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 the green iguana sunbathing in the yard.

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.

A bright orange 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

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. 

A yellow-crowned night heron sleeping in trees and a green heron wading on a shore in the morning.
An early morning, the yellow-crowned night heron sleeps in a tree, while the green heron looks for breakfast.

 

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.

Three of Elaine's tortoises crowding together on her kitchen 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!

A tortoise blends in with the pattern on a muted tone rug.

Obsolete Obstacles

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.

A tortoise climbing over a large black case that was set on the floor.

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…

Trevor the tortoise bracing himself between a narrow passage to move over a box blocking his path.

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.

A tortoise wedged himself under an office chair to push it out of the way.

Lurking Lizards

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.

An iguana burrowed under couch 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…

A turtle flipped over on its back by a nearby tortoise.
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.

green book cover with turtle illustration

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. 

Ela the sonoran box turtle, her tongue is sticking out and she is posing on grass outside.

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.

A bobcat leers at an oncoming tortoise, the image is distorted by a screen door.

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.

My Shadow

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.

A shadow that resembles a cougar lies between two mountain peaks.

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.

An eerie shadow of a bare branches on asphalt.

My iguanas are also involved in my shadow observations. Calliope Green Iguana’s shedding skin created an interesting pattern along her back.

AN iguana with striped shadows on her side created by her shedding skin.

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!

The claw of an iguana, the shadow exaggerates the hook and sharpness of the nails.

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.

An iguana with a shadow that is twice its size with exaggerated spines.

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. 

A Bite of a Blog: Feeding my Scaly Family

There’s a lot of talk about eating. People are encouraged to eat mindfully. Set the table and concentrate on your meal. But, I prefer to eat in front of my laptop. I like to spend most of my free time putting words onto pages. I enjoy writing books and blogs. So, when I get hungry, I grab something, set it beside me, and consume as I create. But thinking about eating habits leads me to my reptilian family members. As you can imagine, their eating habits are quite different. I hope you enjoy this little bite about the daily eating habits of my scaly family members!

What They Eat

I prepare fresh food for my scaly kids every day, serving them different proportions, depending on their appetites and food preferences. I feed my family first thing in the morning. Then, they can graze all day. Their meal is a “salad” of high calcium greens like collard greens, turnip tops, and various vegetables. I whittle the greens into thin strips with a potato peeler to make it easier for them to eat. My reptiles don’t have grinding teeth, like our molars. On occasion, I add a little fruit as a treat.

It’s Not Just What

The how and where they eat is just as important as what they eat. In captivity, most animals don’t move around as much as they would in the wild. There is no need for them to search for sustenance. Because of this, caretakers are encouraged to make their reptiles move a bit to reach their food. Calliope Green Iguana likes to climb up to her basking perch to eat. Her heat and sun lamps keep her nice and warm while she dines.

Calliope the iguana eating her salad. Her front feet are on the edge of her dish.

In contrast, Chile Green Iguana prefers to reach down. I love the way he stretches his body while enjoying his meal. Once he finishes, he’ll pull himself back up to his basking shelf. 

Chile the iguana eat his salad. He is hanging upside down in his cage while eating.

For the tortoises that roam free around my house, I put out plates of food in various spots. Consequently, they can walk about, choosing where they’d like to eat. They also enjoy basking before and after meals.

This is a close-up of a tortoise enjoying a strawberry.

Trevor the tortoise enjoying a strawberry.

One of the box turtles also enjoys strawberries. The other one doesn’t.

If you want to see my family members eating, check out their videos on my YouTube channel: Elaine Powers or Curtis Curly-tail Speaks. You’ll find all sorts of interesting videos. And while you are there, become a subscriber!

The Importance of Eating

I need to watch my family members eat. I get information about the health of each animal. When a reptile is sick, the first symptom is often a lack of appetite. If they feed eagerly, I know all is well. If they don’t, I start checking for problems. Is the heat lamp burned out? Are they sick or injured? If something is wrong, it’s off to the local reptile vet we go. I’m very fortunate to have a superb reptile vet. One bit of advice I give to new reptile caretakers is to locate a reptile veterinarian before you bring your new family member home.

If you’d like to read a fun book about the eating habits of other animals, I recommend How to Eat Breakfast by Gene Twaronite, another Lyric Power Publishing LLC author.

Writing this made me hungry. I’m off in search of a snack. I hope you enjoy your food as much as my scaly kids do! You might not want to hang upside down to eat, though.

The Life & Legacy of Krinkle

When I lived in New Jersey, I ran an iguana rescue and adoption program. If an iguana’s life was in danger, I would always have room for it. All of the iguanas I took in were green iguanas, Iguana iguana, but I really wanted one another type of iguana, the spiny-tail iguana, Ctenosaura similis. C. similis, also called black iguanas. Enter Krinkle. Krinkle had an important life, but an even more important legacy. 

The Story of Krinkle

Because I would always take in iguanas, I was on the call list for many police departments and animal control centers. One day I got a call from an animal control center saying they had a black iguana. I told them I was on my way. I picked up a five-year-old spiny-tail iguana that I named Krinkle. A cute name for a sad condition.

You see, Krinkle had a deformed body. For the first five years of his life, he’d been kept in a five-gallon aquarium, which he quickly outgrew. His body sacrificed his hips and tail in the tight space. His head and shoulders were full-sized, but his hips were small and his tail was accordioned. Worst of all, Krinkle couldn’t walk. He eventually got angry enough that he bit his owners, who took him to Animal Control. Which turned out for the best, I was delighted to welcome this black iguana into my family. 

With some physical therapy, nutritious food, and affection, Krinkle thrived. His tail eventually relaxed a bit. He learned to walk, although he was never able to run. But most importantly he became an important educator. Content in his new life, he never showed aggression and was always calm, even as he was passed around, child to child, at my reptile talks. He never opened his mouth in anger or for any reason. I wanted him to open up so the kids and adults could see his impressive teeth, but he wouldn’t. I believe he truly enjoyed educating people about lizards and the cruelty perpetrated upon reptiles.

He even liked hanging out with other family members. This is Krinkle with Rose Red-foot Tortoise and Calliope Green Iguana.

Krinkle the Igauna sunning himself with a tortoise and another iguana.

The Legacy of Krinkle

Sadly, a few years ago Krinkle passed away. But his educational influence continues to this day. In a previous blog, I described how Chelsea Richardson at Respectfully Dead prepares and cleans animal skeletons. She agreed to take on Krinkle and did a phenomenal job. I knew Krinkle’s skeleton would be fascinating. After cleaning, the bones were reassembled. Below is the result of her team’s efforts. Truly magnificent – Krinkle would be happy.

Krinkle's skeleton. His spine is curved and his tail is fused in a zig zag shape.

His tail end is mostly fused, instead of articulated vertebrae.

Even in death, Krinkle’s story will continue to be told. He will educate about proper care and animal abuse of reptiles. I do appreciate the first owners being responsible enough to turn Krinkle into their local Animal Control so that he could be rehomed. He was truly an ambassador for reptiles and lizards, in particular. RIP, Krinkle and Long live Krinkle the lizard!

Booger Warning! The Science of Sneezing

Do you think about sneezing? I mean daily. Not just when you have a cold or allergies. You probably think about sneezes when you’re in a group and trying to decide if you can hold your sneeze in, risking an eardrum explosion, or let it out and offend everyone in proximity. Well the scientist in me, propels me to think about sneezing more than the average person. Especially because of my animal companions. Get ready for a sneezy, snotty, and all-around gooey-good blog. Because we are going to explore the science of sneezing!

The Achoo of Us

Animals don’t always sneeze for the same reasons we humans do. When an irritant enters a person’s nose, the nerves activate the sneeze center in the brain stem. Messages are sent to parts of the body that need to work together and produce the sneeze action. Muscles in the chest, abdomen, and throat along with the diaphragm, build up the air pressure behind closed vocal cords. When the cords are opened, the airflow rushes up, expelling the irritant. Of course, in the case of a disease, like a cold, the air expulsion helps spread the viral particles. 

Despite the physiological way in which the human body produces sneezing, it’s not human sneezing that I find interesting. Other animals’ sneezes are far more fascinating.

When a Sneeze Isn’t a Sneeze

Let’s start with iguanas, such as green iguanas, Iguana iguana, and rhinoceros rock iguanas, Cyclura cornuta. Humans excrete excess salt through our kidneys via our urine, but iguanas have to sneeze it out! You may have seen videos of marine iguanas sneezing as they bask on the rocks. Watching their bodies jump with each sneeze is amusing. Iguanas need to conserve water in their bodies, so they utilize nasal salt glands. This salt removal method is called “snalting” (sneeze and salt). The expelled salt is called “snalt.” Snalt gets over everything around iguanas. Here are a couple of examples in my house. 

Snalt from Elaine's iguanas covering her blinds and a jar full of shells.

They can sneeze snalt amazing distances, efficiently covering walls and furniture. My printer is thoroughly encrusted in salt. One of my iguanas enjoyed sitting on my shoulder. When she felt a sneeze coming on, she would stick her nose in my ear. I know she did it on purpose. I did have clean ears from having to wash the snalt out.

The Mucus of Mammals 

While my iguanas are coating my home in snalt, my horse uses me as a human handkerchief. My mare has a tumor in her sinus that produced a nasal discharge. She was constantly rubbing her head on me and using my shirt to wipe her nostril when she sneezed. I could understand her need, but still, it left me very gooey. As a result of her behavior, I thought horses sneezed for the same reasons humans do. I’m still new to horse behavior. (The good news is that her cancer treatment is going well and she no longer has the discharge.)

Yes, horses do blow or snort when an irritant gets in their noses, such as ground dust and hay dust. However, sneezing and blowing is also common behavior indicating pleasure. Horses don’t sneeze as a reflex as humans do.

I was concerned when my young gelding would sneeze during his training sessions. Was the dust of the arena getting to him? It must be very distracting for him to be dealing with sinus issues as he was being ridden. Then one day as I was watching the trainer work him, the experienced equestrian sitting next to me mentioned that his sneezing was in revolt! His sneezes were a protest! No wonder the trainer wasn’t showing any concern that he was having allergy issues. My boy doesn’t mind being ridden, he’s just very particular about how he is ridden! But sneezing as a means of expressing discontent was a new one for me. I am happy to report that when ridden appropriately, according to him, the sneezing ceases! 

So I guess sneezing does help deal with irritants, even if the irritant is me! Looking for more gritty-science fun? Check out my science-based workbooks

You Say Hibernate, I Say Brumate

During the summer, two of my desert tortoises are allowed to roam outside. Zoe is a Sonoran desert tortoise, Gopherus morafka, and part of Arizona’s desert tortoise foster program. Cantata is a Sulcata tortoise, Geochelone sulcata. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, sulcata tortoises can reach 200 lbs. They’re also known as spur-thighed tortoises due to the spurs on their forearms. The spurs are designed to dig through hard ground, but can also cut through drywall. Despite this, they’re popular in the pet trade. 

Cantata Tortoise, Den Digger Extraordinaire

When it comes to dens, Zoe is more than capable of digging her own. Still, she prefers to leave it to Cantata, who digs tunnels with amazing ease. I encourage her to dig in places that will cause minimal damage to irrigation systems or brickwork and such, but Cantata is stubborn and creates her den where she wants. Once she has a nice hole prepared, Zoe moves in to claim a spot. Consequently, Cantata then enlarges the tunnel so they both can live there comfortably, if not companionly. Having a tunnel big enough for them to pass each other keeps the tussles in check. 

A tortoise digging a den. Their back end is visible as they dig.

Hibernate or Brumate?

The lack of humidity that makes the hot desert summer days enjoyable is also responsible for the plunging nighttime temperatures in winter. During these cold months, some mammals hibernate, while reptiles may brumate. Hibernation and brumation both describe animals in a deep sleep. The term hibernation refers to warm-blooded animals, also known as endotherms, while brumation refers to cold-blooded animals, who are ectotherms

Strange Bedfellows

When the wintry chill arrives in the Sonoran Desert, some of my reptilian family members head for their brumation beds. These beds are better known as underground dens. Tortoises dig their own dens, while other reptiles, such as rattlesnakes, slither in to join them.

Prey animals will also spend the winter with predators. That’s right, animals that are mortal enemies in the summer will often share dens in the winter!

Let Me In!

I’ve gotten the impression that Zoe’s previous foster parents allowed her to brumate inside. Each fall, as the temperatures tell her it’s time to prepare for brumation, she heads for my back door and makes it clear that she wants in. She only does this when it’s time to brumate. 

In past years, I made her brumate outside, as wild tortoises do. She’d eventually give up trying to come indoors, dig out her den and close it up behind her. Last year, however, she made it clear that she was only coming indoors. To send a message, she went to a previous winter den, halfheartedly dug out the entrance, and then jammed herself in, making sure she stuck halfway out. Message received. I let her in and she brumated in my bedroom.

This year, I knew she’d pull the same trick, so when the nighttime temperatures began to drop I brought her inside. For a few weeks, she roamed around, continuing to eat, until finally, it was time for her to brumate. I always wonder how these animals know when it’s time since the indoors temperatures remain the same. I’m sure it has to do with circadian rhythms and sunlight length, etc. At the same time, both Cantata and Zoe found a place to brumate and have snuggled together for the winter…in a cardboard box, in my kitchen!

Elaine's two tortoises snuggled near each other in a box.

Since they settled in, they haven’t left their box. At least I can keep an eye on them this winter. It seems that summer’s reluctant tunnel mates are now winter’s willing bru-mates.

 

Meet Calliope, the Muse of Long Poetry

Most of the iguanas in my life have been green iguanas, Iguana iguana. However, not all green iguanas are green. Through the years I’ve cared for green iguanas who were various shades of green, orange, blue, and even one that was black and white. Like any animal, they all had different personalities. Some liked to be cuddled, while others were content to sit on my lap or shoulders as long as I didn’t touch them. Then there were those I called real people-lizards. Those were the ones who enjoyed our visits to schools and senior centers. Still, others were homebodies and preferred to stay out of the spotlight. No matter their coloring or temperament, I’ve found that iguanas are my writing muse. 

Enter Calliope

Years ago, I retired from my job as a laboratory research biologist to become a writer. I quickly found inspiration in writing with my iguanas around me. To soak in their positive creativity, I moved my writing desk into their midst. One Christmas, a friend gave me a baby female iguana from her favorite breeder, who was well known for producing easily socialized iguanas. When a new iguana comes into my life, I like to choose a meaningful name – we humans like to name things. I pondered the ease with which this little green lizard was stimulating my muse, and the moniker Calliope came to mind. Calliope was one of the Greek Muses, the nine sister goddesses who presided over poetry, song, the arts, and sciences. Calliope was the muse of epic poetry. Epic poems are narrative, long poems. Some articles refer to Calliope as the muse of long poetry.

Since many of my books happen to be long poems about scientific facts, Calliope was just the muse I needed. Non-fiction can be written as rhyming poems. I believe it enhances learning and retention of information. Consequently, I think all picture books should rhyme.

Rhyming Science

During my adventures in writing poetic science, I’ve received comments stating that poetry and science should never be mixed. Then, at a book festival in Chicago, several poets happened to be at my booth as they discussed how non-fiction could be written in rhyme. One of them pointed at my books, turned to the others, and said “See? You can put non-fiction into rhyme.” 

Here’s a real-world example. As part of my efforts as a citizen scientist, I create iguana identification booklets. These pocket-size booklets are used in areas in which iguanas, both native and invasive, are common. They teach people how to tell between native and invasive iguana species, but that’s not all. They state where to call for invasive removal and provide tips for protecting their native animals, amongst other things.

Since rhyming is my thing, the text in these booklets rhymes. One of the target audiences for these booklets is dock workers. They are the front line of biosecurity. Unfortunately, green iguanas often stow away in shipping containers and it’s up to the workers to prevent them from getting ashore and out of the port. At first, it was feared that workers wouldn’t like the “childish” rhyming, but authorities soon realized the opposite; rhymes assisted in detailed memorization. It wasn’t long before they insisted upon rhymes.

Calliope Green Iguana has contributed to many books, and I enjoy creating leaves of books while Calliope, a folivore, enjoys the leaves in her food. I appreciate her support as I continue writing long, epic poems which become entertaining, educational picture books.

Elaine, wearing a green shirt and smiling at the camera. Calliope is perched on her right shoulder and appears to also be smiling into the camera.
Calliope on my shoulder.

 

Ecdysis: It’s Time to Grow!

Reptiles are characterized by having scales covering their bodies. That means when a reptile needs to grow bigger, it must shed the scales.  The process of shedding the old skin is called ecdysis.

One of my lizard family members has the best ecdysis. This is my red tegu, Rascal. First, the red skin takes on a dry, yellowish look.

photo of red tegu back

With time, the outer skin looks whiter.

red tegu skin shedding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo of shedding skin ridges red tegu

Ridges and dents start to form, as the skin become looser.

Red tegu shedding skin starts to sag

The outer skin layer loosens and separates from the new skin underneath.

photo of tegu skin coming off

The skin is ready for a snag to tear it open and help it fall off the tegu’s body. When Rascal’s skin tears, most of it comes off since it was so loose.

photo of new shiny tegu skin

Once the old skin has been rubbed off, the lovely deep red coloration of the red tegu is seen on the new scales.

 

 

 

Book Note: I write fun science books about reptiles. Interested in sharing some fun science with your kids this summer? To see my adventure tales that weave science into the stories, and my rhyming tales, which help the reader to remember the science, click on My Books.

A collage of book covers indicating the categories of books at elaineapowers.com
My Books By Category

For jam-packed, educational, economical and fun activity sheets and workbooks, go to Lyric Power Publishing, LLC, Workbooks page.

Collage of Science Education Workbooks
Click on Workbooks to see all 23 workbooks, making science education fun!

 

#elaineapowers  #redtegu  #ecdysis  #shedmyscales  #lyricpowerpublishing  #funactivitysheets

That Shell Might Not Look Comfy to You and Me, But to Ezra?

I have a suspended heat lamp that the tortoises like to use.  They gather together underneath to share in the warmth. The tortoises chose their spot, then sit down and bask for a while.

photo of large green iguana on top of tortoiseRecently, Ezra Green Iguana was out for a stroll and happened across the non-creeping creep of tortoises. Ezra pulled himself up into the nice warm shells and laid down. He laid his head on Rose Red-footed Tortoise and took a nap.

Even though Rose Tortoise could feel Ezra on her shell, she didn’t move, allowing Ezra to use her as her comfy pillow.

Book Note: The reptiles I live with are an endless source of interesting stories about what they’re like with me and with each other. I enjoy their company tremendously and they inspire me to write and create science books about reptiles that are both educational and FUN. Here are some I’ve written about the Sonoran Desert. You can learn all about the Night-Blooming Cereus from my illustrated book written in rhyme by clicking here. Click on the image to see my ‘Don’t Series,’ which are also written in fun rhymes. Making science fun is my pleasure!

photo of Sonoran Desert Book Covers

#elaineapowers   #tortoises  #scienceisfun  #greeniguana  #funsciencebooks

Lights! Camera! Action! (and Scratches!)

With the pandemic, my reptile talks have moved to video, instead of live, presentations. I talk about reptiles every Thursday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. MST at my Facebook page, Elaine Powers. I hope you’ll join me tomorrow for my Reptile-Side Chat, when the green iguanas and I talk about color, chromatophores, and so much more! C’mon–it’ll be fun! Bring the kids–they’ll really enjoy the iguanas.

I’m discovering that some of my reptiles are not thrilled with new technology. I was surprised that Blue Rock Iguana, the star of my in-person talks, did not have any patience with being viewed over my laptop! Usually, he stays still as I hold him for everyone to see.  Not in front of the computer! He had no patience and had had enough of  being held after a few moments. I did get some impressive scratches upon his departure.

photo of a rock iguana hybrid
Blue likes to escape from his enclosure at home, too!

Calliope Green Iguana wasn’t old enough or big enough for me to take along on talks in 2019 and early 2020.  However, she has grown nicely over the past year and is now an excellent size for talks. Even though she happily rides around on my shoulder at home and, as my writing muse, she is delighted to watch me write, she was not willing to be used for a demonstration during my talk. I hope she reconsiders her behavior, since I plan on using her in future talks.

I do have experience with green iguanas in performance. Two of my iguanas were featured in a television commercial for Corazon Tequila. 

Credits & Description: Company: DEVITO/VERDI, USA, New York Creative Director: Sal Devito Copywriter: John Devito Art Director: Manny Santos Agency Producer: Karen Tomlin Director: Kenan Moran Editor: Jerry Fried The TV Commercial Ad titled GREEN IGUANA was done by Tequila New York advertising agency in United States. It was released in the Apr 2006.

The two iguanas who made it on screen were Jubby (blue) and Algae (yellow). However, four iguanas were taken for the shoot, because I didn’t know who would cooperate. The large male, Jimmy, was a disaster (as I suspected he would be, but the director had liked his looks). I was surprised that Noel had no interest, but Jubby and Algae and turned out to be regular hams. They endured take after take, for three hours! They were filmed from a variety of directions, since the director was intrigued by their performances. This resulted in a fifteen second commercial. I was amused that my iguanas had an acting agent, but I, an actor and script writer, did not!

 

photo of green iguana named Algae
Algae, the TV star

Here are Algae and Noel.

photo of green iguana named Noel
Noel, who said no to fame

graphic Facebook Live Reptile Side Chat

I hope you’ll join me tomorrow on Facebook as the greens and I talk about iguanas.

A Creep or a Convergence?

With Spring, the tortoises wander about more actively. The brumating species, like the Sonoran Desert and Sulcata tortoises, emerge from my bedroom to join the now more ever-wandering red-footed tortoises. I have a heat lamp set up in the front room where the tortoises can sit and bask. Usually, one or two will be utilizing the basking spot at a time. However, one fine day, all the tortoises had a spring in their step and met at the warm spot. They were happy to share the food and the warmth, so they could digest properly.

Normally, the tortoises in the photo above would be called a creep of tortoises, but on this day, they were a convergence of tortoises.

P.S. There are three species of tortoises in the picture. Can you identify which is which?

screen shot from Reptile-Side Chat
April is Iguana Month!

Note: Please join me tomorrow, Thursday, April 8 at 3:00 p.m. MST on my Facebook page for my informative and fun chat about Rock Iguanas, Cyclura species. April is Iguana Month and I will be introducing you to some of my iguana roomies–tomorrow the very handsome big guy, Blue.

#AuthorElaineAPowers
#TortoiseID
#RockIguanas
#ReptileSideChat
#AprilisIguanaMonth
#ElaineAPowers.com
#LyricPower.net
#FunScienceBooks

February 20th is NATIONAL LOVE YOUR PET DAY

Almost 70% of families in the US have pets. I suspect with the pandemic that percentage may have increased. I, of course, have a household filled with pets.

photo of elaine a powers with iguana
My pet iguana, Calliope, is also my writing muse. I dare not call her my favorite in front of the others!

Mine don’t have fur, like the more familiar cats and dogs–they have scales. Yes, my pets are reptiles.

In addition, I have two pets that I’m not allowed to keep at my house by local ordinance, although I wanted to. I also have two horses. Fortunately, they live in nice stables not too far from my house. It’s probably better for them since they are surrounded by other horses and people who can help care for them.

closeup photo of three year old quarter horse face
Selfie-training with Exuma, my three-year-old quarter horse. I can only say that everyone should have to try this once!

 

Reptiles aren’t the only unusual animals kept as companions. People bring rodents, birds (large and small), fish, even snails, into their homes as pets!

It’s nice to know that people can love unusual animals, too.

So, get out there and caress that shell, scratch under that scaly chin, or brush their hair with your fingers.

Love your pets, not only Saturday, Feb. 20th, but every day.

Here are some of my other companions.

elaine a powers with Eddie the iguana
With my old and dear friend, Eddie.
elaine a powers with Myrtle, a red-foot tortoise
With Boss Lady, Myrtle, who asked again if I would read her book to her–that’s right–she asked me to write about her and now it’s her book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Note:
The rhyming stanzas of Myrtle’s picture book are loved by preschoolers and their parents and grandparents alike! Learn all about the many differences between tortoises and turtles, while making it fun!
And never, ever, call Myrtle a turtle! She is a proud red-foot tortoise.

infographic for children's book Don't Call Me Turtle!

January 28th is NATIONAL HAVE FUN AT WORK DAY

Working from Home with our Pets

January 28th is National Have Fun at Work Day and with the pandemic, many people who would go to work in an office or at least away from home, are now telecommuting or video conferencing. We find ourselves trying to convince our companion-animal family members to maintain professional boundaries. (Although, I’ll bet everyone enjoys watching other people’s pets photo-bomb their meetings.)

My household is no different. Meetings that I would attend in person are now virtual through my laptop. Even though my family members are reptiles, they feel the same need as mammals to participate. You’d think noise wouldn’t be an issue with animals that don’t bark, meow or squawk. But, my iguanas get creative. As soon as I log in, Chile Green Iguana (photo above) starts his gymnastics in his wire enclosure. He uses his full length to clank the sides and shelves as much as possible.

photo of Myrtle red foot tortoise pusing chair

Then I feel my chair start to move away from the table. Myrtle Redfoot Tortoise is underneath me, pushing as hard as she can, successfully rolling the chair and me away from the computer.

Calliope Green Iguana
Calliope Green Iguana checking to be sure Myrtle doesn’t roll me too far from the meeting.
Rose Red-foot Tortoise
Rose Red-foot Tortoise stops by so I’ll take a break from work and scratch hr shell.

Other family members merely stop by to see who I am speaking with or to ensure that I am working as I should be.

I hope you, too, are having fun at work, whether it is away from home or at home.  Co-workers can be very entertaining.

Book Note: My co-workers are my inspiration for many of my books. I hope you’ll check them out at My Books.

Don’t Call Me Turtle was inspired by my tortoise, Myrtle, pictured above.

photo of a children's book cover, entitled Don't Call Me Turtle
There are many differences between tortoises and turtles, and the wise tortoise who narrates this book tells us about ten of those differences–in rhyme.
She also says, “Don’t Call Me Turtle!” (Even if my name should be Myrtle.)

The Box-Tortoise

Photo Above is Amarillo the Redfoot Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)

In some of my books and videos, I mention box turtles, genus Terrapene. These are amazing turtles that, because of a hinge on their bottom plate–the plastron–can fold up to protect their heads and limbs. No predator can grab an arm if it’s tucked inside a hard shell. You can read about this ability in Don’t Call Me Turtle! When you read this book, you’ll discover the many differences between turtles and tortoises.

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise
Voted 5-Stars by the
Preschool Crowd

Even though only box turtles have the hinge to fold up, that doesn’t mean there aren’t box-tortoises. I have several in my house! Look at the photos below to see what I mean.
a redfoot tortoise

Rose the Redfoot Tortoise fits in her box

Cantata the Sulcata Tortoise  (Geochelone sulcata)
But Cantata the Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) does not! She is a big girl!

Unfortunately, not all the tortoises fit neatly in their box. Some can only get their heads in! Sorry, Cantata – you need a bigger box!

Check out the fun and educational turtle and tortoise workbooks on LyricPower.net.

The Mystery of the Cleaning-fiend Tortoises

Above image is of Cantata, an African Spurred or Spur-thighed Tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) and a member of my family

Is this a species thing?

I have several species of tortoises roaming about my house. Tortoises are not potty-trained, so every now and then I have to mop to clean the floor. After sweeping and spraying the spots, I mop the floor.  Most of the tortoises move out of the way, running away to find a safe place.  Not the sulcatas. No, they must not only be near the area that is being cleaned, they must be in it! Do they think there might be something tasty being collected? Do they feel the need to supervise?  Being mopped or swept with a broom has no effect on them.  They just won’t be moved aside.

I first noticed this annoying behavior with my large male sulcata, Duke.  At 150 pounds, he can really be an impediment to cleaning.  He usually ends up outside until the cleaning is completed. He paces in front of the door until he is allowed back in.  Then he inspects the cleaned area – why, I am not certain.

Recently, I discovered my newly rescued female tortoise, Cantata, enjoys the same activity. She’s never met Duke, so he didn’t train her. I was mopping the tortoises’ communal basking place, and sure enough, she had to be right there, in the midst of the soapy water.  The other tortoises had skedaddled, but Cantata would not move away. At least she’s physically easier to move, at only 40 lbs.

I would love to know why sulcata tortoises are cleaning fiends!

Sulcatas are native to sub-Saharan Africa and do well in deserts. Above, Cantata is enjoying a prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pad.

Book Note: I have a redfoot tortoise, Myrtle, who was often called Myrtle the turtle. One day, fed up, she communicated to me that it was time to write a book about the differences between turtles and tortoises. That was it–the book came to me in rhyming stanzas, and it turned out that kids and their parents loved the science woven into a rhyming book! It’s a lot of fun to read, the rhymes make it easy to remember the differences, and the little scientists in your life will love it. You can read about Don’t Call Me Turtle! here and it is available for sale at Amazon.

infographic for children's book Don't Call Me Turtle!

 

You’ll Never Guess What the Latest Pet Is!

With social distancing and domicile isolation, people are turning to animals for companionship. Dog adoptions have increased and even I bought a second horse. However, new family members haven’t been limited to limited to the usual animals, like dogs, cats, birds, or fish. The newest fad pet is a SNAIL. These mollusks are showing up on social media engaged in a variety of fun activities.

Snails are low maintenance animals, a perfect buddy during quarantine. They aren’t noisy, so the neighbors won’t complain, and their housing needs are minimal. Two snails are not enough for most enthusiasts but don’t worry, snails are very prolific.

The usual lifespan for a snail is 2-3 years.  Unfortunately, in my house it is significantly less, since slugs and snails are favorite foods of Trevor Box Turtle.

Yet, I find it interesting that people are embracing snails as pets. I’ve learned some interesting things about them that would endear them as companion animals.

      1. Snails have poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell, through which they will recognize you.
      2. They like to have their shells rubbed.
      3. They will eat out of your hand, actually in your hand and enjoy the warmth of your skin.
      4. They like warm showers and baths.

Snails are the perfect pet: quiet, small, self-renewing, with colorful shells, slow moving so they won’t get away, and those eyestalks are so cute!

What do you think?

Book Note:  Just in case you or your youngster would like to learn more about turtles, I wrote a book about the differences between Hickatees and Sea Turtles. It’s fun to read and full of great turtle information!

a dark green book cover: Hickatees vs Sea Turtles
Do you know the differences between
the land-dwelling Hickatee and the
ocean-dwelling Sea Turtle?
Learn about them inside.
Reading Level:
Ages 6+
Written in Rhyme
45 Pages
Wonderful Illustrations
of the Native Hickatee Turtle
and Sea Turtles
by Anderson Atlas
Learn all about the endemic Hickatee turtle who has so many troubles–well-meaning humans who throw them to their deaths into the ocean, cars that run over them, loss of land to lay their eggs, and cousins pushing them out.
Shows physical traits and the differences between these land-dwelling turtles and the sea turtles that do reside in the ocean.
Make friends with the Hickatee today!

 

Ever Set a Pumpkin on Fire? In Your Kitchen?

My reptiles like hard squash, so I cook pumpkin, butternut and acorn squash until they are soft and squishy. The easiest way to cook them is whole in the microwave. I don’t bother to cut off the stem. I rinse off the outside, plop it in, and cook until it is soft.

Photo of Rhino Iguana standing on a tortoise
My pumpkin flambe, please?

I was cooking the third of the ‘Buy 3-for-$5’ pumpkins while writing at the kitchen table. Good thing, because I smelled smoke. Not the flavorful aroma of cooking vegetables but the odor of burning wood.  With the number of heat lamps in my house, I do worry about the wooden enclosures catching fire from a misplaced heat lamp. I immediately began sniffing for the direction the odor, which led my eyes to the microwave, where I saw that the pumpkin stem was in flames! (Inside the microwave, mind you.)

I ran over and unplugged the microwave, grabbed the pumpkin and poured water on the stem in the sink. The inside of the oven was scorched but had not been engulfed in flames, for which I was very thankful. Fortuitously, the pumpkin was cooked to perfect squishiness, so I would be able to feed the reptiles. The stem, however, was ash.

After all the squash I had cooked in microwaves, why did this one catch fire?

Microwaves produce an electric field that does the cooking. If small amounts of metals or minerals are present, they can enhance the electric field, sort of like a lightning rod. Pumpkins contain minerals; after all they are very nutritious. It is possible that the minerals in the stem, a conductive material, along with the extended stem, created a stronger electric field than the air around it. The dry stem was definitely flammable.

Poof! Kind of like a Pumpkin Flambe happened in my microwave.

Apparently, flames can be produced by many fruits and vegetables, but my advice is, “Don’t try this at home!”

Then, it was back to writing. Books, blog posts, newsletters–I am a busy writer, especially if you add in the mystery novels I’m working on. I hope you’ll check out my fun children’s science books on the My Books page. My publisher sells activity sheets and workbooks to accompany them, at Lyric Power Publishing LLC. They are jam-packed with lots of fun and interesting supplemental science education activities.

 

Sweet Iguana Dreams, My Friends

Every night I say “Sweet Iguana Dreams” to my iguana family members. Some people would think that is a silly thing to say, since iguanas are said not to dream. But I think they do. Iguanas are diurnal, active during the day and they sleep at night. In fact, they can sleep very soundly. I’ve been known to use this deep slumber to move aggressive iguanas or to clip the long toenails of recalcitrant family members.

Usually, the sleeping iguanas stretch out, with their arms relaxed alongside the torso.

photo of sleeping iguana
Sleeping comfortably and perhaps dreaming!

I’ve had a few hundred iguanas reside in my rescue over several years. Generally, they sleep quietly through the night. Every now and then, I would hear thrashing in the night and find an iguana asleep, rolling, snapping his or her tail, legs running in place. I believe these iguanas were having bad dreams, perhaps trying to escape a predator. Since they had been rescued, I hoped they weren’t dreaming about fleeing an abusive human.

I gently stroked the disturbed lizard’s back until they woke up, eyes wide open, looking around in panic. For some iguanas, this was enough and they would relax and go back to sleep. Others wanted to be held and comforted, which I was always happy to do.

This article in Scientific American gives a good summary about reptiles and REM sleep. See? They do have the potential to dream as you and I do.

May all your dreams be “sweet iguana dreams,” too.

NOTE: To learn more about these fascinating creatures, and for some fun with coloring, cutting and pasting, puzzles, charting, and more, see My Unit Study on Iguanas, proudly published by Lyric Power Publishing LLC.

Graphic image book cover about iguanas
Thirty pages of Iguana information and fun activity sheets for grades 2-4. Includes coloring pages, fact sheets, T/F about reptiles, parts of an iguana coloring page, compare animal traits, name matching, count and classify, reptile spelling page, life cycle of the iguana cut-and-paste activity, ecology word problems, iguana word problems, creative writing prompt, opinion writing exercise, mean, mode, median, and range worksheets, counting iguanas, histogram worksheet, grams-to-pounds worksheet, trace the words and color, short i sound, create an iguana puzzle.

It’s a Climbing-the-Walls Kind of Time

Here, my youngest iguana, Twizzler Spiny-tail Iguana, is demonstrating that he is literally climbing the wall.

by Elaine A. Powers

If you’re like me, you’re spending more time at home than usual. Of course, this should help my writing output, but I often get distracted by the news of the world. Fortunately, I live with an assortment of animals who help me maintain my mental wellbeing.

At first my reptiles, many of whom free-roam my house, enjoyed having me around. They’d join in at my work area and sit at my feet, or wander by, walking over my feet or pushing my wheeled-chair. I liked the attention.

But over time, I noticed they weren’t around me as much. They had been accustomed to me traveling and having other caregivers while I was gone. Absence made their hearts grow fonder. Now, they have found favorite spots to hang out in in other rooms, especially the spare bedroom.

Was it something I said? Maybe I’m watching too much news or it’s been too long without me taking a trip. Well, we’ve all got our own space, so we should be content, right?

Nope! Today I realized that my reptiles may be experiencing enough stress to drive them “up the wall.” The phrase means being irritated or angry enough that one feels the need to escape, even if it means climbing up and over walls.

photo of iguana climbing back down the wall of cageTwizzler was eventually able to relax and made his way back down and settled into the day’s activities.

 

 

 

elaine a powers with rhino iguana rango
Here I am with Rhino Iguana Rango. Isn’t she a beauty?

As you can see above, iguanas can become quite large. So, when I wrote The Dragon of Nani Cave–well, the dragon isn’t really a dragon. It’s an iguana and only seems like a dragon to small Curly-tail lizards, the Lime Lizard Lads, who work up enough courage  to go find the dragon (with a little help from their friends). While the lizards are having an adventure, young readers are learning all about ecosystems (and they don’t even know it). That’s what we do around here–make learning about science fun!

Grab a copy today and while you’re at it, click the links below to check out the coordinating activity sheets and workbooks that reinforce the educational material in the book. They are lots of fun and help to pass the many hours at home.

book cover illustration of two lizards

 The Lime Lizard Lads, Gene and Bony, LOVE exploring their island home, where the bravest thing possible is to go seethe Dragon of Nani Cave.

An Adventure Tale For Readers Age 8+  48 pages

Fun and Colorful Illustrations of the many animals they encounter, 
including the Dragon! By Anderson Atlas 

Gene and Bony are bored. They go see Old Soldier Crab who tells them wondrous, dangerous creatures live up on the bluff. And, if they go, they must prove themselves worthy and return with a piece of Caymanite.

They must journey through Skull Cave and meet bats, and a cat with sharp teeth. Then they meet Kat, a fellow Curly-tail Lizard and she knows the way to Nani Cave. But she warns there might be more than one dragon.

Meeting one danger after another, they finally arrive at Nani Cave. There he is: the dragon! He’s HUGE! And look at all those teeth!

What will Gene and Bony do now?

KEEP THE FUN GOING!
COORDINATING WORKBOOKS AND
ACTIVITY SHEETS AVAILABLE AT
LYRIC POWER PUBLISHING, LLC:

MY  READING BOOK AND COLORING PAGES FOR THE DRAGON OF NANI CAVE

MY UNIT STUDY ON IGUANAS

MY BOOK ABOUT BATS AND RATS

NINE PLANTS OF THE CAYMAN ISLANDS

FIVE WAYS TO PROTECT CAYMAN BRAC WILDLIFE COLORING BOOK

MY PASSPORT TO THE CAYMAN ISLANDS

ANIMALS OF NANI CAVE AND
CAYMAN BRAC COLORING PAGES

ANIMALS OF CAYMAN BRAC
AND 13-MONTH CALENDAR

Ophidiofomophobia. Say, what?

I’m always learning new words. I thought someone who liked reptiles was a “herpephile.” I found out lately it is actually “herpetophile.” There really is a word for people like me who like reptiles and enjoy studying them.

Then I read about “ophidiofomophobia.” I had to look it up, but, unfortunately, it isn’t a real word, although it really should be. I know “Ophidiophobia” is a fear of snakes.  Ophidiofomophobia would be the fear of NOT having snakes. I would definitely suffer from ophidiofomophobia. I can’t imagine not sharing my yard with a variety of snakes.  They are all welcome, even those that rattle.

This examination of phobia words lead me to wondering about other phobias. Was there a word for people afraid of lizards?  Not a specific one for lizards, but there is a general one for reptiles: Herpetophobia is a fear of reptiles, usually lizards and snakes, but also crocodilians. I guess lizards don’t get their own phobia.

I feel iguanas—the big lizards—deserve their own phobia, at least.  Iguanaphobia has a nice rhythmic flow to it, don’t you think?

Seriously, phobias are serious issues that shouldn’t be joked about. One of the reasons I’m interested in writing science-based books is to help people learn about misunderstood animals and, hopefully, lessen their fears.

My motto is: Respect. Don’t fear.

infographic complete book description of book Don't Make Me Rattle

It’s National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day by Curtis Curly-tail

Image courtesy of マサコ アーント (Aunt Masako) from Pixabay

Hello, friends! It’s Curtis Curly-tail, star of Curtis Curly-tail Speaks! I hope you are all staying safe and that you are ready to share or receive some zucchini squash. That’s right—August 8th is National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day! If you have ever successfully grown zucchini, you know they can be prolific. In fact, people often have so many zucchini, they sneak them onto their neighbor’s porches in the dark of night. August 8th is the day celebrating this act of generosity. 

But I’ll bet you didn’t know that reptiles enjoy the zucchini AND the flowers. That’s a hint for those of you who have too many fruit on your plants—just pick the flowers off the plants and feed them to your favorite plant-enjoying reptile, like tortoises and iguanas. I’ve even heard that humans also enjoy the flowers.

Zucchini don’t seem to grow near my home on Warderick Wells in the Bahamas, but I hope to someday enjoy zucchini flowers and the fruit, too! In fact, if you’re headed my way, you don’t need to worry about the date to sneak some zucchini into my den!

Speaking of my den, I don’t seem to spend a lot of time there. I hope you’ll come along on one of my crazy adventures! (I just can’t seem to help myself . . .) You’ll learn about ecology and conservation in fictional stories by Elaine A. Powers. She’s pretty awesome—who would’ve thought you could make science fun with rhymes and adventure stories? Why, me and Elaine, of course!

Here I am for your educational needs AND pleasure:

book covers curtis curly-tail
Three adventures so far! I meet Allison Andros Iguana in Curtis Curly-tail is Lizardnapped!

Territorial!

Many animals (and some plants) establish territories. They protect these areas for their places to live, eat and mate. When I think of a territory, I usually imagine a natural area, but that’s not true for all lizards. Some lizards establish their territories on patios!

Several male Desert Spiny lizards, Sceloporus magister, have divvied up my patio, spacing their areas three to four feet apart. They respect each others’ space.

Don’t worry, I put out treats in all of their territories to encourage harmony. I’m happy to cede my patio to such wonderful lizards.

I enjoy writing about the animals in my life and have created a good number of children’s science education books that are fun to read. They are written in rhyme or as animal adventure tales–I believe fun reading makes the science stick. Looking for some fun science for your children? Check out my books on my Books page.

colorful children's book cover with a curly-tail lizard riding on the back of a hutia
This is a special story for readers who like to solve problems. It takes Curtis Curly-tail on his second adventure, but is based on real ecological events taking place on Warderick Wells Cay in The Bahamas. The hutia are endangered rodents native to the islands. Some are transplanted to Curtis’s cay, and Curtis meets his new friend, Horace. When the scientists come back to check on the hutia, they find that the native shrubs are almost gone, due to the hungry hutia. But Curtis and Horace do not understand what is happening when the hutia are captured and put into cages. Curtis decides to do everything he can to help Horace and his family. It is you, the reader, however, who must decide how the story will end. How do you solve a problem when an endangered species threatens a protected environment? There are three endings to the book. Which one will you choose? Or, will you come up with another solution? Lesson plans for teachers are also available at iginspired@gmail.com.

Who Protects Your Home?

Many homeowners have security systems to protect the premises.  There are many choices: Ring, ADT, Vivint, etc., all of which involve people.

My security system involves reptiles. I have free roaming tortoises that are adept at tripping. They utilize the carpets that camouflage them well. Yes, even I have face-planted! I also have large roaming lizards with razor sharp teeth and an intense dislike of people they don’t know.

photo of tortoise nibbling on iguana's tail
Members of my Home Protection Team

Recently, I discovered that the household reptiles have recruited some of the locals to participate in guarding the house.

This Desert Spiny Lizard, Sceloporus magister, is doing surveillance from the front door. From her spot, she can watch the front of the house and the road. She seems to be doing a good job.

She does a good job from here.

I haven’t written any books including the Desert Spiny, but I do enjoy writing about lizards. Visit my books page here; and check out the workbooks and activity sheets at Lyric Power Publishing, which all make science education fun!

A collage of book covers indicating the categories of books at elaineapowers.com
My Books By Category
Collage of Science Education Workbooks
Click on Workbooks to see all 23 workbooks, making science education fun!

Why Flake When You Can Shed?

Reptile skin is really interesting.  Instead of flaking off like human skin does, reptiles shed their skin in strips. Snakes shed one complete body skin at a time. Lizards might shed their skin in sections of the body.

The scales that make up the skin are made by the epidermis of the protein keratin. The skin provides an external covering provides protection and helps retain moisture. 

The skin on the left is being shed, and the colorful new layer underneath is on the right.  You can surely see why they are called Red Tegus.

Rascal is getting ready to shed his old skin, so it appears white.

My friend Rascal, a Red Tegu, offered to help me show shedding lizard skin. He has thick beaded scales, that appear to be a lovely dark red.  However, when it’s time to get rid of his old epidermis, the skin looks white. That’s because the tegu’s color is not in the outer epidermal layer, but underneath.

By the way, keratin is what you humans use to make your skin, hair and nails with.  Don’t you wish you could shed your skin like us reptiles?


This is a piece of the shed skin.  Notice there is no color except for a little black or melanin pigment.

Graphic image book cover about iguanas
Thirty pages of Iguana information and fun activity sheets for grades 2-4. Includes coloring pages, fact sheets, T/F about reptiles, parts of an iguana coloring page, compare animal traits, name matching, count and classify, reptile spelling page, life cycle of the iguana cut-and-paste activity, ecology word problems, iguana word problems, creative writing prompt, opinion writing exercise, mean, mode, median, and range worksheets, counting iguanas, histogram worksheet, grams-to-pounds worksheet, trace the words and color, short i sound, create an iguana puzzle.

Lyric Power Publishing LLC offers fun and educational science workbooks and activity sheets. Looking to supplement science at home? Make it fun with economical and fun activity sheets!

One example is the workbook above. Learn all about iguanas in this 30-page workbook that is only $2.95. and you buy it once and print as many times as you’d like!

See What Happens!

Red-foot tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonarius), like Gladiola, are omnivores, which means they eat meat, as well as vegetables and fruits. Being tortoises, they don’t run down prey like a wolf after a deer. No, they look for slow moving animal tidbits or carrion.  Any opportunity for some protein should be explored, as shown by Gladiola here.

Rango Rhinocerous Iguana showed great tolerance of Gladiola’s nibbling. Fortunately, Gladiola didn’t take too big a bite. Merely moving the tail out of the way was sufficient.

However, Gladiola thought Rango’s tail was worth another taste a few minutes later.

Despite Rango asking Gladiola nicely to cease and desist, she didn’t. She pursued that tail and chomped down on it one too many times. With a flick of the tail, the errant tortoise was sent flying, ending up on her side. 

With a flip of a nibbled tail . . .

That’s what you get when you bite the wrong tail!

Interested in learning more about tortoises or turtles? Check out our books by clicking on the link.

green book cover with turtle illustration
Do you know the differences between the land-dwelling Hickatee and the ocean-dwelling Sea Turtle? Learn about them inside. Reading Level: Ages 6. Written in Rhyme. 45 Pages. Wonderful Illustrations of the Native Hickatee Turtle and Sea Turtles by Anderson Atlas. Learn all about the endemic Hickatee turtle who has so many troubles–well-meaning humans who throw them to their deaths into the ocean, cars that run over them, loss of land to lay their eggs, and cousins pushing them out. Shows physical traits and the differences between these land-dwelling turtles and the sea turtles that do reside in the ocean. Make friends with the Hickatee today!

Hey, Fans! Here’s My Next Video: All About Cantata Sulcata

Hi, everyone! It’s me, Curtis Curly-tail Lizard and have I got a video for you!

I figured you fell asleep last night thinking about Sulcata tortoises and you wondered: Do they make good pets?

Click here on Curtis Curly-tail Introduces Cantata Sulcata to learn all about my friend, Cantata, and these special tortoises.

Thanks, and have a great day!

Watch Out for Those Dangerous Choices in Clothing Colors!

When you get dressed, do you consider your pets? Sure, I know those of you with fur babies might wonder which outfit would go best with your pet’s hair. However, if you live with iguanas, you must make your clothing choices carefully.

Iguanas have excellent color vision. Since they eat leaves and flowers, this makes sense. It also makes wearing certain colors dangerous. When hungry, iguanas can be enthusiastic eaters. When they see a large green leaf that happens to be a pant leg or a t-shirt, they often bite first and ask about edibility later. They know I provide first-rate leaves, so why would that shirt be any less tasty?

Usually after the first bite, they realize something is wrong and then taste the cloth, confirming it’s not what they had wanted. Of course, it takes many tongue flicks to come to that conclusion.  Unfortunately, one of my rhino iguanas prefers to eat first and worry about whether it is food later. It cost a lot of money to get that green dish cloth out of his stomach.

One of my newest family members, a large rhino iguana, loves grapes—I mean really loves grapes, purple grapes. My favorite pair of jeans happens to be purple, so she will chase me around the house, convinced I’m one very large grape. She’ll tongue-flick and tongue-flick, certain the pants will eventually turn into a grape. Every time I wear the jeans, I am followed by the rapidly clicking claws running after me.

As I write this, I am wearing an orange-colored t-shirt. Not a good choice around iguanas. Many delicious fruits and flowers are orange. So, I’ll conclude this post and go change my shirt. I’m feeling a dark color would probably be better . . .

Then I’ll settle in and get to work on one of my new book projects. In the meantime, I hope you’ll check out my fun science books. I’m a retired biologist and a musician, so those two parts of me combined into writing science books as adventure tales, or in rhymes. It’s a lot of fun for me and I hope my books inspire many young scientists.

A collage of book covers indicating the categories of books at elaineapowers.com
My Books By Category