. Desert tree leaves are small to reduce surface area thereby decreasing water loss. Access to water is limited in desert environments. In the Midwest, water conservation is less of an issue for the trees. They have leaves with lots of surface area. It’s interesting that leaves that grow in the shade (all those leaves produce a great deal of shade) are usually bigger. They need a greater surface area to increase their amount of photosynthesis. The leaves exposed to the sun can be smaller. No need for them to fight over the sunshine.
Some of the more common Midwest trees are the oaks. The average oak leaf can be up to eight inches in length. This is huge compared to the palo verde or mesquite leaves which have leaflets about an inch long. In addition, the oak leaves are present from spring until fall, since they are deciduous, drop off for winter. In comparison, the desert trees’ leaves tend to show up after rainfall.
The leaves are responsible for feeding the trees. Photosynthesis is where sunlight is used to synthesize carbon dioxide and water into food for plants. Oxygen is given off as a byproduct, fortunately for us oxygen breathers.
A Whole New Tree-preciation
I must confess, living in the desert has made me appreciate trees more than I need, as a once native Midwesterner. Sure, I knew they were important and beautiful, but I usually appreciated it when they bloomed in the spring or changed colors in the fall. Now, I more fully realize how critical they are to life in any environment. Animals and other plants really depend on their presence to survive.
If you want to know more about the plants in the Sonoran Desert, I offer a bit of information in How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird.
A Snake… with Legs?
We humans like to find ways of enhancing our means of movement. We strap wheels onto our feet, jump on skateboards, and climb on bicycles or motorcycles. We build cars to drive faster than we can walk. We build airplanes to fly in the sky like birds. But we’ve also invented wonderful devices to assist humans with mobility impairments. Furthermore, we don’t just build these devices for ourselves, we build them for other animals too. Explore some of these animal mobility devices with me, including one that gives snakes… legs!
Some Helpful Human Devices
Science and engineering have developed many useful tools for animals. Wheels allow animals without use of their back legs to roll along, from dogs to turtles. Then there’s the prosthetic limbs for alligators like Mr. Stubbs at the nearby Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary. Another remarkable prosthetic was the tail created for Winter, a bottle-nose dolphin.
Movement is very important to people, even if it borders on the absurd. For instance, I included the technology that allowed a fish to move its tank on wheel, i.e. FOV, fish-operated vehicle in one of my books. I used a FOV to allow my protagonist Clarissa Catfish to wander around the Peoria Play House Children’s Museum in my hometown of Peoria, IL.
How a Snake Got Legs
So it should be no surprise, I was intrigued when an engineer decided to give snakes legs, claiming they were reversing an evolutionary mistake. Robotic technology has really advanced over the recent years, so that a robotic exoskeleton could be built.
It took a few tries for the snake to enter the contraption, but once she did, she seemed to enjoy moving about with legs. Of course, she wasn’t controlling the movement or the direction like the fish did, but those could be future enhancements. I am curious to see if this technology leads to more practical uses or if this was just fun with snakes. Maybe if the legs had a camera like the fish tank, the snake could be in control. Giving snakes legs might be the ultimate in enhancing movement, but then again who knows where movement technology will lead us and our animal associates.
Oh, and by the way, don’t be surprised if your snake requests legs for its next gift-giving event! If you are interested in learning more about snakes, download one of my many educational workbooks on the topic.
Revenge of the Crows!
I’ve always liked crows and ravens. They’re very intelligent and dedicated to their families. They also don’t mind interacting with people. I’ve read about crows and ravens bringing gifts to their people in exchange for tasty tidbits. Crows have their own culture. Celebrity crows, like those kept at the Tower of London, have their own fan base. And of course, there’s the raven of Poe’s Nevermore fame. However, I was particularly interested in the article by Stephen Johnson entitled How to Befriend Crows and Turn Them Against Your Enemies. This I had to read!
A Crow Army
The author was trying to get birds to imprint on him, making them think he is their mother. Konrad Lorenz is famous for his work on imprinting with birds, so Johnson’s work should have been straightforward. He decided that he wanted a murder of crows following him around “like a black cloud of menace.” He intended to use his crow army to destroy his enemies. Oooh, cool.
The crow behavior that enticed Johnson was the ability to recognize human faces. He intended to be the Master of Crows! You can’t keep crows as pets, but you can befriend them, becoming their companion as they live their own lives.
Johnson’s Guide to Training Crows
- First, attract the crows. Provide a safe, quiet place for the crows to live, such as your yard. Crows can be socialized with people.
- Make sure there are lots of bushes and trees, for hiding and plotting.
- Eliminate items that irritate crows, like dogs and cats, chimes, etc.
- Provide water for cleaning their food and themselves.
- Provide food. Crows are omnivores, so practically anything will work. Johnson selected meat scraps because he wanted bloodthirsty crows.
- Feed in an open area with something shiny around it.
- Stay away from the feeding area, just lurk from afar until they are used to you.
- Be patient
- Feed consistently
- Gradually introduce yourself
- Become associated with the food
- If the crows are pleased with your delectable offerings, they may show their gratitude by leaving shiny objects in gratitude.
- Realize the crows will become territorial and protective of you. This trait could be effectively used against the neighbors.
- However, Johnson wanted his crows to only attack his enemies, not just generally attack people who were not him.
- Crows have people they like and people they don’t, and they remember!
- Not only do they remember people they don’t like, they tell other crows, so more of them dislike the same people. Okay, that’s scary.
- So, Johnson decided to get a realistic mask of a mortal enemy. While wearing it, he would annoy the crows. And annoy them until they’d hate the face.
That was Johnson’s ultimate goal. Train the crows to attack the people he hated. The crows would glare, screech, and, sometimes, actually attack. It would go on for years and years. The number of attacking crows would continually increase. A truly terrifying weapon for revenge.
This is a brilliant plan. However, Johnson should be careful that his victims don’t learn about this crow training method. They just might train a murder of crows of their own!
Excuse me while I go have a chat with the local ravens (crow relatives). Then maybe I’ll work on a list of enemies. I wonder where I can have masks made…
While I don’t have any books on crows or ravens (yet), I do cover many other bird species in my wonderful science-based picture books. Give them a read sometime!
Jellyfish in the… Desert?
The tram operators of Sabino Canyon in Tucson, AZ are offering nighttime tours this summer. It’s part of an overall upgrade to the beautiful park located in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest. Along with upgrading to electric vehicles, the tour narration now comes with personal earbuds. This reduces the noise of the tour and allows the guides to share more detailed facts. I enjoyed this more informative talk. But one fact in particular caught my attention. Jellyfish have been found in Sabino Creek! Jellyfish in the desert? I had to find out more, and I absolutely had to share what I learned.
The Desert-dwelling Jelly
With my love of marine biology, I was excited by the thought of a native freshwater jellyfish being identified in this local creek. How did the jellyfish adapt to the inconsistent nature of desert bodies of water?
Once I returned home, I immediately searched online for the jellyfish of Sabino Canyon. Yes, this jellyfish was identified, but what I read saddened me. This wasn’t a native freshwater, desert-dwelling jellyfish. No, this was an invasive species.
The jellyfish in Sabino Canyon is Craspedacusta sowerbyi. This species was first found in 1908. Since then, it has spread to 43 states. C. sowerbyi, or the peach blossom jellyfish, is a hydrozoan cnidarian. Originally from the Yangtze basin in China, this jellyfish is now an invasive species found throughout the world, except for Antarctica.
More About the Invaders
This jellyfish has about 400 tentacles along the bell margin. The body is translucent with a whitish or greenish tint. The tentacles have nematocysts, which they use to capture prey. This jellyfish prefers calm and slow-moving freshwater bodies. C. sowerbyi is noted for showing up in new places.
C. sowerbyi consumes zooplankton caught with its tentacles. The venom injected by the nematocysts paralyzes the prey, the tentacle coils bringing the meal to its mouth. I am curious what zooplankton in Sabino creek it’s eating.
This jellyfish can reproduce both asexually and sexually. Interestingly, in the US, populations of C. sowerbyi are either all male or all female, suggesting no sexual reproduction is occurring.
During cold weather, the jellyfish polyps can become dormant as podocysts. Scientists believe that the jellyfish are transported as a podocyst in aquatic plants or animals to other locations. If they find the new environment suitable, they develop back into polyps.
I’m saddened that the jellyfish found in Sabino Canyon is an invasive species and doesn’t belong there. I don’t know if they plan to take action to eradicate the jellyfish or what damage it is inflicting upon the native environment. Being vigilant against intrusion by non-native plants and animals is a continual effort to protect our many environments.
My recent release, Guam: Return of the Songs, is all about how one invasive species can damage an entire ecosystem. But also, the hope to repair it. Introducing the brown tree snake to Guam destroyed many native animals in the island ecosystem. This book tells the story of that invasion and the return of Guam’s native birds, in both English and native CHamoru.
All About Bats: A Citizen Scientist Update
Last year, I wrote about the bat survey I’m taking part in. Researchers at Texas Christian University are studying the usage of pools by desert-dwelling bats. I live in Oro Valley, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. And I have a pool in my backyard. Both make me a perfect candidate for this citizen scientist endeavor. It’s been one year since I signed up and here is what I have found.
A “Bat” of Info on the Survey
To identify the bats that stop by my pool I had to install a bit of technology. The scientists detect the bats through an ultrasonic microphone that records their calls. They use reference recordings of the different species expected in various areas. Once I have collected enough recordings, a student from the university identifies the bats heard on them.
I’ve been amazed and delighted with the number of recordings I’ve been obtaining at my pool. I find it interesting that when it rains, the bats are particularly talkative.
How Many Species?
Can you guess how many different species of bats were detected in my backyard this past year? I suspected I had at least 4 bat species around my pool, based on personal observations. Usually, I have small bats flitting about, frequently coming down to the pool surface. Once or twice, I’ve seen a few slightly bigger bats, but it was hard to precisely determine the size because they fly sooo fast. A special treat was when the BIG bats showed up. Recently, three of them even joined me in the pool. Their sharp triangular wings were incredible.
The researchers were busy analyzing all the recordings from the various locations around Tucson, so it wasn’t until recently that they were able to provide tentative results. They sent us a list of the bat species tentatively identified at each of our pools. I had 21 species of bats! 21!! I’m astounded.
I don’t know how many times each of the species were at my house, so expect another update. Most of the locations around Tucson had the same species of bats. One of them had an extra one, a spotted bat. I hope this species wanders up to my house.
Of the seventy bat species found in the Sonoran Desert, eighteen have been found in the Tucson area. So, which of them flies above my house?
Here is the tentative list:
- Cave Myotis
- Greater Mastiff Bat
- Mexican Free-Tailed Bat
- Silver Haired Bat
- Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat
- Western Red Bat
- Pallid Bat
- Underwood’s bonneted Bat
- Hoary Bat
- Western Yellow Bat
- Myotis California Bat
- Western Small-footed Bat
- Long-eared myotis Bat
- Arizona Myotis Bat
- Fringed Myotis Bat
- Long-legged Myotis Bat
- Yuma Myotis Bat
- Pocketed free-tailed Bat
- Big Free-tailed Bat
- Canyon Bat
I’ve suspected the big bat I’ve seen is the greater mastiff bat, but that’s only my uneducated guess. However, this species is on the list, so maybe my guess was right. Or it might be a big brown bat.
Another of my guesses is that the little ones I see most often are canyon bats. They are the smallest bats in North America. They are known for coming out early in the evening, which makes them easier to see. I’ve even got photos of them…kind of.
More Bat Questions!
Most of the bats found in this study are insectivores, but a few are nectar drinkers. This leads to the question of whether these bats are showing up for the hummingbird feeders or the water in the pool.
Knowing which species are present is wonderful, but there are so many more questions. How often did each species visit? Did they come at specific periods, such as only in July, or were they around for many months? What time of night were they active and for how long? The little bats seem to visit just at sunset and then fly off or is it that I just couldn’t see them anymore in the dark – they are small? How many of each species visited, one or many?
I hope to have this information for a future blog. However, I was so excited by the number of bat species that I had to share this early information.
By the way, the researchers at TCU are rather jealous. They only have four species of bats in their area. Maybe the diversity of bats in the Tucson area is why they are so popular. One of the famous activities here is going to the larger bridges over the washes and watching the Mexican free-tailed bats emerge at sunset. According to the list, I can do my own observations right in my backyard. I’ll also look a bit more carefully at those bats around my pool. Maybe I’ll be able to definitively identify these amazing animals who share my pool with me.
If you know any budding young bat scientists, I highly recommend My Book About Bats and Rats, a fun and educational workbook that focuses on the Caribbean Fruit Bat.
This Blog May Be a Bit Soggy
I’ve noticed when I’m trying to write, the ideas really flow. Not while I’m sitting at my computer, of course. But rather, when I’m immersed in water. Showers are great, but swimming laps in the pool really opens up the creativity taps. So many ideas will “float” around that I keep a notepad by the side of the pool. Before you ask, yes I did investigate underwater writing tablets. They weren’t what I needed to transcribe my thoughts quickly. Yes, the paper tends to get a bit damp, but I write carefully so that even water-smudged, I can still read my writing. If you’ve seen my scrawl, you’d know how hard it is to read on dry paper. Anyway, I digress. Intrigued by my soggy moments of inspiration, I set out to investigate this phenomenon. And wouldn’t you know, science has the answer!
Science Loves a Shower
This topic was inspired by an article by Stacey Colino in National Geographic entitled The science of why you have great ideas in the shower. Apparently, water-induced inspiration isn’t unique to me! The author summarizes the research of the past couple of decades into where in the brain creativity is activated.
Often when we grind away at a problem, we’re told to go do something else, work on another project. Frequently, doing activities on “autopilot” results in a mental breakthrough. Why is this happening? Scientists believe that letting your mind wander allows the brain to tap into unusual memories and generate new ideas. It’s not hard work that comes up with great ideas, but passive activities. Passive activities are those involving habitual actions or resting, like a shower. In fact, specific areas of the brain are more active during passive tasks.
Letting my mind wander is the best way to come up with creative ideas. Supposedly, it lets thoughts, memories, and ideas bounce around and combine in new ways. I imagine it as something like a mental pinball machine.
The scientists offer suggestions for increasing creative output. Getting sufficient sleep is important in solidifying the information inputted during the day. Immediately upon awakening, you should record your thoughts since they have tapped your creative potential. I do have a notepad by my bed.
Intermingle your day with mentally demanding activities, such as writing this blog, with more mindless activities to let your mind wander. So, why are showers stimulating mentally? Your mind is free to roam, there’s the white noise of the falling water, and ideas are allowed to bounce around.
No Water Needed
Another suggestion is getting out into nature. My friend calls it Vitamin N. Your thoughts wander when you’re outside, trying to take in the enormity of the world around you. The researchers suggest taking a walk. I prefer to get on my horse and let him do the walking.
Science recommends engaging in passive activities for as long as it takes your mind to unwind. But for many people, this leads to guilt. After all, why am I wasting time swimming or riding when I should be working on my next book or, more importantly, my marketing? Actually, taking the time to let my mind roam freely will lead to increased productivity and save me time when writing.
So, excuse me, I must go and daydream for a while. Maybe in a pool, sitting in the falling rain, in the hot tub, or a quick shower. Remember, power your muse with a shower!
If you’d like to shower your kids with science-based learning take a look at my educational and fun workbooks, based on topics such as biology and conservation.
What’s So Bad About Algae?
Even though I live in the Sonoran Desert, many of my book’s settings are in areas that have ocean beaches. Often in the Caribbean. These books deal with environmental issues. And with good reason. The Caribbean is one of the world’s most biologically diverse marine regions. That’s why I was concerned to learn about recent algae blooms in the region. Here’s what I learned.
Good Alga, Gone Bad
This summer, many islands in the Caribbean are suffering from too much sargassum washing ashore. Sargassum is a brown alga, which, unlike most algae that attach to a substrate, grows as free-floating mats. In proper amounts, sargassum decomposing on the shore provides important nutrients to the coastal ecosystem. The piles also help reduce erosion. Unfortunately, too much washed-up decomposing sargassum depletes oxygen in the water, resulting in fish kills. In addition, hydrogen sulfide gas is released, affecting people. So, the current huge amounts of sargassum are impacting the beaches, preventing sea turtles from nesting, boats from leaving docks, and tourists enjoying the shore.
This is why I was concerned when I saw this on my favorite beach in Florida. Was this sargassum on the shore? Was sargassum clogging the beaches as they had in the past?
I was relieved when I identified this as Red Drift Algae. Even though there have been times sargassum has clogged the area’s beaches, red drift algae are found in the local inshore waters and this build-up is normal. The algae are frequently found in small amounts along the shore, but recent conditions (high tides and strong winds) have caused higher amounts to drift.
All the Colors of Algae
When seen on the shore, we often call algae, plants found in aquatic environments, macroalgae, or seaweed. Macroalgae are algae that can be seen with the naked eye. Other algae require a microscope to be observed. Macroalgae usually grow attached to sediment. When they detach, they become drift algae. I use the pronoun “they” because algae are plural, and alga is singular. Macroalgae don’t have vascular systems like grasses or land plants. No, they absorb water and nutrients directly through their surfaces.
The various colors of macroalgae are used to divide them into three groups: green, red, and brown algae. Pigments give these plants their colors: fucoxanthin for brown, phycoerythrin for red, and chlorophyll for green. However, you can’t judge an alga by its color. Red algae can be green and brown as well, green algae can be yellow and brown algae can be red or green! This sounds rather complicated.
So, I shouldn’t be surprised by the various colors in the red drift algae on my beach. In addition, the shapes of the algae were different, which made me curious about what species of macroalgae might be in the mix. I used a nature app to try to identify them.
The app couldn’t positively identify this alga but offered some suggestions: genera Ceramium, Laurencia, or Jania. My guess is that it is Laurencia sp., based on its description. This red algae genus is found in temperate and tropical littoral zones. The littoral zone is the area near the shores of oceans, lakes, or rivers. It’s my favorite area of the ocean.
This green alga may be of the genus Ulva, commonly known as sea lettuce. If this is sea lettuce, it is edible by humans and manatees. I’m happy to leave my portion to the manatees. I know they will enjoy it far more than I will.
One alga that seemed easier to identify is this one. It looks just like its picture in the app. Then again maybe not. This genus is usually found in the Pacific Ocean, although there is a species found along the eastern US coast.
Codium sp., Deadman’s fingers
I am not satisfied with the wishy-washy identification of these algae species and will continue my efforts to learn more about them. Their presence on the beaches does impact other animals. Birds and crustaceans have to move around the piles. People find it in the way of their beach activities and unattractive in appearance. Hopefully, this natural occurrence won’t have too negative an impact but provide a beneficial impact on the ecosystem.
If you are interested in learning more about protecting our Caribbean beaches, check out my workbook, Five Ways To Protect Cayman Brac. It’s a fun way to learn about beach conservation!
Invasion of Jurassic Park
I like the Jurassic Park movie series, I mean I really like it. I enjoy watching reptiles eat well. Fresh food is important in their diet. It also helps that the dinosaur eyes and head movements are based on the real-life movements of my family members, green iguanas. The tilt of the velociraptor’s head and the eye color and shape of the T-rexes are very familiar and rather comforting. However, because of the use of their characteristics for the dinosaur portrayals, I don’t let my green iguanas watch the movies. I don’t want to give them any ideas. They are a little too intelligent to be given such ideas. But I do encourage you to give them a try, and let me tell you why.
The Science of Jurassic Park
As a researcher, I like exploring the biological techniques used in allegedly bringing these long-extinct creatures back to life. However, I did worry that the dinosaurs were not contained. At the end of one of the movies, the pterodactyls were flying along with the airplanes and helicopters. I shouted at the screen that someone needed to shoot them down…but no one did, despite the presence of military aircraft. No, they were going to let the dinosaurs fly to the mainland and continue to proliferate. Flying predatory dinosaurs!
I wasn’t surprised that the storylines evolved to include more and more interaction of people with the dinosaurs. After all, that’s what we do with interesting and exotic creatures. And we always think we can control nature and these creatures. We seek to make a profit off of them, either openly or in black markets. This happens today with modern reptile species. Poaching, smuggling, etc. are constant issues to the conservation of reptiles. (See my book Curtis Curly-tail is Lizardnapped.)
The Link to Invasives
I thoroughly enjoyed the most recent installment in this franchise Jurassic World: Dominion. Lots of raptor and T-rex activity. An unusual and fascinating side story about controlling global food supplies using prehistoric locusts was an interesting twist. Several reviews were complaining about the inclusion of the locusts, but the ramifications of such a creation should be taken very seriously. Such manipulations could, maybe not with prehistoric species, but modern ones are within the realm of possibility. Nice way to slip this in, writers.
But the philosophy expressed at the end of the movie, had me wanting to jump up and shout “no.” This was the idea that we should just accept invasives and learn to live with them. A lot of my conservation work has been in dealing with the eradication of invasive species, such as the green iguanas. I love green iguanas, but they do not need to be everywhere, destroying the ecosystems. And my most recent book, Guam: Return of the Songs, tells the story of the damage to the Guam environment from the introduction of the brown treesnake.
Of course, they showed a cute duck-sized dinosaur eating grain out of a little girl’s hand, but that doesn’t mean they should be there! Invasive species should not be accepted. Our very survival depends on a functioning environment.
Invasives impact our lives every day, from our neighborhoods to our food supply, at a cost of billions of dollars in the US each year, and trillions of dollars worldwide. The movie contends that the invasives are here to stay. After all, Nature will find a way. Consequently, humans can no longer pretend they are in charge, so we must co-exist. I disagree, we must continue the battle against invasives, whether they be actual plants and animals or fictitious dinosaurs.
Turtles and Tortoises Don’t Age?
Recently, one of my iguana companions died. Ezra, a green iguana (Iguana iguana), finally succumbed to old age. A green iguana, a very common pet lizard, Ezra had lived with me for 20 years after coming to my iguana rescue in New Jersey as a full-grown adult. He must have been at least 5 years old, probably closer to 7-8 years old. We had a special relationship, so I was heart-broken when his end finally came. Green iguanas usually live 15-20 years in the wild, but Ezra was most likely 27 when he passed. A very nice long life for an Iguana. After his passing, I came across an article in Life (23 June 2022) by Clare Wilson. It’s been observed that in captivity, some chelonian species have a lower rate of aging as they grow older. Keep in mind, turtles and tortoises are already known for their long lives. So why is this? That’s exactly what I wanted to know.
Negative Aging? Yes.
Knowing the life spans are important when considering these species for pets. The article described that some species living in captivity have a much slower rate of aging, approaching zero and, amazingly in some cases, a negative value. What? Negative value? Does that mean the reptiles got younger? No, we’re talking about the rate of aging.
Rate of aging refers to the likelihood of an individual’s death the older they get within a population. In most animals this rate increases rapidly as they get older; just think about mammals, such as us humans.
In contrast, some turtles and tortoises when kept in captivity have a decreased ageing rate. Captive care may be improving their longevity.
An interesting characteristic about turtles and tortoises is that they grow throughout their lives. Females produce more eggs the larger they grow. So, living longer enhances their reproductive opportunity.
Of course, none of these animals live forever. Is it the result of reliable food, good medical care and lack of predation and environmental dangers? That’s not fully understood. Or is it something in the animal’s physiology? This information could provide clues on how to increase human longevity. We always seem to bring it back to helping our species.
The Difference with Iguanas
Ezra Green Iguana’s life in captivity was not typical. Most green iguanas kept as pets have a much reduced life expectancy. Within the first year in captivity, 95% of green iguanas die; it’s 99% within the first two years. These are troubling and unacceptable statistics. Iguanas are beautiful lizards with a prehistoric look reminiscent of dinosaurs. Evolutionarily, however, they are fairly new. They are only native to the Americas. I ran an iguana rescue in NJ. I placed Ezra twice. Once to a truly horrifying situation that fortunately I was able to remove him from. The second time was to a wonderful family that wanted to use him for educational talks. However, he wasn’t happy with them. They built him a fabulous outdoor enclosure, but we discovered that he really wanted to live with me. When he was returned the second time, I promised him he could always stay with me and he did.
As a side note, when people came to adopt from me, I made sure the iguana chose the human and not the other way around. I also discovered that I had to leave the room, so the iguana would reveal its true feelings about the adopter and not be reassured by my presence. And people don’t think reptiles can differentiate between humans. But that’s a tale for another blog.
Some reptiles are easier to keep as pets. Green iguanas are not good choices. They require extensive lighting, heating, and enclosures as well as daily fresh food. As prey animals, they defend themselves first and worry about being pleasant later. As I often say, “everything eats as iguana.” It takes about a year of daily interaction to “socialize” an iguana. They will never be tame, but may become an accommodating wild animal. Their human companions must earn their trust.
If you’d like to have a lizard family member, I recommend bearded dragons (Pogona sp.) or geckos (especially leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius). Look for captive bred individuals – many of them have impressive color morphs.
This is one of my color morphs green iguanas: He’s a red morph green iguana.
Always check your local rescues for reptiles needing good homes. That way, you’ll get a new family member with background information.
My final thought is that I’m pleased that some turtles and tortoises do well in captivity. We need to ensure that we can say that about all reptiles we take into captivity. Want to learn mre about turtle, tortoise, and iguana conservation? Check out my educational workbooks. Made for children in grades K-8 but fun and interesting enough for the adults too.
Journal references: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.abl7811 and DOI: 10.1126/science.abm0151
Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2325563-some-turtles-that-live-longer-have-a-lower-chance-of-dying-each-year/#ixzz7XBcc1Zz1
Not Just Another (Wall) Lizard
I like lizards – no surprise there. In fact, the majority of my family is made up of lizards. But my love for lizards doesn’t stop there. Along with my lizard family members, I decorate my world with decorative lizards. Let’s take a little tour of my abode and let me introduce you to all the lizards that line my walls.
Walls Full of Lizards
Although I do have practical wall lizards, such as the wall lamp that lights up my wall (it’s a great reading light), the majority of my walls are adorned with artwork. I need to be surrounded by creativity. Being surrounded by beauty improves any day.
I rise each morning to this handsome creature. It’s a great photo of one of the species I worked on as a citizen scientist for Cyclura “rock” iguanas. This photo is mounted on aluminum, so it’s lightweight enough to hang easily on the wall.
Even though some of my artwork depicts real lizards, some are creatively colored. This multi-colored horned lizard was created by a Tucson area artist. My brother and his wife gave it to me to hang outside, but I liked it so much that I hung it in my kitchen.
I have some very special artwork on my walls. This piece lights up, showing the beautiful minerals used to create this representation of my character Curtis Curly-tail, who was the protagonist of my first children’s book. This art was created by Zee Haag of Tucson. Instead of a rock iguana, he created for me a “rock” curly-tail lizard.
The Lizards Out Back
My backyard is surrounded by a brick wall. This allows me to keep my desert tortoises outside but contained. Since it’s a wall, I, of course, must festoon it with lizard art. This is one of my favorites. I bought it in a store in Tubac, AZ. This store specializes in artwork from Mexico. I was attracted to this lizard because it was so different from the others that I‘d seen. I haven’t seen one like it since. Despite being exposed to the intense Sonoran Desert sun, it has retained its color. I’m impressed.
I also have metal and other lizards on my walls – so much open space for decorating.
However, despite my enjoyment of all this man-made artwork, there are wall decorations that I like more than all the rest combined. Like this guy, Sceloporus magister, known locally as the desert spiny lizard. This native lizard of the Sonoran and the Chihuahuan Deserts is common around homes here in Tucson. They are bold and willing to interact with the humans who have come into their environment.
Several of these lizards have staked out my patio. They each claim a 4-foot section. Every morning, they come out to greet me. My day starts off well. Sometimes, they do their dominance push-ups, but usually, they just scurry out to say hello. These lizards are as colorful as my man-made artwork. They have blue or violet patches on their bellies and throat, while their tails have green or blue spots. These highlights are on the body colors of yellow, orange, brown, or tan.
These desert spiny lizards are all crucial to the functioning of their environments, sometimes as the prey for other animals. They’re eaten by roadrunners (like in my book Don’t Make Me Fly) and even rattlesnakes (in my book Don’t Make Me Rattle!).
My love of lizards should be pretty obvious since they are featured in many of my books: the Curtis Curly-tail series placed in the Bahamas, the Lime Lizards of Cayman Brac, Andros Iguanas (Cyclura cychlura cychlura), and the Sister Isle Rock Iguanas (Cyclura nubila caymanensis). So even if you don’t want to decorate your home with lizards, you can enjoy reading about them!
Read About Elaine’s New Book in the AZ Daily Star
Elaine A. Powers and her recently released book, Guam: Return of the Songs, were featured in the Home & Life section of the Arizona Daily Star on Sunday, June 12, 2022. This is her 27th picture book and first to be presented both in English and the Guamian language of Chamorro. The article touts the the books conservation focus, as it “looks at Guam’s efforts to control the population of brown tree snakes — which have radically changed the island’s ecosystem since they came as cargo-ship stowaways during World War II.”
Mornings Are Never Long Enough
Are you a night person, like the yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea)? Or are you a morning person, like the green heron (Butorides virescens)? Personally, I like getting up in the pre-dawn darkness and looking out at the dark world. Although sometimes with a full moon, it isn’t very dark. So what does this green heron do with her day? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Good Morning, Muse
The first thing I do is prepare myself a morning beverage and sit down at my laptop to watch the horizon brighten. In the early hours, my muse is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The ideas form and the words flow out of my fingertips. I’m encouraged and optimistic. I listen to the birds and revel in their varied calls.
The early morning is also the time when I feel motivated to complete those household tasks. So, after a few minutes of writing, I want to get up and do things. Of course, I have the usual chores of feeding my reptilian family members. I pull myself away from my writing and prepare their morning repast. Then back to some writing, up to accomplish a task, back to writing, and so on. As the morning becomes midday, the writing zeal diminishes and progress slows.
An Afternoon Break
My productivity is also impacted by the need to ride my horses in the early morning of the desert summer. Once again, I whisk myself away from my flowing words to refresh my souls with my equine family. It’s good that I do that because along with interacting with another species, I get a lot of very needed exercise. Sitting at a desk or even standing at a desk in one spot for hours, is not good for an aging body. Perhaps I could wear a dictating device as I walked and rode, so I could multi-task and improve my efficiency.
Many days, as bedtime approaches, I say the famous comment “I need more hours in the day.” In reality, I need more morning hours in the day!
I’m fortunate to live in Tucson, AZ, in the Mountain Standard Time Zone. Sunrises come early, between 5-6 am, unlike the Florida sunrises that are between 6-7 am. Arizona gives me an extra hour and makes the morning a whopping seven hours long!
A Perfect Day
For me the perfect day would be:
- Get up an hour or two before sunrise.
- At sunrise, walk for an hour on a Gulf of Mexico beach. Somehow, I need to move the ocean closer to Tucson. Right now, it is 1350 miles away. A little too far.
- After my walk, I’d prepare breakfast for all of us.
- Then off to the stables for a ride.
- Home for lunch and a bit more writing, perhaps some chores.
- Supper at some point, when convenient.
- After dining, evening activity (like chorus) or doing research for future writing.
- Then to bed early to arise refreshed the next pre-dawn. As Ben Franklin said, “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy, and wise.”
This schedule would give me a nice mix of writing and exercise outdoors. Fresh air and vitamin D are very important. And don’t worry, I will make time to interact with people, too.
The early start time would not be a problem. When I started seriously writing I would get up at 4 am. I had a spot in the front room where I would work in the dark. My elderly mother lived with me. If she saw that I was up, she would insist on getting up. Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to stop writing and tend to her needs. I discovered I liked writing with only the glow of my laptop screen and a view of the pre-dawn desert.
More Morning Please
Where and when you write is a frequent question of authors. I confess I don’t write all day long unless the muse is really flowing and I have an open schedule to just keep going. No, I need to break up my life into writing and experiencing the world around me, whether it’s the tortoises circling my feet, an iguana sitting on my shoulder, the lizard out on the patio, or hugging my horse. Surely, there is time in my life to live. I just wish more of it could be in the morning!
Life with My Rascally Reptiles
Home sweet home. What do you think of when you think of home? Family? Safety? Danger? Well, maybe not danger, but there are so many things to trip over while going about one’s daily routine. Parents often complain about their children’s toys lying about on the floor, rug edges, strewn clothes, etc. My house is also full of trip hazards. However, it’s not what I’ll trip over but who. Yes, I regularly trip over my family members. Of course, they are rather short and walk very quietly. Sandburg’s cat feet have nothing on a tortoise or turtle feet. At least, my iguanas have the decency to click their nails on my tile floor as they approach. Join me for a day in the life with my rascally reptiles.
Rascals from the Start!
My day starts with tortoises circling me as I prepare everyone’s breakfasts. I’m trying to concentrate on all their plates spread out on the counter and I have to deal with multiple tortoises roaming around my feet. One moment, I’m alone, tearing collard green leaves, the next I’m being circled by several hard-shelled creatures. I move them away, but they just come back. Not only do I trip over them, but they walk over my feet, pinning them to the floor.
Another place that the tortoises like to lie in wait to trip me is on the rug in the front room. Their dark shells blend in nicely with my rug. They are particularly effective speed bumps when the room is dark. I’ve done a few face plants on this, fortunately, very plush rug, so no significant injuries. But it is always a surprise!
If I place something on the floor, the tortoises have to explore, pushing it or climbing over it.
You wouldn’t think an animal with this body shape would have such a need to climb. I guess tortoises and people are a lot alike when it comes to climbing. After all, why do we climb Mount Everest? Because it’s there.
But climbing isn’t limited to my tortoises. The master climber in the household is the box turtle. He particularly likes screens. And tight spaces. I put the box in the space to keep him from crawling to the back. Unfortunately, the box was an obstacle he could overcome…
I always double-check that there isn’t a turtle in the door before I lock it up.
As I mentioned above, the tortoises are tripping hazards. But I can’t get away from their attacks even while sitting. If they can’t go under or over something, they push it, like a bulldozer. They have enough oomph to move the chair with me on it. An empty chair can end up in a different room.
I have other reptiles in my family that I have to watch for. I always double-check my sofa before sitting, because there just might be a large lizard lurking beneath the pillows.
There’s a mouth at the other end of that tail.
I’m not the only household member who is targeted by the tortoises. At least they don’t flip me on my back and spin me like a top…
So, the next time you step on your child’s toys with your bare feet, remember it could be worse. You could be the unwitting or intentional victim of scheming tortoises, turtles, and iguanas. Those rascally reptiles! If you’d like to learn more about my reptile family please visit my YouTube channel and while you’re there, remember to subscribe!
Shell-a-Brate World Turtle Day!
If you are familiar with my writing, you’ll have noticed that turtles are a frequent topic. But wait, you may say, I thought you usually wrote about tortoises? I hate to admit it, but tortoises fall into the category of turtles! Please don’t tell Myrtle, my red-foot tortoise. I wrote my first rhyming picture book, Don’t Call Me Turtle, for her. She kept being called Myrtle the turtle, which she hated. Most people don’t realize just how different turtles and tortoises are. No matter if you prefer terrestrial or sea turtles, or tortoises, join together to shell-a-brate Turtle World Day on May 23.
World Turtle Day started in 2000 as an event sponsored by American Tortoise Rescue. The purpose is to celebrate all turtles and bring awareness to their disappearing habitats and efforts to protect them. The majority, 61%, of the 356 species of turtle are threatened or have become extinct in modern times.
What Makes a Turtle a Turtle?
Since turtles are a diverse group of reptiles, let’s explore what makes a turtle a turtle. As reptiles, they breathe air, lay eggs, and are ectotherms (their body temperatures vary with the environment). Turtles are all in the order Testudines, which is characterized by a shell developed primarily from their ribs. The shells consist of bone and are covered with scales made of keratin (the protein of hair and fingernails).
Turtles are found on most continents, many islands, and most of the ocean. What continent are turtles not found on? Antarctica, where it’s a bit too cold. They are found in both freshwater and saltwater.
Over Land and Sea
Land turtles don’t travel much, while sea turtles migrate long distances to lay eggs on selected beaches. But the sea turtles don’t travel alone, many other animals travel along with them. Barnacles (one of my favorite animals), other crustaceans, remoras (fish), algae, and diatoms tag along and are dispersed to new locations.
Land turtles are also important dispersers of seeds as well as modifying their environment. They dig tunnels and help. maintain the environment in deserts, wetlands, and both freshwater and marine environs. These seemingly lackluster reptiles have a significant impact on the health of their ecosystems and our quality of life. In my book, Don’t Make Me Rattle, you can learn about how many animals brumate* together in tortoise dens during cold weather. Animals that would be considered predator and prey, diner and meal, spend time together in underground dens. If turtle species are lost, many other species will be impacted, both plants and animals.
*In extreme temperatures, mammals hibernate, while reptiles brumate.
People are easily confused and can’t tell the difference between terrestrial (land) turtles and sea turtles. This results in land turtles being thrown into the ocean. I wrote a book on this difference on behalf of the Cayman Islands where many freshwater hickatees are thrown to their death in the ocean.
But this is also true of tortoises and land turtles. People too frequently throw tortoises into the water, where they drown. Turtles can swim, but tortoises can’t. More on this later.
So, where do tortoises fit into this family? When I ask people if they know the differences between turtles and tortoises, the most common response is that turtles live in water. But the correct answer is, that all turtles can swim, although they may never be near water. Meet Ela, my Sonoran Desert Box Turtle.
This turtle will never see a body of water but spent her life in the dryness of the desert. I did have another Sonoran Desert Box turtle who loved swimming in my pool. Every night I’d come home from work and find him paddling happily in the water, even though the water was very, very cold! The chlorine wasn’t an issue to him. I worried about hypothermia, so blocked his path to the pool – he left! His spot in my yard was taken over by Ela. Ela would brumate with Zoe my Sonoran Desert tortoise each winter and they would emerge together in the spring.
For some of the many differences between turtles and tortoises, I humbly suggest you read Don’t Call Me Turtle.
The Importance of Conservation
Why are turtles losing the battle to extinction? After all, turtles roamed about with dinosaurs and were able to survive what killed them off. Many are hunted for their meat and eggs, used in traditional medicine, their shells are used for jewelry, run over on the road, and drowned as bycatch. On top of this are habitat destruction, climate change, and disease. Sadly, this has reduced turtles around the world, something a meteor couldn’t do 65 million years ago.
We have witnessed turtle extinctions in our lifetime. I had the honor of meeting Lonesome George in the Galapagos, the last surviving Pinta giant tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii). His death in June 2012 was the end of a species. Although his death was publicized and mourned around the world, many reptilian species die without any notice.
But they’re just turtles, tortoises, and terrapins, right? How much impact could they really have? When the giant tortoises were reintroduced to islands in the Galapagos (Ecuador), the savanna ecosystem was restored. This allows for the survival of other native plants and animals. One keystone species can accomplish a lot.
People look at turtles and tortoises and see moving lumps. Nondescript lumps that make a nice pop when you run over them on the road. However, if you’ve ever gotten to know a tortoise or a turtle, you know they have a lot of personalities. They don’t hesitate to let you know their likes and dislikes. They are not “shrinking violets.” No, these reptiles bite each other, ram each other with their gular horn, and chase each other at surprising speeds.
If you look closely at this photo, you’ll see a bobcat on the right about to flee for its life from the rampaging sulcate tortoise on the left. Duke, the tortoise, was very proud of himself, strutting around the yard, looking for other predators to chase off. I should put up a “Beware of Attack Tortoise” sign on my gate.
Now, are you ready to shell-a-brate?! These fascinating reptiles deserve our support and admiration on May 23 and every day. My twelve tortoises and two turtles agree. If you have any questions about turtles, please reach out to me. You might also enjoy my turtle and tortoise videos on my YouTube channel.
Having Fun with Shadows!
Do you enjoy shadows as much as I do? As a child, I fondly remember making shadow puppets with my family, creating animals out of our hands. My shadows were always very simple and I admired people who could make more complex animal shadows. Little did I know that shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling. That makes sense, though; as long as you have a surface for a light to be pointed at, you can make shadows. Hopefully, this blog will shed some light on the shadowy business of shadows.
A Shadow by any Other Name
One of my favorite shadows is in that popular poem that I recited repeatedly as a child and, I confess, I still do today. You can’t go wrong with the poems by Robert Louis Stevenson.
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Me and My Shadows
I, too, delighted in the diversity of my shadow’s forms, and still do today. I even use shadows to examine my horse’s stride, since I can’t always determine what its feet are doing from my perch on its back. It’s so much easier when I can look at the horse’s shadow for confirmation that we’re moving correctly.
From my home in Tucson, I can see Pusch Ridge in the Santa Catalina Mountains, east of the city. When the sunsets, not only do the mountains change colors, orange to maroon, but shadows darken the indentations. These shadows give the ridge an air of harshness and mystery.
One mountain shadow near Phoenix is quite famous. From the third week of March through the third week of September, a shadow forms that looks like a mountain lion chasing a prey animal. This shadow forms in the Superstition Mountains, east of Mesa. The sun must be at the correct latitude on the western horizon to create this shadow. It’s amazing and spectacular to use one’s imagination on such a large scale. I wonder if the Native Americans enjoyed this phenomenon as much as modern people do.
Photo credit: Paul Fiarkoski for AZ Wonders
Shadows of the Wild
Shadows of trees can create a mysterious setting for a story. Moonlight on the desert’s sparsely leaved trees provides a satisfying effect.
My iguanas are also involved in my shadow observations. Calliope Green Iguana’s shedding skin created an interesting pattern along her back.
However, my rock iguana, Blue, did the best job of creating impressive shadows. The shadows of his claws are good enough for a horror movie!
And even though he is five feet long, his body’s shadow produced a huge reptilian creature! I especially like how his spines came out, too.
What are your favorite shadows? For me, Shadows can be useful tools, something to enjoy, or writing inspiration. I hope you’ll find something new in a shadow the next time you encounter one.
Why Don’t I Write That?
I’m so happy in-person book sales are returning. I love speaking to people about my books and about the importance of science education through children’s books. Many people are delighted to find my books and often suggest other topics for me to write about. I write them all down.
My most popular books are my Don’t series, which features animals and plants found in the Sonoran Desert (and other places), are popular in the Tucson area. Often people will comment that they’ve bought one or seen it for sale in various gift shops. That makes my day. However, even though I’m delighted when people recognize my books, I often get credit for a book I didn’t write: Don’t Call Me Pig! But I do have a story about it.
Once Upon a Don’t
Don’t Call Me Pig! is about the javelinas, or peccaries, of the Sonoran Desert. They are not pigs, although they look a lot like pigs. One clue is that javelinas don’t have tails! Another difference, which is important to my frequent topic of invasiveness of species, is that javelinas are native to the Americas (the New World), but domestic pigs (which become wild boars) are from the Old World (Africa, Asia and Europe).
Don’t Call Me Pig! was written by the very talented author, Conrad Storad. When I was planning on writing about the differences between turtles and tortoises, I wanted to emulate Storad’s book style. His books included many scientific facts and natural history, just like I wanted to do. When I bought my copy of Don’t Call Me Pig!, I discovered that his picture book rhymed. You may be familiar with my opinion that children’s pictures books should rhyme. Inspired, I created my rhyming picture book on behalf of my tortoise, Myrtle (not Myrtle the turtle!)
However, I was concerned about the title. I wanted to name my book, Don’t Call Me Turtle! Was this too close to Don’t Call Me Pig!? Even though, he didn’t have any other titles with Don’t Call Me, would people confuse us?
As I was contemplating my book’s name, I had the opportunity to sit next to Storad at a book festival in Tucson. This gave me a chance to speak with him. First, I learned that his book, Don’t Call Me Pig!, had just sold a million copies. Not bad for a rhyming picture book, published 1999. Modern traditional publishers have been wary of rhyming picture books, with some editors and agents refusing to even look at them. I doubt I will ever reach that sales level, but why not try?
I asked Storad if he minded if I titled my book so closely to his. He graciously told me to go ahead, that he didn’t mind at all. That was the start of my Don’t series about animals and plants that are found in the Sonoran Desert and other places. I am grateful to Storad for his kindness and encouragement. I doubt he remembers me, but I will always remember him.
For more information about my books and me, check out www.LyricPower.net. You’ll find tons of educational and entertaining books, downloadable workbooks, and puzzles.
Celebrating HerStory Month!
March is an important month for women! Not only was March 8th International Women’s Day. But it’s also HerStory Month, otherwise known as Women’s History Month. It is important to celebrate the vital role of women in American history for the entire month of March, not just one day. Learning about HerStory Month, got me thinking about my story as a woman in both science and the arts. I’ve written previously about some of the challenges I faced in my career, but this time I’d like to share some favorite and little-known highlights. Come celebrate HerStory month with me!
The Beginning of my HerStory
One of my favorite (non-science) accomplishments was helping to found the Hunterdon Radio Theatre. They produce New Time radio scripts in the style of Old-Time radio. My storytelling began with creating audio scripts, which are very different from writing stage theater scripts or books. All the information needed for the story is presented orally. Writing for the ear is much more difficult than for the eyes. The ear is unforgiving of “dead air” or incorrect sounds. And it can ruin the whole story for some! I remember listening to a police procedural where an officer enters his boss’ office. I heard the appropriate sound of the door opening and the background sounds becoming louder. As the dialog began, the background noise became quiet, but the door never closed. Instead of listening to the dialog, I was concentrating on the lack of the door closing sound!
Many of my theater scripts were performed live. One, the Shrine of Seven Iguanas, was actually recorded. I bet you can guess how many iguanas I had in my home at that time (the script title is a clue). Noel, my first iguana, was used as the model for the cover.
An Inspiring Artist
When I moved to Arizona, I transitioned to writing my science-based picture books. One of my books is set on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. A local artist, Monique Carroll, had created magnificent illustrations for the island adventure. She invited me to join her at a local art festival where we could market the book. The festival organizers had set up a blank canvas that the artists were encouraged to paint on. But after an hour, none of these wonderfully talented artists had applied any paint. So, I, with my very limited painting talent decided to get things going. I painted a couple of green swipes to create a sprouting plant since my adventure tale featured seeds. Those few swipes were all the impetus that was needed. No longer an intimidating blank canvas, the artists’ creativity was released and a masterpeice was created! And even though, many more layers of paint were added, my little starting sprout was still visible.
In the past few years, I’ve taken up horseback riding, in kind of a big way. I was never particularly interested in horses as a child or even as an adult until I retired. However, I had liked the idea of riding animals, all along. Before there was this:
There was this:
I’ve also ridden camels and elephants!
Conserving Our Future
Growing up, I wanted to be a naturalist, sharing my love of nature with others as well as conserving it. However, life took me into laboratories, where I worked as a research biologist. I did wander out to help with conservation outdoors. I volunteered to travel to the Caribbean to work on rock iguana conservation. No lying on the beach for me. No, I was chasing, large lizards over limestone karst, through thorny bushes.
Here I am with my friend, Jill Jollay, “processing” a rock iguana. We would take measurements, including weight, which was done by putting the iguana into a bag of known weight. This fieldwork introduced me to the people associated with the National Trust of The Bahamas, and subsequently, the Cayman Islands. Together we realized the potential of the books set in the islands to educate children and adults about important conservation topics. And a personal highlight, interacting with these incredible creatures resulted in me getting a rock iguana of my own to join my family.
This is Blue, a hybrid Grand Cayman Blue iguana. He is the star of my in-person talks to groups.
To the Rescue!
My love of iguanas led to my starting an iguana rescue in New Jersey. I was on “speed-dial” for many agencies because I always answered the phone and I always made room for any iguana whose life was in danger. I had up to 26 iguanas in my house at any given time.
This is Eddie, who spent a year with me while his mom was in Tanzania. When she moved to Uganda, Eddie was allowed to join her. Eddie remembered me when I visited him in Kampala.
This is Calliope, named for the muse of long poetry.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of my HerStory and are encouraged to make your own history. To learn more about me and my current goings-on please sign up for my newsletter!
Celebrate Invasive Species Awareness Every Week!
This year, National Invasive Species Awareness Week was from February 28th through March 3rd. It always begins on the last Monday of February. If you’re reading this outside of that particular week, it’s okay. The knowledge and prevention of invasive species are important enough to consider every week. Read on to learn more about why you should care about invasive species despite the day, week, month, or year.
What Is An Invasive Species?
An invasive species is any non-native plant, animal, or microorganism that proliferates in areas outside of its native ecosystem. It can be either on land or in the water. Also known as invasives, these organisms can harm the environment, human health, and the economy.
Get to Know Some Invasives
I’ve talked about animals, such as the green iguanas and spiny-tail iguanas as invasive species, but there are soooo many more. In the US, there are more than 6,500 non-native plants and animals. Some are so common that you might think they are native because they seem to always be around. For this blog, I want to talk about a few particular invasive plants. These plants were introduced to non-native environments for a variety of reasons. Sometimes intentionally, and sometimes they are accidentally released.
The Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia) were both introduced because they’re attractive. I admit, I enjoyed the purple flowers of the loosestrife as I kayaked the rivers of Michigan and New Jersey. However, it did strike me as odd that it was spread out so extensively. That’s what invasives do, they out-compete the native plants.
I spend a great deal of time in Florida. Many Floridians would tell me about the gorgeous bushy tree they had in their yards, the Brazilian pepper or Florida holly as it’s called locally. The leaves and red berries are often used in holiday decorations. However, this non-native plant very successfully forced native plants out of the area. I spent two summers working to remove them from the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The roots had to be destroyed because the plant would regrow if any were left alive. In addition, when the berries ripened and fermented, birds would eat them and become drunk. No matter how humorous the birds look hanging upside down and singing, this is very dangerous for them.
(Photo courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr)
The Dangers of Invasive Species
Even though invasive animal species get the most attention, plants can be dangerous, too. Just how dangerous? If you’ve ever seen kudzu, (Pueraria lobata) grow, you know how destructive plants can be. Kudzu is known as the “plant that ate the South.” Originally planted to help with ground erosion control, it spread over trees, vehicles, and even buildings. Kudzu can grow up to a foot a day. Yes, you can really watch this plant grow.
Then there’s the symbol of the desert West, the humble tumbleweed (Kali tragus). Nothing says desolation in a show than a tumbleweed blowing across the dusty ground. But tumbleweed seeds came from Russia. The portion of the plant that is seen rolling along the ground is the seed dispersal unit. Unfortunately, the seemingly harmless balls of rolling branches actually cause significant losses through traffic accidents, invasion of agricultural operations, and property damage!
I was surprised to learn that the multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is invasive. My neighbors in New Jersey had a glorious hedge of multiflora rose on top of their backyard fence. I enjoyed the aroma and multitude of flowers. Little did I know how well the rose out-competed the native understory plants.
Invasive species and conservation of native plants and animals is a worldwide issue. Learn some ways locals are protecting wildlife in the Cayman Islands or some of the native species found in North America with my fun and interactive workbooks! You can find them all here.