Today, February 26, is Tell a Fairy Tale Day. A fairy tale is defined as a children’s story about imaginary or magical beings and lands. Some fairy tales have been around so long they are part of folklore, passed down from storyteller to storyteller. Many of the fairy tales popular today were written in the 1800s; you might be familiar with those written by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.
I am excited to tell you that fairy tales are still being created today. These stories and characters might still be popular two hundred years from now.
Tabby the Five-Finger Fairy is a new magical being, a fairy who lives in the common Five-finger tree, Tabebuia bahamensis, found only in the Lucayan Archipelago. The land in my fairy tale is very real, but it is a wondrous, I might even say, magical, place: The Bahamas. It is hoped by Scott Johnson, Tabby’s creator, and The Bahamas National Trust, and me that Tabby (illustrated by Nicholas Thorpe), who loves Bahamian wildlife, bush teas, and making friends with animals and humans alike, will become a symbol for conservation and environmental education, not only in the islands but around the world.
I came across this beauty, a Western Diamondback Rattler, on a recent ride in the Sonoran Desert.
Ooh, February 1st is National Serpent Day! Some of my favorite animals are serpents. I grew up with snakes as family pets, mostly garter snakes, because my brother was allergic to fur. We cuddled them like you would any other pet.
The term serpent usually refers to a large snake, often in a negative way. In my books, I try to educate people about the value of snakes, to respect them, not to fear them. Religious beliefs have, unfortunately, been used to persecute snakes, which are important to the ecosystem of the human environment. Imagine a world overrun with rodents.
One of the misunderstood serpents in the Sonoran Desert, where I currently reside, is the rattlesnake. You can learn all about them in Don’t Make Me Rattle! You’ll learn about what great mothers’ rattlers are, how they collect drinking water, what their venom is really used for and many other interesting facts.
Another misunderstood and persecuted snake is the rainbow boa of The Bahamas. I’ve written a couple of books about the gorgeous rainbow boa.
One is more of a natural history book, The Bahamian Boa: A Tabby Tale, while the other is an adventure tale, Tabby and Cleo: Unexpected Friends. It includes Bahamian folk tales and a study of human nature and is a true tale of friendship. Don’t worry, the adventure tale is full of science, as well.
May I suggest you get to know more about serpents and the important roles they play in their ecosystems, whether in person in your neighborhood or with a good book? Here are a few of the serpents I’ve known personally.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes
This rattler was born in my garage.
Met this magnificent rattler while walking my horse.
Here is Albert finishing up his recovery in foster care. By the way, he’s very adept at using his magnificent tail for defense!
The Sonoran Desert is not known for its wetlands. That’s why the Sweetwater Wetlands are so special. This isn’t a natural wetlands, but was created by the City of Tucson’s reclaimed water system. Reclaimed water is used exclusively in the wetlands. Visitors have access to the wetlands and the inhabitants through 2.5 miles of pathways.
Surface water attracts wildlife in the desert, so many can be seen in the Sweetwater Wetlands. Being particularly fond of reptiles, I’m curious about what kinds might be there. Several reptiles are known to inhabit the wetlands, such as the Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus), Western Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata), Sonoran Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer affnis) and the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox).
However, recently a reptile was seen that definitely did not belong there. It’s bad enough that Red-eared Slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) have been introduced there, and the Sweetwater Wetlands does not need Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana).
Unfortunately, green iguanas have become invasive in many ecosystems around the world because people release them where they don’t belong, like the Sweetwater Wetlands. Part of my work in iguana conservation is to help people identify green iguanas. If you’d like more information on iguanas, please visit my website and contact me through elaineapowers.com.
After several reports were received about a male iguana in the wetlands, the Animal Experts were called. They had to wade through the water to reach the tree where the iguana was hanging out. Definitely, an incredible adventure. The men were able to successfully retrieve the lizard. You can follow their story on Animal Experts on Facebook.
The iguana was taken to a local reptile veterinarian who discovered he had a large bladder stone. It is suspected that this is why he was released. The staff named him Albert. Surgery was performed to remove the stone and Albert was put into foster care to recover.
Photo of the bladder stone removed by Dr. Jarchow of Orange Grove Animal Hospital.
A GoFundMe account was set up to help pay for Albert’s medical costs. As soon as he has healed, Albert will be put up for adoption. Hopefully, Albert will find a forever home soon.
Book Note: I wrote a book called Silent Rocks about the critically endangered rock iguanas of Cayman Brac, and how they need the help of humans to survive. If you’d like to help, book information is here and it is available at Amazon.com.
Recently, I posted on my social media about a citizen-scientist opportunity that you could do from the comfort of your home. This project was through Zooniverse.
For aniguana study, people were needed to look at photos and count the iguanas they could see. The scientists took the photos and cut them into little pieces. The resulting 25,000 images were shown 20 times. Four thousand volunteers participated. Two thousand to 10,000 images were classified each day.
In some images, the iguanas were challenging to find, while in others they were more obvious.
If you’d like to participate in scientific work, Zooniverse needs help with other projects. This work can be safely done from home, no traveling required, and you can contribute to important conservation efforts.
At a recent conservation meeting in the Caribbean regarding iguanas, there was discussion about establishing additional colonies on islands, so that the lizards would be protected from human-caused threats. The selected islands included their historical homes and new, safe places. Of course, moving animals is nothing new. Mankind has been moving and introducing animals to new locations throughout history–but rarely has this been beneficial to the native species. Pigs and goats, released to be eventual food sources, have been introduced to islands as natural “livestock pens.” Sadly, livestock often destroy the islands’ ecosystems. In recent times, iguanas have been moved by people from one island to another, seemingly just because they can. Maybe it happens because the lizards are so attractive and people want some in their previously iguana-free zone, but they are also taken as a food source. Iguanas have been eaten for centuries, although they are now protected from hunting and consumption. Others may think they are helping the iguanas achieve more genetic mixing by adding individuals from one isolated populations to another. Consequently, scientists prefer to ensure the safety of the iguanas and the island’s environment when translocating them. Setting up a new community of iguanas is more than just grabbing a few of them and dumping them on their new home. Iguanas are selected by sex, age, reproductive fitness and health status. Of course, the islands are carefully pre-screened before the iguanas are collected. There must be proper food, no invasive animal species, like mice and rats, den sites and perhaps most importantly, nesting sites. Once the appropriate candidate iguanas have been selected, captured, and examined, they aren’t just plopped onto the island. No, they must wait until the food they ate on their home island has cleared their guts. Iguanas are important seed disperses, but bringing foreign plants onto the receiving island must be prevented. Islands need to be protected from invasive plant species as well. The possibility of increasing the ranges of critically endangered iguanas is exciting. It’s worth the years of planning that goes into making these projects realities! If you’d like to participate in these efforts, please donate to your favorite conservation organization, or volunteer as a citizen scientist. But don’t pick up an iguana and toss it onto another island! Some organizations involved in iguana conservation are the International Iguana Foundation, IUCN Iguana Specialist Group, International Reptile Conservation Foundation, The Shedd Aquarium, The Trust of The Bahamas, and The Trust of the Cayman Islands, to name a few.
Book Note: Want to learn more about these wonderful creatures? Go to My Unit Study on Iguanas at Lyric Power Publishing–it’s 30 pages of fun activities and coloring pages for $1.47 until December 31, 2020.
The day after Thanksgiving is National Native American Heritage Day. Legislation was passed to commemorate Native Americans and encourage people to learn more about the cultures of the people native to this continent. However, a recently published study showed that we can learn much more from Native Americans, who well-preserve their lands and the habitats of the animals that live on them.
Above image of a Native American Man, possibly taken in 1899, is courtesy of David Mark of Pixabay.
Habitat loss due to non-native human development has resulted in losses of species at such a level it is being called a “Sixth Mass Extinction.” Many countries haven’t managed to protect land as agreed in existing international treaties. The authors of the above study explored whether land management could be enhanced through partnerships between indigenous communities and government agencies. They found that the indigenous-managed lands had more vertebrate species than protected areas in all three countries. Interestingly, the indigenous-managed land also supported more threatened species. The authors suggest that partnerships with indigenous-managed lands would help the countries in reaching their goals for biodiversity conservation.
This article did not surprise me. I drove a friend around the Salt River area of Arizona. She was looking to buy some land for a house to retire in. As we drove through the San Carlos Apache Reservation, we noted the forest was healthy and very attractive. My friend was delighted since the plot she was interested in was just outside the reservation. However, as soon as we crossed the border, the quality of the land deteriorated rapidly. It was obvious the Native Americans were much better stewards of the land.
Unfortunately, as with Native American heritage, the wisdom of their environmental conservation practices is either lost or ignored by us. Let’s celebrate Native American Heritage Day and commit to partnering with indigenous people in protecting the land before it is lost forever.
Book Note: Conservation of land and animals is a subject dear to my heart. Please take a look at the books in the Conservation area of my website that weave science education into stories. We have come upon a time when it’s important for all of us to learn what we can do to help preserve the remaining species on this planet–and the planet itself. As they say, we only have this one home planet.
Also, until November 30th, my book publishing company, Lyric Power Publishing LLC is having a 50% off sale on a workbook about the ROCKS that make up the earth. It’s a great time to give our workbooks a chance. They’re comprehensive, educational and FUN. My Book About Rocks is 43 pages of interesting activities and it’s only $2.50 until November 30, 2020.
Forty-one pages of information, worksheets, and activity sheets that will give students in grades 2-5 an all-around understanding of rocks and minerals and how they are formed. Includes three word searches, a crossword puzzle, opinion essay writing, group chart activity, cut-and-paste the rock cycle, check lists for collecting rocks in the field and sorting and classifying them in the classroom. Homework project: How to build a sedimentary sandwich, with full instructions.
November 6 is National Nachos Day, a day set aside to celebrate a delicious culinary delight. Nachos are crunchy with melted cheese, a perfect combination of taste and texture. Nachos were created by “Nacho” Anaya from Piedras Negras, Mexico in 1943.
Over the years, other ingredients have been added to the tortilla chips and cheese. Even though I regularly enjoy beef on my mine, my favorite is seafood nachos topped with shrimp and crab meat. I’ve found just about anything goes well with the basic chips and cheese.
Try being creative with your nachos. Today, go ahead and nosh on some nachos!
(Above image courtesy of José Vanegas López from Pixabay.)
October 21 is National Reptile Awareness Day. I would prefer the term ‘Appreciation’ instead of ‘Awareness.’ Many people are aware of reptiles but don’t appreciate them. They often state they hate reptiles—especially snakes!
This day is for celebrating all 10,000 species of reptiles, from the cute, colorful gecko to the unnerving rattlesnake, and to educate and raise awareness to the threats suffered by these fascinating beings. Reptiles are equally as important to the Earth’s ecosystems as are mammals, birds, amphibians and fish. Their presence helps to ensure a healthy environment, but they are almost always underappreciated.
Recently, a FL poster on Facebook displayed a photo of a decapitated corn snake, asking if it was a coral snake. A man who hated snakes had killed it out of fear–a harmless, native corn snake who would have eaten the rodents around their home, preventing damage to their electrical wires and infestations of disease. Despite several responders assuring the poster that it was a harmless, nonvenomous snake, popular as a pet, others insisted it had to be a venomous coral snake or cottonmouth. Why do we always assume the worse when it comes to snakes?
Sadly, the RV park in FL has a history of needlessly fearing animals. A mother alligator had shared the rearing of her hatchlings with the residents, only to be killed when she took a walk down a park road one day. Not threatening anyone, merely using the road as a thoroughfare. I believe they should have known better because they knew her.
I want to write books about these episodes, but how do I present these occurrences in an educational way that people would relate to and not be offended by? Inspiration will come to me. But obviously, educational books about reptiles are still very necessary. I get disheartened by people’s attitude that reptiles are “disposable” animals. I hope that through my books, I can bring people who “hate” reptiles to “disliking but respecting” them.
So, please appreciate all reptiles, even those you may not like. Maybe do some online research about the animal you dislike or are afraid of. Learn about their species and life-cycle and predators and offspring and what they bring to the circle of life. We don’t fear what we understand.
And remember that we’re all part of the great ecosystem of Earth.
Above Susan Mule of the Cayman Islands reads Silent Rocks.
Of particular importance to me are the two endemic iguana species on the islands of Cayman Brac, the blue iguana found on Grand Cayman and the Sister Isle Rock Iguana found on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. I’ve done field work with the latter and enjoy going back every year to how my reptilian friends are doing. In fact, I wrote the book Silent Rocks: Iguanas of Cayman Brac to help inform people about how the iguanas are being needlessly killed.
The endemic Sister Isle Rock Iguana of Cayman Brac is critically endangered. This poignant book shows why* and how we humans can help. Includes many photographs of these magnificent large lizards.
*Silent Rocks can be used to teach how humans endanger many species
This guy, Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus, and his species inspired my book, Don’t Make Me Fly!
September 4 is National Wildlife Day. As a biologist, I love wildlife, whether it is in my backyard or at some distant exotic location. Wildlife Day was established to remind us about endangered animals, locally and around the world.
This is also the day to recognize the work being done on behalf of these animals, both in preservation and education about them. I do my part for conservation through my volunteering as a citizen scientist, talks I give, the books I write about animals, and supplemental, educational workbooks that teach about animals in a fun way.
Fire can be a wonderful or terrify thing. In many ecosystems, fires are important for keeping them healthy. These are low intensity fires that clear the ground of brush and scrub. However, invasive plant species like buffelgrass cause fires to burn hotter destroying the ecosystem, instead of nurturing it.
May and June in the Sonoran Desert are high fire periods. This is the dry season between the winter rains and summer monsoons. Plants dry, grass turns brown. It is very easy to accidentally start a fire, so open fires are restricted. Sudden, heat-generated storms are produced, containing a lot of lightning, and nature uses the lightning to ignite fires during this time.
One such storm ignited the dry vegetation on Pusch Ridge, near my home, on June 5. Pusch Ridge is in the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson, AZ. The three peaks are between 5,000 to 6,000 feet high. At the lower elevations are the iconic saguaro cactus, while juniper and pines are found higher.
Natural low-intensity fires clear out the ground debris allowing for new growth that support animals, such as bighorn sheep. Unfortunately, the introduction of invasive plants, like buffel grass, have changed the nature of the fires. The dried invasive plants fuel much larger, higher intensity fires, resulting in the destruction of the ecosystem instead of enhancing it.
Sadly, the Bighorn Fire on Pusch Ridge is one of the destructive fires. This destruction is the results of man’s altering of the environment. Buffel grass was introduced for erosion control and cattle forage. The buffel grass thrived and forced out the natural plants. Buffel grass-fueled fires also destroy buildings.
The fire is still raging today. According to The Arizona Daily Star, “Firefighters spent most of Sunday strengthening fire lines in the Summerhaven area and burning down the ridge line north of the town as they continued to fight the 58,500-acre Bighorn Fire,” officials said. 950 people are fighting the fire that is about 16% contained.
It is hoped that some of the areas will be able to rejuvenate with native species, but the loss may be irreparable or last for many years. Unfortunately, humankind has never been able to quickly stop its destructive behaviors.
Today, I wanted to ask you if you knew that Green Iguanas, Iguana iguana, come in different colors? And, if they come in different colors, how do you tell if a lizard is a green iguana?
You look for the subtympanic scale. “What is that?” you ask. Well, I don’t have one, so I had to look it up myself. The subtympanic scale is that large scale on the side of the green iguana’s head. Sub means below and tympanic means ear. So, it’s the big scale below the ear. I have a friend who calls that scale the “jewel.” She always admires the beautiful coloring in the iguana jewels.
Here are some of my green iguana friends, in very different colors. As you can see, they are not just green–but they are all still called “green.” Even the green green iguanas come in different shades of green. It can be confusing, if you ask me.
The native range of the green iguana is southern Mexico to central Brazil and several Caribbean islands. If you don’t live in those areas, why should you know how to identify a green iguana? Because they’re very popular as pets in people’s homes and they have been introduced to many other places in the world, where they don’t belong and can be causing harm. That means they’re “invasive.”
If you enjoy learning while coloring and doing activities, I encourage you to be creative. To learn more in fun ways about iguanas, please see our 30-page workbook full of activity sheets about iguanas, My Unit Study on Iguanas. Remember that the green iguanas you color, don’t have to be green!
I love having animals in my life. Over the years, they’ve mostly been reptiles and lately, if you’ve been following my story, there’s a horse tale in it.
If we accept responsibility for an animal, we are responsible for its welfare, even if we have to sacrifice for it. This has come up in the care of my horse. She developed chronic sinusitis as a result of an abscessed tooth. Every month, the equine dentist comes out to do the next step in her care. Of course, this specialist’s care costs money. But I took responsibility for her life, so I owe Button the best care I can provide. Apparently, not all horse owners feel the same way, which is very sad to me. There are several famous quotes about judging a person by the way he cares for his fellow animals.
The impetus for this post was a statement in a local neighborhood chat room. The person posting had observed a bobcat enjoying its dinner. A wonderful sight to see in the limited wilderness remaining in the Sonoran Desert. However, the poster concluded that the bobcat’s only purpose was as a threat to local dogs and cats. The bobcat was most likely eating a rabbit – it’s been a good year for rabbits. Of course, the danger from coyotes was included in the post.
I disagree that local wildlife is the threat to domestic companion animals. The problem is people not taking proper care of their pets. When I let my reptiles out in the backyard, I stay with them. We have birds of prey in the area that could carry off an iguana. The bobcats could enjoy a nice turtle or tortoise meal—but it’s not on them. It’s my job as their human companion to ensure their safety in the environment I place them.
Along with watching out for our dogs and pets, I also feel it is our duty to ensure that our pets don’t harm the local wildlife. Billions of birds are killed each year by cats. Please keep your cats inside, where they are safe and healthy, or use a leash. Many people love to feed the birds in their yards but are unable to enjoy them due to a cat(s). I run into cat predation in my iguana conservation work. Too many are the years we don’t see any juvenile iguanas because they’ve all been killed by domestic pets that the iguanas didn’t recognize as predators. Dogs are equally dangerous when not properly supervised.
People, please protect and control your furry family members. We can all thrive together in this world.
Remember, if the local bobcat or coyote gets your family member, it is not the predator’s fault. It’s yours. Protect your pet!
Geology is the science that explores the earth’s physical structure and substance, its history, and the processes that act on it. Geology is often included under the topic of Earth Sciences. You might be surprised to learn that I often include geology in my fun science books that feature lizards. You can’t really study biology without knowing the geology of the ecosystem.Everything is interconnected.
One of my favorite inclusions in The Dragon of Nani Cave in the mineral, caymanite.
Hidden in the limestone karst of Grand Cayman’s East End and the Bluff of Cayman Brac is an uncommon variety of dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2. Caymanite is prized for its layers of earth tone colors, which are the result of different metal contents. Its harness allows for it to be shaped into jewelry and carvings.
InThe Dragon of Nani Cave, the Lime Lizard Ladsare sent on a quest to find a piece of caymanite for Old Soldier crab. It’s the most dangerous thing a lizard can do on Cayman Brac, because that’s where the dragon lives! One of the fun things about being an author is having a say in the design of the book cover. I had mine when I asked that the book title be colored just like caymanite.
As a science book writer, I am asked to speak at schools and libraries about my favorite subject: reptiles. I often use props to help people visualize the facts I present. For instance, an iguana egg is about the size of a marshmallow. So, I bring a bag of marshmallows to use and, when allowed, for the kids to eat. The last time I spoke, one bag didn’t get used and the soft puffs got hard. These hard marshmallows brought back a memory from my childhood involving alligators on Sanibel Island, FL.
When I was a child, people in the park gathered at a bridge to feed marshmallows to the local gators. It was not well understood then how we were affecting the local alligators’ behavior. We know now how bad it is to feed wild animals. Not only is the food not good for them, they lose their fear of people and become “problem” animals. Simply relocating them doesn’t usually work, because they are plopped down in the middle of another’s territory and a moved individual can be killed by its own kind already there.
But back to my story about feeding marshmallows to alligators. The only marshmallows Mom could find in the trailer was a forgotten bag way back on a shelf. The usually fluffy confections were rock hard. But we were going to throw them in the water and gators have a bite strength of 2125 pounds per square inch, so a hard marshmallow should be no problem, right? I soon joined the other feeders tossing the treats into the water. Their marshmallows bobbed until a gator stealthily approached, snatched it rapidly, submerged, and re-emerged a short distance away, waiting for the next one. Several gators took turns gobbling down the sugary snacks.
Until they got to my marshmallows. A gator approached,
quickly bit down on one and submerged.
Suddenly, the water erupted with thrashing. The marshmallow was released
. . . unscathed. The gator swam away. This happened again and again until all
the gators failed at damaging my marshmallows and swam away in disgust. The
other people looked at me angrily. I had driven all the alligators away, leaving
only my hardened marshmallows bobbing in the gently moving water.
I like to think that in my unintentional way, my disgusting marshmallows helped prevent a few alligators from becoming “problem” animals.
I guess I was a conservationist even back then.
I hope you will check out my books on the subject of Conservation. I love to make science books fun–it is a part of who I am–but conservation is a subject deserving of both our respect and action. Saving endangered species and looking out for all life on the only planet we and they have is up to all of us.
Iguanas are an important part of my life. They are featured in the children’s book I wrote called The Dragon of Nani Cave, which is an adventure tale starring curly-tail lizards ,Gene and Bony, who live on Cayman Brac. I weave the science of the island into the story, because science can be fun!
I am also the author of the book Silent Rocks, which is for all ages, and is about how to save the endangered Rock Iguana of Cayman Brac.
Most iguanas are found in the Americas and on Caribbean islands. They are grouped into three types: iguanas like the common green iguana, rock iguanas and spiny-tail iguanas. Each has evolved to thrive in their native environment. Unfortunately, through international commerce, the green iguana, Iguana iguana, has been introduced into ecosystems where they don’t belong.
Have you ever
wondered how to tell iguanas apart? Being
able to accurately identify iguana species is important to telling the
difference between native iguanas and the invasive green iguanas. I have
nothing against green iguanas. I’ve known many through the years as pets and
when I operated an iguana rescue. Unfortunately, they are damaging the
ecosystems and out-competing the native species.
live in an environment with many predators. So, greens lay many eggs and adapt
to many foods. They have that in common with rock iguanas, who are also
opportunistic eaters. (Sadly, they’ll even eat human food.)
But back to
the telling iguanas apart. There are now booklets that show the physical
differences. Rock iguanas don’t have the gorgeous subtympanic scale–that’s the
big scale under the ear–that the green iguanas have. My mother called it the
‘jewel.’ It is lovely, in many pretty colors. No other iguanas have that scale.
Greens also have little points on their dewlaps. A dewlap is the piece of skin
under the chin. ( Oooh, that rhymes.) The greens have smooth, striped tails.
Other iguanas have less striped tails. Rock iguanas have that nice
ribbing along the tail, while spiny-tails have keeled scales on their tail
giving them a rough appearance.
I wanted to produce an item that would aid people in correctly identifying iguanas, something that was convenient to carry and interesting to look at. I was asked to make the text rhyme because this helps in memorizing the facts. Anderson Atlas, John Binns and I have prepared these conveniently-sized booklets that people can carry around with them.
Check them out –they’re free. Please use the contact form on the Contact Page to request copies of these brochures for iguana identification.
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