This Blog is Popping!

What food do you put down when a survey asks for your favorite food? I always put down popcorn! I love popcorn. I love the flavor, the crunchiness, and the childhood memories it brings. My father’s favorite snack was popcorn cooked with bacon grease. Many years later, I read a survey of popcorn produced in New York City that declared the best-tasting popcorn is made with bacon grease! I could have told them that. As you can see, popcorn has a special place in my heart. This is why I’ve dedicated this blog to my favorite popping snack. 

The Magic of Popcorn

It’s magical how applying a little heat makes the small kernels explode into a fluffy white flower-like ball. No matter the color of the kernel, all popped popcorn is white fluffiness. Popcorn contains 15% water and is the only corn that pops. When the internal pressure from steam is too great for the shell, the innards explode, inflate and turn the kernel inside out. How great it is to have food that is both tasty and entertaining.

My father would make big batches that he first put in a big roasting pan, then transferred to large paper bags. I still use his pan, but mine never lasts long enough to make it into a paper bag. Occasionally, I’ll keep some in a plastic storage container, but it doesn’t last very long. I can eat it every day!

Apparently, I’m not the only person who loves popcorn, since there is National Popcorn Day on January 19. Popcorn can be prepared in many ways: plain (my preference), buttered (sometimes), sweet, savory, mixed and molded into a ball, or tossed with nuts and chocolate. So many choices of flavoring, if you feel the need for flavor enhancement. I even add it to soup instead of crackers. Popcorn is a good source of roughage, too! However, my dental hygienist did complain about having to pull pieces out of my gums.

The History of Popcorn

Americans consume 13 billion quarts of popcorn a year! It’s not surprising that the US consumes the greatest amount of popcorn in the world. After all, it is a local crop. The Old English term “corn” referred to the most prominent grain grown in a region. When Native Americans shared their most common grain, maize, calling it corn was their obvious term to use. Popcorn is a special kind of corn.

Maize has been cultivated for a long time. In the 16th century, Aztecs used popcorn in the worship of their god, Tlaloc, the god of maize and fertility.

In the mid-1800s, popcorn gained popularity in the US. Popcorn became part of American culture, when Louise Ruckheim added peanuts and molasses, creating Cracker Jack. The iconic snack was immortalized by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer Jack in their baseball song, Take Me Out to the Ball Game!

Even today, popcorn it’s a given to be sold in any movie theater. Popcorn is the perfect long-lasting snack to consume while enjoying visual entertainment. A bowl/bag/tub of popcorn can be consumed alone or shared with a friend.

Perhaps, some of your first cooking, like mine, either on the stove or a campfire as a child involved the disposable frying pans of popcorn kernels – Jiffy Pop. No dishes to clean up afterward. You can still buy it

With the invention of the microwave, it’s obvious that microwaveable popcorn would be developed. In fact, Percy Spencer used popcorn in the experiments during the initial microwave experiments. Today you can use microwaves, hot air, or the traditional oil/grease to cause the water within the kernel to turn to steam and burst open the kernel. 

The creators of National Popcorn Day encourage us to pop some popcorn, share it with friends and then post photos of it on social media using #NationalPopcornDay. Popcorn has been honored with a national day since 1988, perhaps longer. What a tasty way to celebrate one of the most important foods! Now, go pop some popcorn and dig into your favorite book or grab one of my science-based workbooks

My Explosive Mauna Loa Tale

I woke up on November 28, 2022, to the headline announcing “Hawaii’s Mauna Loa is erupting for the first time since 1984.” Mauna Loa erupting always gets my attention. Before 1984, the volcano on the big island of Hawaii had last erupted on July 5, 1975. I know because I was on the side of it when it did! My volcanic adventure was certainly a tale to remember and share…

A Summer Like No Other

After graduating high school, I attended a summer science course on the island of Hawaii before starting college in the fall. It was a great trip with visits to the black sand beaches, scuba diving off the coast, making a rubbing of a petroglyph,  walking across the lava field of Kilauea volcano (my shoe soles got really hot!), and camping on the side of Mauna Loa in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park campground. 

A framed black and white petroglyph rubbing that depicts a human figure surfing.
Petroglyph Rubbing c. 1975

The camping trip was almost canceled because the seismologists had detected 26 separate earthquakes in the previous 24 hours. Something was going to erupt! However, everyone assumed it would be Kilauea, as usual. Many tourists had checked into the hotel that had an overlook of Kilauea, specifically for that reason. Nothing like enjoying a meal as you watch lava splash.

A cabin in the campground had been rented for our group, but when we arrived, we quickly realized that there wasn’t enough room for all of us to sleep inside. No problem, some of us hardier folks volunteered to sleep outside in our sleeping bags. We were quite comfy and the night sky was magnificent.

An Explosive Night

Around midnight, we saw an orange flame leap into the sky. At first, the flame was thin but increasingly widened across the top of the volcano. Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, was erupting. That answered the question of who was going to erupt. This was exciting because it hadn’t erupted in decades! We, the outsiders, got up and enjoyed the show. Mauna Loa is not an explosive type of volcano, instead, the lava fountains fill the summit caldera, Moku‘āweoweo, and then spills over. Fortunately, the flow usually goes over the other side, so we felt safe in the campground. 

We decided we should share this incredible event with the other campers, so we ran around the campground yelling “the volcano is erupting, the volcano is erupting.” Our classmates believed us and came out to enjoy the show. However, the majority of the other campers told us to be quiet (in stronger terms) and didn’t come out. They were rather upset with themselves the next morning when they realized we had been telling the truth. Hey, we tried.

One of the leaders yelled that we could drive to the top! We jumped in the van to go to the top of the volcano where the park service had erected a viewing platform over the summit caldera. However, halfway up, our driver stopped and turned around. We were low on gas and wouldn’t be able to outrun the lava flow if it came our way. Lava flows at 30 mph. People run up to 8 mph. It wasn’t a risk we wanted to take. Our retreat turned out for the best since the molten rock consumed the viewing platform on its way down the volcano’s side. Another 3 feet of land was added to the island that night

Unlike the current eruption, the 1975 eruption lasted less than 24 hours. Starting just before midnight, all activity stopped by 7:30 pm on July 6. After all, we had returned to the school that day, so why would Mauna Loa keep erupting if I wasn’t there?

If you found molten rock as amazing as I do, you might enjoy my downloadable workbook all about rocks!

My, What Big Leaves You Have!

When I need an ocean fix, I head to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But when I need a green fix, I head back to my hometown of Peoria, IL. I call it my writing retreat because I sit on my cousin’s back porch, where my muse refreshes and my writing output increases. Having his two dogs draped on the furniture around me helps with the inspiration. I often take his Goldendoodle for a walk around the tree-filled neighborhood, to get some exercise and increase blood flow to my brain. After living in the Sonoran Desert for over a decade, the trees strike me as so…green! The trees are tall with thick branches and really big leaves! Why such a big difference in the flora? I’m glad you asked.

Small vs. Big Leaves

I’ve become used to the small, thin leaves of the desert trees. Their short stature, their thin branches, and the sight of the landscape through the leafy sparseness are what I now expect. This is a mesquite tree, common in the Sonoran Desert.

The tiny leaves of a mesquite tree.

The significant differences between the leaves got me thinking about how the tree species have adapted to their environments. Desert tree leaves are small to reduce surface area thereby decreasing water loss. Access to water is limited in desert environments. In the Midwest, water conservation is less of an issue for the trees. They have leaves with lots of surface area. It’s interesting that leaves that grow in the shade (all those leaves produce a great deal of shade) are usually bigger. They need a greater surface area to increase their amount of photosynthesis. The leaves exposed to the sun can be smaller. No need for them to fight over the sunshine.

Some of the more common Midwest trees are the oaks. The average oak leaf can be up to eight inches in length. This is huge compared to the palo verde or mesquite leaves which have leaflets about an inch long. In addition, the oak leaves are present from spring until fall, since they are deciduous, drop off for winter. In comparison, the desert trees’ leaves tend to show up after rainfall.

The leaves are responsible for feeding the trees. Photosynthesis is where sunlight is used to synthesize carbon dioxide and water into food for plants. Oxygen is given off as a byproduct, fortunately for us oxygen breathers.

A Whole New Tree-preciation 

I must confess, living in the desert has made me appreciate trees more than I need, as a once native Midwesterner. Sure, I knew they were important and beautiful, but I usually appreciated it when they bloomed in the spring or changed colors in the fall. Now, I more fully realize how critical they are to life in any environment. Animals and other plants really depend on their presence to survive.

If you want to know more about the plants in the Sonoran Desert, I offer a bit of information in How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird.

A Snake… with Legs?

We humans like to find ways of enhancing our means of movement. We strap wheels onto our feet, jump on skateboards, and climb on bicycles or motorcycles. We build cars to drive faster than we can walk. We build airplanes to fly in the sky like birds. But we’ve also invented wonderful devices to assist humans with mobility impairments. Furthermore, we don’t just build these devices for ourselves, we build them for other animals too. Explore some of these animal mobility devices with me, including one that gives snakes… legs!

Some Helpful Human Devices

Science and engineering have developed many useful tools for animals. Wheels allow animals without use of their back legs to roll along, from dogs to turtles. Then there’s the prosthetic limbs for alligators like Mr. Stubbs at the nearby Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary. Another remarkable prosthetic was the tail created for Winter, a bottle-nose dolphin.

Movement is very important to people, even if it borders on the absurd. For instance, I included the technology that allowed a fish to move its tank on wheel, i.e. FOV, fish-operated vehicle in one of my books. I used a FOV to allow my protagonist Clarissa Catfish to wander around the Peoria Play House Children’s Museum in my hometown of Peoria, IL.

Book cover for Clarissa Catfish.

How a Snake Got Legs

So it should be no surprise, I was intrigued when an engineer decided to give snakes legs, claiming they were reversing an evolutionary mistake. Robotic technology has really advanced over the recent years, so that a robotic exoskeleton could be built.

A snake in a tube with robotic legs attached.

It took a few tries for the snake to enter the contraption, but once she did, she seemed to enjoy moving about with legs. Of course, she wasn’t controlling the movement or the direction like the fish did, but those could be future enhancements. I am curious to see if this technology leads to more practical uses or if this was just fun with snakes. Maybe if the legs had a camera like the fish tank, the snake could be in control. Giving snakes legs might be the ultimate in enhancing movement, but then again who knows where movement technology will lead us and our animal associates.

Oh, and by the way, don’t be surprised if your snake requests legs for its next gift-giving event! If you are interested in learning more about snakes, download one of my many educational workbooks on the topic. 

Jellyfish in the… Desert?

The tram operators of Sabino Canyon in Tucson, AZ are offering nighttime tours this summer. It’s part of an overall upgrade to the beautiful park located in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest. Along with upgrading to electric vehicles, the tour narration now comes with personal earbuds. This reduces the noise of the tour and allows the guides to share more detailed facts. I enjoyed this more informative talk. But one fact in particular caught my attention. Jellyfish have been found in Sabino Creek! Jellyfish in the desert? I had to find out more, and I absolutely had to share what I learned. 

The Desert-dwelling Jelly

With my love of marine biology, I was excited by the thought of a native freshwater jellyfish being identified in this local creek. How did the jellyfish adapt to the inconsistent nature of desert bodies of water?

Once I returned home, I immediately searched online for the jellyfish of Sabino Canyon. Yes, this jellyfish was identified, but what I read saddened me. This wasn’t a native freshwater, desert-dwelling jellyfish. No, this was an invasive species.

The jellyfish in Sabino Canyon is Craspedacusta sowerbyi. This species was first found in 1908. Since then, it has spread to 43 states. C. sowerbyi, or the peach blossom jellyfish, is a hydrozoan cnidarian. Originally from the Yangtze basin in China, this jellyfish is now an invasive species found throughout the world, except for Antarctica.

More About the Invaders

This jellyfish has about 400 tentacles along the bell margin. The body is translucent with a whitish or greenish tint. The tentacles have nematocysts, which they use to capture prey. This jellyfish prefers calm and slow-moving freshwater bodies. C. sowerbyi is noted for showing up in new places.

C. sowerbyi consumes zooplankton caught with its tentacles. The venom injected by the nematocysts paralyzes the prey, the tentacle coils bringing the meal to its mouth. I am curious what zooplankton in Sabino creek it’s eating.

This jellyfish can reproduce both asexually and sexually. Interestingly, in the US, populations of C. sowerbyi are either all male or all female, suggesting no sexual reproduction is occurring.

During cold weather, the jellyfish polyps can become dormant as podocysts. Scientists believe that the jellyfish are transported as a podocyst in aquatic plants or animals to other locations. If they find the new environment suitable, they develop back into polyps.

I’m saddened that the jellyfish found in Sabino Canyon is an invasive species and doesn’t belong there. I don’t know if they plan to take action to eradicate the jellyfish or what damage it is inflicting upon the native environment. Being vigilant against intrusion by non-native plants and animals is a continual effort to protect our many environments.

My recent release, Guam: Return of the Songs, is all about how one invasive species can damage an entire ecosystem. But also, the hope to repair it. Introducing the brown tree snake to Guam destroyed many native animals in the island ecosystem. This book tells the story of that invasion and the return of Guam’s native birds, in both English and native CHamoru.

Reference: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/specimenviewer.aspx?SpecimenID=168095

All About Bats: A Citizen Scientist Update

Last year, I wrote about the bat survey I’m taking part in. Researchers at Texas Christian University are studying the usage of pools by desert-dwelling bats. I live in Oro Valley, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. And I have a pool in my backyard. Both make me a perfect candidate for this citizen scientist endeavor. It’s been one year since I signed up and here is what I have found.

A “Bat” of Info on the Survey

To identify the bats that stop by my pool I had to install a bit of technology. The scientists detect the bats through an ultrasonic microphone that records their calls. They use reference recordings of the different species expected in various areas. Once I have collected enough recordings, a student from the university identifies the bats heard on them.

I’ve been amazed and delighted with the number of recordings I’ve been obtaining at my pool. I find it interesting that when it rains, the bats are particularly talkative.

How Many Species?

Can you guess how many different species of bats were detected in my backyard this past year? I suspected I had at least 4 bat species around my pool, based on personal observations. Usually, I have small bats flitting about, frequently coming down to the pool surface. Once or twice, I’ve seen a few slightly bigger bats, but it was hard to precisely determine the size because they fly sooo fast. A special treat was when the BIG bats showed up. Recently, three of them even joined me in the pool. Their sharp triangular wings were incredible.

The researchers were busy analyzing all the recordings from the various locations around Tucson, so it wasn’t until recently that they were able to provide tentative results. They sent us a list of the bat species tentatively identified at each of our pools. I had 21 species of bats! 21!! I’m astounded. 

I don’t know how many times each of the species were at my house, so expect another update. Most of the locations around Tucson had the same species of bats. One of them had an extra one, a spotted bat. I hope this species wanders up to my house.

Of the seventy bat species found in the Sonoran Desert, eighteen have been found in the Tucson area. So, which of them flies above my house? 

Here is the tentative list:

  • Cave Myotis
  • Greater Mastiff Bat 
  • Mexican Free-Tailed Bat
  • Silver Haired Bat
  • Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat
  • Western Red Bat
  • Pallid Bat
  • Underwood’s bonneted Bat
  • Hoary Bat
  • Western Yellow Bat
  • Myotis California Bat
  • Western Small-footed Bat
  • Long-eared myotis Bat
  • Arizona Myotis Bat
  • Fringed Myotis Bat
  • Long-legged Myotis Bat
  • Yuma Myotis Bat
  • Pocketed free-tailed Bat
  • Big Free-tailed Bat
  • Canyon Bat

I’ve suspected the big bat I’ve seen is the greater mastiff bat, but that’s only my uneducated guess. However, this species is on the list, so maybe my guess was right. Or it might be a big brown bat.

Another of my guesses is that the little ones I see most often are canyon bats. They are the smallest bats in North America. They are known for coming out early in the evening, which makes them easier to see. I’ve even got photos of them…kind of.

An extremely grainy photo of a bat flying in the sky at dusk.

More Bat Questions!

Most of the bats found in this study are insectivores, but a few are nectar drinkers. This leads to the question of whether these bats are showing up for the hummingbird feeders or the water in the pool.

Knowing which species are present is wonderful, but there are so many more questions. How often did each species visit? Did they come at specific periods, such as only in July, or were they around for many months? What time of night were they active and for how long? The little bats seem to visit just at sunset and then fly off or is it that I just couldn’t see them anymore in the dark – they are small? How many of each species visited, one or many?

I hope to have this information for a future blog. However, I was so excited by the number of bat species that I had to share this early information.

By the way, the researchers at TCU are rather jealous. They only have four species of bats in their area. Maybe the diversity of bats in the Tucson area is why they are so popular. One of the famous activities here is going to the larger bridges over the washes and watching the Mexican free-tailed bats emerge at sunset. According to the list, I can do my own observations right in my backyard. I’ll also look a bit more carefully at those bats around my pool. Maybe I’ll be able to definitively identify these amazing animals who share my pool with me.

If you know any budding young bat scientists, I highly recommend My Book About Bats and Rats, a fun and educational workbook that focuses on the Caribbean Fruit Bat.

This Blog May Be a Bit Soggy

I’ve noticed when I’m trying to write, the ideas really flow. Not while I’m sitting at my computer, of course. But rather, when I’m immersed in water. Showers are great, but swimming laps in the pool really opens up the creativity taps. So many ideas will “float” around that I keep a notepad by the side of the pool. Before you ask, yes I did investigate underwater writing tablets. They weren’t what I needed to transcribe my thoughts quickly. Yes, the paper tends to get a bit damp, but I write carefully so that even water-smudged, I can still read my writing. If you’ve seen my scrawl, you’d know how hard it is to read on dry paper. Anyway, I digress. Intrigued by my soggy moments of inspiration, I set out to investigate this phenomenon. And wouldn’t you know, science has the answer!

Science Loves a Shower

This topic was inspired by an article by Stacey Colino in National Geographic entitled The science of why you have great ideas in the shower. Apparently, water-induced inspiration isn’t unique to me! The author summarizes the research of the past couple of decades into where in the brain creativity is activated.

Often when we grind away at a problem, we’re told to go do something else, work on another project. Frequently, doing activities on “autopilot” results in a mental breakthrough. Why is this happening? Scientists believe that letting your mind wander allows the brain to tap into unusual memories and generate new ideas. It’s not hard work that comes up with great ideas, but passive activities. Passive activities are those involving habitual actions or resting, like a shower. In fact, specific areas of the brain are more active during passive tasks.

Letting my mind wander is the best way to come up with creative ideas. Supposedly, it lets thoughts, memories, and ideas bounce around and combine in new ways. I imagine it as something like a mental pinball machine.

The scientists offer suggestions for increasing creative output. Getting sufficient sleep is important in solidifying the information inputted during the day. Immediately upon awakening, you should record your thoughts since they have tapped your creative potential. I do have a notepad by my bed.

Intermingle your day with mentally demanding activities, such as writing this blog, with more mindless activities to let your mind wander. So, why are showers stimulating mentally? Your mind is free to roam, there’s the white noise of the falling water, and ideas are allowed to bounce around.

No Water Needed

Another suggestion is getting out into nature. My friend calls it Vitamin N. Your thoughts wander when you’re outside, trying to take in the enormity of the world around you. The researchers suggest taking a walk. I prefer to get on my horse and let him do the walking.

Science recommends engaging in passive activities for as long as it takes your mind to unwind. But for many people, this leads to guilt. After all, why am I wasting time swimming or riding when I should be working on my next book or, more importantly, my marketing? Actually, taking the time to let my mind roam freely will lead to increased productivity and save me time when writing.

So, excuse me, I must go and daydream for a while. Maybe in a pool, sitting in the falling rain, in the hot tub, or a quick shower. Remember, power your muse with a shower!

If you’d like to shower your kids with science-based learning take a look at my educational and fun workbooks, based on topics such as biology and conservation.

What’s So Bad About Algae?

Even though I live in the Sonoran Desert, many of my book’s settings are in areas that have ocean beaches. Often in the Caribbean. These books deal with environmental issues. And with good reason. The Caribbean is one of the world’s most biologically diverse marine regions. That’s why I was concerned to learn about recent algae blooms in the region. Here’s what I learned. 

Good Alga, Gone Bad

This summer, many islands in the Caribbean are suffering from too much sargassum washing ashore. Sargassum is a brown alga, which, unlike most algae that attach to a substrate, grows as free-floating mats. In proper amounts, sargassum decomposing on the shore provides important nutrients to the coastal ecosystem. The piles also help reduce erosion. Unfortunately, too much washed-up decomposing sargassum depletes oxygen in the water, resulting in fish kills. In addition, hydrogen sulfide gas is released, affecting people. So, the current huge amounts of sargassum are impacting the beaches, preventing sea turtles from nesting, boats from leaving docks, and tourists enjoying the shore.

This is why I was concerned when I saw this on my favorite beach in Florida. Was this sargassum on the shore? Was sargassum clogging the beaches as they had in the past?

Reddish brown algae bunches litter a beach.

I was relieved when I identified this as Red Drift Algae. Even though there have been times sargassum has clogged the area’s beaches, red drift algae are found in the local inshore waters and this build-up is normal. The algae are frequently found in small amounts along the shore, but recent conditions (high tides and strong winds) have caused higher amounts to drift.

All the Colors of Algae

When seen on the shore, we often call algae, plants found in aquatic environments, macroalgae, or seaweed. Macroalgae are algae that can be seen with the naked eye. Other algae require a microscope to be observed. Macroalgae usually grow attached to sediment. When they detach, they become drift algae. I use the pronoun “they” because algae are plural, and alga is singular. Macroalgae don’t have vascular systems like grasses or land plants. No, they absorb water and nutrients directly through their surfaces.

The various colors of macroalgae are used to divide them into three groups: green, red, and brown algae. Pigments give these plants their colors: fucoxanthin for brown, phycoerythrin for red, and chlorophyll for green. However, you can’t judge an alga by its color. Red algae can be green and brown as well, green algae can be yellow and brown algae can be red or green! This sounds rather complicated.

So, I shouldn’t be surprised by the various colors in the red drift algae on my beach. In addition, the shapes of the algae were different, which made me curious about what species of macroalgae might be in the mix. I used a nature app to try to identify them.

Strands of deep red algae in receding beach waters.

The app couldn’t positively identify this alga but offered some suggestions: genera Ceramium, Laurencia, or Jania. My guess is that it is Laurencia sp., based on its description. This red algae genus is found in temperate and tropical littoral zones. The littoral zone is the area near the shores of oceans, lakes, or rivers. It’s my favorite area of the ocean.

A patch of bushy green alga in receding ocean waters.

This green alga may be of the genus Ulva, commonly known as sea lettuce. If this is sea lettuce, it is edible by humans and manatees. I’m happy to leave my portion to the manatees. I know they will enjoy it far more than I will.

One alga that seemed easier to identify is this one. It looks just like its picture in the app. Then again maybe not. This genus is usually found in the Pacific Ocean, although there is a species found along the eastern US coast.

This strands of green curly alga.

Codium sp., Deadman’s fingers

I am not satisfied with the wishy-washy identification of these algae species and will continue my efforts to learn more about them. Their presence on the beaches does impact other animals. Birds and crustaceans have to move around the piles. People find it in the way of their beach activities and unattractive in appearance. Hopefully, this natural occurrence won’t have too negative an impact but provide a beneficial impact on the ecosystem.

If you are interested in learning more about protecting our Caribbean beaches, check out my workbook, Five Ways To Protect Cayman Brac. It’s a fun way to learn about beach conservation!

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. 

Celebrate Invasive Species Awareness Every Week!

This year, National Invasive Species Awareness Week was from February 28th through March 3rd. It always begins on the last Monday of February. If you’re reading this outside of that particular week, it’s okay. The knowledge and prevention of invasive species are important enough to consider every week. Read on to learn more about why you should care about invasive species despite the day, week, month, or year. 

What Is An Invasive Species? 

An invasive species is any non-native plant, animal, or microorganism that proliferates in areas outside of its native ecosystem. It can be either on land or in the water. Also known as invasives, these organisms can harm the environment, human health, and the economy.

Get to Know Some Invasives

I’ve talked about animals, such as the green iguanas and spiny-tail iguanas as invasive species, but there are soooo many more. In the US, there are more than 6,500 non-native plants and animals. Some are so common that you might think they are native because they seem to always be around. For this blog, I want to talk about a few particular invasive plants. These plants were introduced to non-native environments for a variety of reasons. Sometimes intentionally, and sometimes they are accidentally released.  

The Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia) were both introduced because they’re attractive. I admit, I enjoyed the purple flowers of the loosestrife as I kayaked the rivers of Michigan and New Jersey. However, it did strike me as odd that it was spread out so extensively. That’s what invasives do, they out-compete the native plants.

A field full of beautiful, but invasive Purple Loosestrife.

I spend a great deal of time in Florida. Many Floridians would tell me about the gorgeous bushy tree they had in their yards, the Brazilian pepper or Florida holly as it’s called locally. The leaves and red berries are often used in holiday decorations. However, this non-native plant very successfully forced native plants out of the area. I spent two summers working to remove them from the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The roots had to be destroyed because the plant would regrow if any were left alive. In addition, when the berries ripened and fermented, birds would eat them and become drunk. No matter how humorous the birds look hanging upside down and singing, this is very dangerous for them.

Round, red berries growing in a bunch surrounded by green leaves.

(Photo courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr)

The Dangers of Invasive Species

Even though invasive animal species get the most attention, plants can be dangerous, too. Just how dangerous? If you’ve ever seen kudzu, (Pueraria lobata) grow, you know how destructive plants can be. Kudzu is known as the “plant that ate the South.” Originally planted to help with ground erosion control, it spread over trees, vehicles, and even buildings. Kudzu can grow up to a foot a day. Yes, you can really watch this plant grow.

Kudzu vines covering the ground and trees.

Then there’s the symbol of the desert West, the humble tumbleweed (Kali tragus). Nothing says desolation in a show than a tumbleweed blowing across the dusty ground. But tumbleweed seeds came from Russia. The portion of the plant that is seen rolling along the ground is the seed dispersal unit. Unfortunately, the seemingly harmless balls of rolling branches actually cause significant losses through traffic accidents, invasion of agricultural operations, and property damage!

I was surprised to learn that the multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is invasive. My neighbors in New Jersey had a glorious hedge of multiflora rose on top of their backyard fence. I enjoyed the aroma and multitude of flowers. Little did I know how well the rose out-competed the native understory plants.

Delicate white flowers of the multiflora rose.

Invasive species and conservation of native plants and animals is a worldwide issue. Learn some ways locals are protecting wildlife in the Cayman Islands or some of the native species found in North America with my fun and interactive workbooks! You can find them all here.

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 Laws of Physics (According to Horses)

I started horseback riding after I retired. Before that, I’d never been particularly fond of horses, despite being a biologist. I preferred reptiles, crustaceans, and mollusks. However, life has a way of leading me down unexpected trails. Although no matter the trail I find myself on, I always find a little science. Even with a biology major, I had to take physics classes. I particularly liked those that dealt with the physics of living beings. But I still had to learn about the general laws of movement and such. But once I started riding horses, I quickly began thinking about all of the laws of physics. 

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation

There’s the obvious law of gravity that I’m reminded of every time I climb on the back of a thousand-pound animal. Should I be jostled off, gravity will without fail take me to the ground. Yet, it’s gravity that keeps me on the horse. By balancing above the horse’s center of gravity, I will stay on her back. Once on board, the laws of motion are very apparent. 

Newton’s Laws of Motion

First Law of Motion: an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. I have to convince the horse to move forward. Sometimes, the horse prefers to just stand. That’s the difference between a bicycle and a horse. Fortunately, most of the time when I ask nicely, the horse will move forward. When the horse moves, I feel my body being thrown back – that’s my body trying to remain at rest. The faster the horse goes forward, say to a canter, the more my body is thrown back. Hopefully, I can remain seated and not thrown completely off the back of the horse! Every time the horse changes its pace, I have to adjust my center of gravity. There’s no sitting passively when on top of a moving horse!

Second Law of Motion: acceleration of an object depends on the net force and is directly proportional to the magnitude of the force, while being inversely proportional to the mass of the object. A rider’s center of gravity is critical for horseback riding. If I’m centered on top of the horse’s center of gravity, we are in balance. I can use my balance to communicate to the horse how I want it to move. By shifting my balance back, gently pulling on the reins and relaxing my legs, this net force moves the horse’s mass to slow down or stop. This also happens when a horse jumps, combining the horse lifting its legs and gravity pulling them back down.

Third Law of Motion: when two bodies interact, they apply forces to one another that are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. When I’m sitting on the horse, my body is pushing down on the horse (poor horse), but at the same time, the horse is pushing up on me (thank you, horse) with the same amount of force. The reason I bounce in the saddle is due to the force with which its hooves push on the ground, creating the upward force that causes me to bounce in the saddle. Of course, my coming off the horse, being thrown, involves this third law. That’s when the force of the horse is a little more than my force.

Centrifugal Force

Centrifugal force: an object moving in a circle behaves as if it’s being pushed outward.  Another aspect of departing the back of the horse involves centrifugal force. So, when I’m riding in a circle to the left, I feel like I am being flung to the right. Sometimes, if the horse makes a sharp turn, my body continues outward by centrifugal force. Sometimes, this force is sufficient to fling me off the horse, where gravity takes over.

To allow me to stay on the horse, friction can help. Holding my legs against the horse creates friction. This also helps keep me in the proper posture. The horse is creating its friction between her hooves and the ground.

Many other aspects of physics are involved in the more advanced riding that I haven’t experienced since I’m a “young” rider. The ones I’ve experienced so far have been sufficient. 

I’ve learned a lot since I started horseback riding, horse behavior, my body and its muscles and a refresher course in the physics of motion. Check out my other science based books, with an animal flair. And now it’s time to meet my physics instructors!

A chestnut horse with a white stripe running down it's head, Elaine leads it on a rope in the pasture.
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Elaine sits on a tan horse.
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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

The Need to Feed

An author friend of mine recently wrote a blog for my publisher, Lyric Power Publishing. She described how she, a girl who grew up on the cement streets of Manhattan, became enamored of a couple of native Desert Spiny lizards. A local informed her that she could feed the lizards mealworms. So, every day she offers the lizards a couple of worms, which they eagerly eat. However, this tale has led to a discussion about whether people should be feeding wild animals.

To Feed or Not to Feed?

This is an interesting, but tricky, topic. Do we condemn my friend for offering an acceptable food item to a lizard, when many of us have bird feeders around our homes? I am pleased that migrating bats utilize my hummingbird feeders to support their flight south. One bat species has changed its behavior to come north to feed before heading south again for migration. How about offering floating turtle food pellets in park ponds, when many people, unfortunately, feed bread to ducks? Some people put out corn for the neighborhood squirrels. These are all examples of feeding wild animals. Why are some acceptable and others not? The answer isn’t always straightforward.

During the pandemic, many people turned to the wild animals to maintain their sanity, using food to attract them, usually birds, to within viewing range. This enjoyment might lead to concern for the well-being of the animals and increase participation in conservation.

Many of our social activities involve the sharing of food. Humans seem to enjoy watching other animals eat and becoming part of their world by offering food items to other species. When companion animals eat heartily, we’re assured that they are healthy and happy. I admit, one of the pleasures I get from the Jurassic Park movies is watching the dinosaurs eat well.

It’s Not a New Discussion 

Many people are against bird feeders. Others think it will help the local birds, even if it won’t significantly enhance the general population. Sometimes, diseases are spread through bird feeders, but with our destruction of the natural habitat, humans have reduced the abundance of natural food. Providing food might help since mankind has reduced what’s available naturally, right? It’s a complex situation. And in reality, people won’t try to protect animals that aren’t important to them.

The advice that has been given is: do not feed wild animals when it might cause them harm.

When NOT to Feed

How do we know if we are harming them? Are we tempting them from natural food with tastier human food that has no nutritional value? Are we changing their behaviors? Are we affecting their health?

Human-wildlife interaction has become an important topic in The Bahamas, concerning their endemic rock iguanas and tour operators. How do you balance the needs of the iguanas with the need of Bahamians to earn a living? The tour operators take day-trippers out to see the magnificent lizards, but just looking at them and taking photos is not enough. The tourists want to interact, i.e., feed the iguanas. Early on, people would feed whatever leftover food they had onboard their boats, potato chips, etc. After discussions with the scientists, they agreed to offer food closer to natural food, often grapes. But throwing the grapes on the sand, led to the ingestion of sand and caused impaction, resulting in the death of the iguanas. After further discussion, it was agreed that the grapes would be put on sticks, like roasting marshmallows. An improvement. It’s true that grapes aren’t a natural food and have high sugar content, but it’s an improvement. Effects on iguana health have been noted, so more work is needed. Discussions are ongoing to develop protocols that allow the tour operators to conduct their tours with wild iguana feeding while minimizing the effects on the iguana populations.

Along with impacting the iguanas’ health, the tourist’s feeding has changed their behavior. When the boats arrive, the iguanas, mostly males, run down to the beach to get the handouts. This is another factor to be discussed. You might have seen the YouTube video about the woman doing yoga on a beach being bitten by an iguana. Her nail polish was grape-colored. It’s dangerous to wear fruit-colored toenail polish as well. Iguanas have color vision! In addition, they have razor-sharp teeth for biting through fibrous plant material.

The One Thing to Remember

In conclusion, it would be hypocritical of me to condemn all feeding of wild animals. My yard is filled with various bird feeders. I do ask that if you do feed your neighborhood wild animals, do it responsibly with knowledge of the possible risks.

Snakes (and Science) for All!

Buying books online is wonderfully convenient, but for me, selling my STEM-based books in-person is special, especially when the people are children. I’m delighted when kids show interest in the science that I include in my books. And I’m especially thrilled when girls are interested in snakes!

Breaking into Science

As a child, I dreamt of being a scientist, an outdoorsy naturalist, in particular. At that time, my grandmother, who was a teacher, was a little doubtful in my ability to be a scientist, something that she couldn’t be, due to societal restrictions on women. Even though she taught science in school, she couldn’t be a scientist. But, I hoped to study the environment and be involved in conservation. Fortunately, with time came change. I did pursue a career in science, eventually obtaining a Master of Science. Though I had hoped for a job outside, I ended up indoors and became a laboratory research biologist. I was able to do hands-on research involving many diseases and medical technology. Still, I still longed to be outdoors. 

To curb my naturalist cravings, I volunteered as a citizen scientist. My first project was helping with conservation projects on the rock iguanas, Cyclura sp., in the Caribbean. To me, the ideal vacation is chasing large, wild lizards over rough limestone karst and thorny brush. No laying on the beach for me!

Over the years, I also obtained the desire to write books and decided to mix my two favorite things together, creating engaging educational books that make science fun! Two of my books involve snakes: Don’t Make Me Rattle about rattlesnakes and Bahamian Boas: A Tabby Tale about the endemic boa constrictors of The Bahamas. The boa book includes actual photographs taken by scientists in the field! 

A brown book cover with illustrations of bahamian boa snakes      book cover graphic of rattlesnake

All this to say, that I am absolutely delighted by the fact that a majority of the snake book sales in recent years have been to girls! Yes, girls! When allowed to choose for themselves, I’m excited to report that girls like snakes and want to learn about them.

So, this holiday season, as you are thinking about a great gift for the girls in your life, think science, think SNAKES! My publisher, LyricPower.net has workbooks and activity sheets about snakes, too.

PS

I also discuss this very topic in one of my most recent Reptile Chats. Check it out below, or view that and all my wonderfully scaley videos on my YouTube channel.

Iguanas and Tortoises are… Invasive Species?

 

Invasive species are a common topic in environmental discussions these days, and rightfully so. Often, these concepts seem to deal with invasive plants or animals that affect people and places far away. But if you’ve ever watched my Reptile-Side chats, or witnessed one of my school or community visits, you know my non-human housemates are reptiles, mostly iguanas and tortoises. What you may not realize is that some of them are invasive species.

It’s Raining Green Iguanas!

Take green iguanas, for instance. I have both green and rock iguanas, species involved in my conservation effort in the Caribbean area. However, green iguanas are well-known invasives. They can be entertaining, like when comatose green iguanas fall from the trees during cold snaps in Florida. “It’s raining reptiles!” people love to say. Knowing how fond I am of iguanas, folks assume I want to help these unfortunate frozen lizards. They’re surprised when I suggest that the local wildlife personnel and the public finish the job that nature began.

I am a fan of iguanas, but prefer them to be safe and protected in their natural environment. Green iguanas, who are unable to handle cold weather in south Florida, are native to much warmer Central America. These wonderful animals have been introduced around the world through the pet trade, as stowaways on ship containers, and from human negligence. As a result, they’ve become a very dangerous invasive species. They’re not aggressive or a danger to humans; rather, they’re dangerous because they destroy non-native environments.

Part of my volunteer work as a citizen scientist involves helping to identify invasive green iguanas throughout the world. Posters have been created and flyers produced to spread the word, but more needs to be done. My author skills came to the rescue, and I created identification booklets for the public. These little booklets enable the public to tell the difference between native and invasive iguanas. In addition, they educate folks on the importance of native lizards.

In Tucson, Arizona, where I live, green iguanas are not a problem. Iguanas need more humidity and better vegetation to survive in this harsh environment. It’s not a problem for their relatives, the chuckwalla, who do well here. An invasive species that also does well here and lives in my yard—the sulcata tortoise. Surely, you must be thinking ‘how dangerous can a tortoise be?’

Invasive Tortoises in the Desert

The reality is that sulcata tortoises can have devastating effects on native Sonoran desert tortoises. Sulcata tortoises are natives of southern Saharan Africa, not southern Arizona. Sulcatas are much larger than the desert tortoise, 100-200lbs versus 15lbs. Both species eat the same plants, which means competition for limited food sources and water supplies. They also compete for a territory that, thanks to humans, steadily decreases.

Why are sulcatas roaming the Sonoran desert in the first place? They’ve been dumped by humans. You see, sulcatas are a favorite pet choice. As hatchlings, they’re a nice size and are both friendly and calm. In contrast, desert tortoises are much smaller at hatching. They’re shy around humans (who are viewed as possible predators) and tend to explore.

People may enjoy having a pet tortoise when they’re small. However, as they grow (and grow and grow) their caretakers learn how just destructive sulcatas can be. Sulcatas can easily dig through doors and drywall. Furniture is moved and broken while gardens and plantings are destroyed. One of my sulcata tortoises digs outside quite a bit, and I wondered how close she’d gotten to my house foundation. Turns out she was undermining it.

Due to the harshness of desert life, both sulcata and desert tortoises dig tunnels to escape the intense heat. Obviously from their size, sulcatas dig much bigger holes than the smaller desert tortoises. Sulcata dens can easily be 30 feet long and 20 feet deep, while desert dens are far smaller. Either type of den can provide a habitat for other animals. When my female sulcata dug a burrow in my yard, the desert tortoise helped herself and moved right in. Consequently, the sulcata had to continue digging to make the burrow big enough for both of them. They are not happy den-mates.

The entrance to a large den is visible beneath the broken edge of a house foundation.
A large sulcata den.
The entrance to a small desert tortoise den is visible beneath a succulent plant.
A small Sonoran tortoise den.

In other households, many unwitting owners eventually decide their tortoise is too destructive and unmanageable. Instead of finding a new home or at least contacting a rescue group, they’re often just dumped in the desert. Once there, not only do they have to compete with desert tortoises, they can also introduce diseases.

At least dumped sulcatas can survive here in the Sonoran desert. When I lived in New Jersey, I read a report stating that a Sulcata tortoise was found in a Pennsylvania forest. Fortunately, the unlucky tortoise was found before winter set in. A long, slow death in cold weather is a fate no reptile deserves.

How Can You Help?

An inconvenient and abandoned pet can easily become invasive and have a devastating effect on native animals. When we bring animals into our homes, it’s our responsibility to ensure they have a good place to live for the rest of their lives—which is up to 150 years for a tortoise. Once they live with humans they can never be released or returned into the wild. And they should never, ever be left in someone else’s habitat. Before you decide to bring home a pet, like a tortoise or an iguana, it’s a good idea to learn everything you can about them and make sure they’re the right pet for you.

Sharing a Fond Memory of Mexican Jumping Beans. What’s Yours?

When I was a child, my parents bought me a package of Mexican beans, frijoles saltarine. I was fascinated to learn why the beans moved.

Over time I forgot about them, until recently when I was reading an article about midge larvae that can fling themselves 36 times their body length.* The article got me thinking again about those moths inside of galls inside of beans.

That’s right, it’s a baby moth, Cydia saltitans, or larva, inside the bean. The moth, lays its eggs in the flower of the Mexican shrub Sebastiania pavoniana, so the eggs end up inside the seeds. The larva eats itself a chamber in the seed, or “bean,” and lives there. (Of course, the seeds aren’t beans like the legumes we eat.)

The larva may live inside the bean for months. It attaches itself to the chamber with a silk-like thread. When the bean is warm, say by being held in a hand, the larva moves, pulling on the threads, causing it to “hop.” That’s why they are called jumping beans!

Too much heat, though, and the larva dies. If you want to prolong your larva, the beans need to be kept in a cool, dry place . . . until then, it’s time to mimic the monsoon season. They should be soaked, but not submerged, for a few hours a couple of times a month.

Eventually, the larva metamorphoses into an adult moth, drills a hole in the side of the seed and flies off. The moth only lives for a few days. How sad.

The jumping beans come from a restricted place in Mexico where the host shrub grows, Alamos, Sonora, which calls itself the “Jumping Bean Capital of the World.”

The jumping beans are one of my favorite childhood memories. Adding in positive thoughts is a good thing right now. I’d love to hear about one of your favorite memories. Please share in a comment below.

image of mex jumping bean stages
Image courtesy of https://www2.palomar.edu/users/warmstrong/index.htm

 

*Grace Farley in Journal of Experimental Biology

 

 

 

Book Note: I was a budding scientist as a child. If you have one of those, or suspect you might, please introduce them to my fun science books. I weave science in adventure tales and fun rhyming stanzas–to make learning science fun! Grab a copy of one of my fun science stories today at My Books.

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

An Unusual Visitor Stopped By

The Sonoran Desert is home to many species of hummingbirds. The first things I installed in my yard when I moved in were hummingbird feeders.  Whenever a hummer would stop for a drink, I’d pull out my bird book to identify it. I’ve had quite a few species stop by over the years.  Some were local residents, and some were passing through on their annual migrations. I even had an albino individual who frequented my yard for a couple of years.

Usually, I have no trouble identifying my feathered visitors, since they were all present in my Birds of the Southwest book. I find they often cooperate by sitting on a branch so I can examine them.  I’ve been honored to host Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costas, Rufous, Calliope and Lucifer Hummingbirds.

photo of blue hummingbirdRecently, when a hummer visited my yard, as usual, I went out for a look. However, I didn’t recognize this individual. I looked in the book, but I couldn’t find her. That seems to be a problem with identifying birds – lots of photos of the males, but not enough of the females.

I contacted a friend whose son is an expert on hummingbirds. He thought it looked like a female Blue-throated hummingbird or Blue-throated Mountaingem. Blue-throateds are unusual in Tucson, but they are known to be in the area. Maybe the drought brought her to my yard. She stayed a few days.

Whatever her reasons for visiting, she is welcome anytime.

This hummer posed very nicely for me, but not all hummingbirds are that accommodating. I recommend my humorous tale, How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird, about a bumbling visitor trying to photograph a hummer. Though the desert seems to conspire against him, it’s more that he doesn’t understand the environment he is in. So, the book also contains a lot of information about the animals, plants and minerals of the Sonoran Desert. Your kids will get a kick out of his ‘accidents.’ If they’d like to learn about the desert in a funny way, pick up a copy for them today. 

book cover about how NOT to photograph a hummingbird

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#bluethroatedhummingbird

#bluethroatedmountaingem

#hummingbird

#sonorandeserthummingbird

A Spectacular ‘Bloom Night’ 2021 at Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens

The Night-blooming Cereus had to bloom all alone in the summer of 2020, but this year, they opened in all their glory for the visitors at the Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens on June 30, 2021.

Just prior to the 2019 blooming, I published my book, Queen of the Night: The Night-blooming Cereus. I wrote this book when the folks at Tohono Chul mentioned there were no books specifically for the native Cereus, Peniocereus greggii. After consulting with their expert botanist, I published this rhyming picture book. I was delighted by the public’s reception of the book on Bloom Night 2019.

Shortly after the 2019 blooming, photographer Karen Wright published a book about the Cereus featuring her phenomenal photographs, Queen of the Night: A Rare Beauty. So, with the park being open to members for the 2021 Bloom Night, I suggested that Karen and I do a book signing together.

I am pleased to report that we both had good sales and we made a good team, encouraging people to learn more about and fully embrace this unusual cactus species native to the Sonoran Desert. Most of the year, it looks like a stick, which extends from a large tuber buried in the desert soil.  Once a year, at the beginning of the summer monsoon, the cereus plants develop flowers. When all the conditions are just right, all the flowers across the area, bloom on the same night – for only one night! Their fragrance summons the pollinating moths and bats before the flowers all die with the morning sun.

These sticks produce spectacular blossoms one night per summer
Pots of Cereus Plant at Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens

A very brief but spectacular shared life!

 

 

 

 

 

book cover Queen of the Night

REVIEW ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Queen of the Night:
The Night-Blooming Cereus

$14.95
by Elaine A. Powers

Illustrated by Nicholas Thorpe 

A perk of Sonoran-desert living is the one-night-only appearance of the Night-Blooming Cereus, a much-anticipated summer event for Tucsonans who rely on predictions from experts to know precisely when the tiny window of opportunity will open on the floral extravaganza. How in the world do the experts know? And what causes a cactus to behave this way?

With this picture book, Elaine Powers demystifies the mysterious bloom, explaining – in rhyming couplets no less – the life cycle of the plant, how to predict its flowering (when the buds reach 170-230 millimeters, stand back!), why they all flower simultaneously, and other bits of botanical lore about this intriguing plant, which spends most of the year looking like an undistinguished stick. Written for children, Powers’ book will charm and edify cactus lovers of any age. Lush illustrations by Nicholas Thorpe are a splendid accompaniment: Look for his very stern javelina on page 12 – he’s delightful.

A former laboratory biologist, Powers, who makes her home in Tucson, now writes science-based children’s books.

– Helene Woodhams is retired from Pima County Public Library, where she was literary arts

 

 

 

Come Out and See Me at a Book-Signing on Cereus Bloom Night

On a recent walk in a Sonoran Desert wash, I came across the plant pictured above. I think it may be a night-blooming cereus, Peniocereus greggii, the first one I’ve seen in the wild. I don’t believe it’s dead—these plants look like sticks in the Sonoran Desert.

I have seen many night-blooming cereus plants and their magnificent flowers at Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens. Each year, they predict when “Bloom Night” will occur–when the night-blooming cereus plants will all bloom–open and close together in one night. It’s incredible! Even the plants in pots in the greenhouses bloom right along with those in the ground.

I was asked to write a book about these remarkable flowers and my illustrated and rhyming book was created. It went on to become an Amazon No. 1 book.

photo of Night-blooming Cereus plant

Look for me at a table with my book, Queen of the Night. I’d love to autograph your copy!

Now that the monsoons are approaching, it’s almost time for another Bloom Night at Tohono Chul. Check their website link above for the date of Bloom Night and, if you’re a member, stop by and get your personalized, autographed copy of my book, Queen of the Night: The Night-blooming Cereus.

It has all the scientific information you’ll need before the cereus plants bloom, and it features the captivating illustrations of Nicholas Thorpe. If you’re not a member of the gardens, you can still get the book at their gift shop. It’s also available on Amazon.com

infographic about Queen of the Night: The Night-blooming Cereus

#elaineapowers   #lyricpower  #nightbloomingcereus  #queen of the night
#Amazon No. 1 Book

Brittlebush Can Take the Heat!

One plant that has always amazed me in the Sonoran Desert is the Brittlebush. No matter how little rain falls nor how hot it is, this bush produces a lush crop of flowers.

Brittlebush, Encelia farinose, is a bush native to the Sonoran Desert and is a member of the sunflower family.  The leaves are long, oval and silver-gray with a fuzzy surface (trichomes). The fuzziness provides protection from excessive heat and cold.  The grayish white color reflects sunlight, helping to keep the plant cool. In addition, the fuzziness helps collect any moisture and reduce water loss, which is very important in the desert.

photo of brittlebush plant
Brittlebush, Encelia farinose

In late winter and early spring, yellow flowers form on long stalks on the outside of bush.  Notice their sunflower-like appearance. Their bright color contrasts with the dull tan-gray of the ground.

The common name, brittlebush, refers to the brittleness of its stems. It’s also called incienso because the fragrant resin was dried and burned by early Spanish missions as incense. Brittlebush was used by indigenous and pioneer people. The resin was also used as glue, sealant, varnish and chewing gum. Brittlebush was important in oral hygiene.  Cowboys used stems as toothbrushes, while Native Americans used it to treat toothaches.

Brittlebush thrives in dry gravelly to sandy habitats. A sunny site is required along with the well-drained soil. The plant has a shallow taproot and lateral roots to take advantage of any rainfall.  It is sensitive to frost, so my bush enjoys the protection of my backyard wall.

The profusion of blossoms is an important food source for a variety of animals.  Once they fade away, thousands of seeds will be produced, another food source.

I hope that some of my bush’s offspring will germinate in my yard, creating more magnificent bushes.

Thank you, Brittlebush, for providing a bit of vibrant color in my life.

BOOK NOTE: If you love plants as much as I do, I hope you’ll check out my fun science books on plants, especially Queen of the Night: The Night-blooming Cereus, which is all about the very unusual Sonoran Desert flowering plants that bloom all together on one night per year!

Photo of night-blooming cereus in Tucson AZ
Photo courtesy of This is Tucson

It happens in June or July every summer and people come out by the hundreds to see these magnificent beauties bloom together. More to follow about the 2021 expected bloom dates. Learn all about the Night-blooming Cereus before they bloom this year!

book cover for the Night-Blooming Cereus
All about the mysterious plant that blooms only one night per year–all at the same time!

Also, to enjoy a tale of friendship and learn more about the ecosystems necessary to Bahamian trees, and how seeds find their homes, check out my children’s adventure tale (ages 8+), Grow Home, Little Seeds.

book cover about seeds finding a place to sprout
The graduating bundle of mixed seeds of the Leon Levy Preserve vows to stay together and form their own forest. Will they be able to remain together, or will their natures lead them in different directions? Will they find what the need to survive, to germinate, and to put down roots? Join these Bahamian natives on their adventures to find their places to call home.

For a humorous take on the Sonoran Desert and its flora and fauna, see How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird. After the fun, refer to the desert plant and wildlife glossary in the back of the book.

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants
and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit.
Maybe a permanent one.”
For All Ages
Reading Level Age 8+
26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas
A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.

All three books would be help with science or book reports. And for summer supplemental, educational, and fun activity sheets and workbooks, go to Lyric Power Publishing, LLC.

It’s my calling to help make science fun, and I’m sticking to it!

#elainapowers  #sonorandesert   #sonorandesertflowers

Now, That’s My Kind of Window Dressing

I enjoy watching the sun rise over the Santa Catalina Mountains, and having a lizardly window dressing makes it even better. Who needs curtains when a Desert Spiny Lizard drapes herself across the screen?

The Desert Spiny Lizard, Sceloporus magister, is a native of the Sonoran Desert. My window ornament is probably a female, since I couldn’t find any blue patches on the belly, throat, sides and tails. The coloration is great camouflage from predators. Desert Spiny’s grow to a length of about five and a half inches. You might also see them doing their push-ups, which is a territorial display, not exercise.

photo 2 of desert spiny tail before warmer

Like all ectothermic reptiles, these lizards absorb heat form sunlight to raise their body temperatures.  To aid in this process, the spiny’s are darker when it is cool. They become lighter when sufficiently warmed. Compare the photo right with the photo below which was taken several hours later.

 

photo 3 of spiny tail lizard

The spiny’s are active during the day, although they’ll seek shade during the hottest periods of summer. They brumate during the cold months of winter.

They are primarily insectivores, but also feed on spiders, centipedes, and small lizards.  I suspect the lizard was waiting to ambush insects drawn the window by my interior lights.

I’m hoping this lizard will be a regular visitor and I hope she brings her friends!

screenshot web page Lizards

Book Note: If your children love lizards as much as I do, they might enjoy my fun science books that feature lizards as the main characters on adventures! Along the way, we learn about these lizards and their environments. Summer is coming and educational, fun adventure tales can help pass the days in a meaningful way. Check them out on the Lizards page.

#elaineapowers  #sonorandesertlizard  #desertspinylizard  #Sceloporus magister  #weloveourlizards  #funscienceeducation  #funsciencebooks

The Very Tall Octopus Agave Plant

I saw these magnificent agave’s in the neighborhood where my chorus practiced outside. I was astounded by the height of the flower stalks that passed the second floor’s windows. I had to know what plant they were! They are Octopus Agave, Agave vilmoriniana.

photo of octopus agaveThese plants are native to northwest Mexico, so it’s not surprising they would also grow well just over the international border.  They are rapid growers, but short-lived. They can grow to four to five feet in height, but live less than ten years. The presence of these stalks indicates these individuals’ lives are coming to an end.

It wasn’t obvious to me why the common name is Octopus Agave. However, it’s because the leaves are recurved, first sloping down and slightly twisting upward.

photo of the base plant

Of course, the flower spikes are what attracted my attention. The stalk grows to 10-20 feet tall. Over six to eight weeks the flowers will bloom and develop plantlets.

photo of flowers of octopus agave plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

An interesting fact is that this agave has a very high concentration of the sapogenin smilagenen. Sometimes, the leaves are cut, dried and fibers beaten to create a brush with its own soap.

This is a striking, beautiful plant that lives fast and dies young, and can clean up, too!

#elainapowers  #lyricpower  #octopusagave

Book Note: I am fascinated by plants and truly enjoy having them all around me. I have written two books about plants, one for ages 8+, Grow Home, Little Seeds, an adventure tale starring seeds that are all looking for just the right place to germinate. It teaches the science about plants and how they grow in a fun way.  The second one, Queen of the Night: the Night-blooming Cereus, is about the magnificent desert plants that all bloom on one night, together. It is colorfully illustrated and written in rhyme, so learning the science is memorable and interesting.

image of the covers of two plant books by Elaine A. PowersI believe learning science in rhyme or a story makes the learning stick. Check my books out today. Someone you know might really enjoy a fun-science book. You can see all my fun-science children’s books on My Books page.

Tomorrow is Earth Day!

What are you doing tomorrow to celebrate Earth Day?

April 22, 2021 is National Earth Day, which, as you probably know, is an annual event to support environmental protection. The goals are to educate people about protecting the world and to learn more about local and global environments. It is a day to realize that we are all part of the earth’s ecosystem and that without maintaining this world, we won’t survive. Earth Day activities aren’t only for adults—children need to be involved, too, because it is their future at stake. Along with outdoor activities, I encourage adults and children to read science-based books together.

The pandemic and resulting shutdowns showed us a lot about the environment. We observed the air clear, and wild animals as they reacted to the release from the constant presence of people. People discovered the value of the ecosystems in their neighborhoods, whether urban, suburban or rural. The plants and animals of nature helped us survive the social isolation. If we couldn’t interact with other humans, we could interact with animals. We could watch plants germinate and grow and we had time to enjoy the wonder of life. I’ve published pictures here of plants in my yard that I enjoyed observing more closely this past year.

photo of barrel cactus
Barrel Cactus

If you must stay inside, I’d like to suggest my science-based, educational, and fun, books–and the books by all the authors found at Lyric Power Publishing.  I like to think my books about plants and animals are adding to the knowledge about the preciousness of the environments that support all living things. I have written three books about conservation and I also publish iguana conservation materials that help people protect iguana environments from not only human impact, but from invasive species, both animals and plants.

book covers conservation

My Conservation books and brochures.

photo of iguana conservation brochure

The Don’t Series

photo of Sonoran Desert Book Covers

My Sonoran Desert plant book.

It’s important to participate in Earth Day. We each need to do what we can to learn how to help protect our world tomorrow–and every day.

#elaineapowers   #lyricpowerpublishing  #earthday   #earthdayactivities

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.

My Computer is Padded: Reptile-Side Chats Here I Come!

In previous posts, I mentioned the lessons learned from doing Facebook Live talks. I was able to continue them last week with my new laptop.  New, because my Sonoran Desert tortoise peed on my old laptop and killed it. I did hold her up for 12 minutes, and she showed great restraint, so it really wasn’t her fault.

Despite having purchased the protection plan with my new computer, I wasn’t taking any chances with last Thursday’s talk, which featured three tortoises! I remembered I had these absorbent pads tucked away in my bathroom closet.  This is what I was saving them for!

With my new laptop safely covered, the chat went on without a soaking! I will now continue my talks, knowing all will be well. (Reptiles are known to be a bit leaky.)

My Reptile-Side Chats are on Thursdays at 3:00 pm MST on Facebook on my personal page, Elaine Powers. Tomorrow, 3/25/21, I’ll be showing the differences between tortoises and turtles live, with the very cute Trevor the Turtle and one of my tortoises. I’ll also show the book I wrote about the differences, Don’t Call Me Turtle! The rhyming stanzas make learning science fun!

If you’d like to watch the recordings of my Reptile-Side Chats (teaching about reptiles, of course!), they are posted on my YouTube channel, Curtis Curly-tail Speaks.

#funscience #elaineapowers #Reptile-Side Chats #tortoiseorturtle

#reptileeducation

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs
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.)

March 2nd is NATIONAL READ ACROSS AMERICA DAY

March 2nd, National Read Across America Day, is set aside to encourage kids to read. As an author of fun science-based children’s books, I love the idea of children reading books. I’m happy they’re reading, whether it’s one of my brightly illustrated picture books or adventure tales, or any other authors’ books, comic books, graphic novels. I want kids to just read!

Books can be sources of educational material or fantastical flights of imagination. In this world of visual stimulation through cell phones, computers, television and movies, children should be encouraged to use their imaginations, to come up with mental images all their own.

Children don’t have to read alone. Adults can read with them, children can read to other children, and children can read to pets.

photo of author elaine a powers reading to her tortoise, Myrtle
Myrtle, my red-foot tortoise grew so exasperated by being called a ‘turtle’ that she asked me to write her story. Here we are together, just after the book was published.

I enjoy reading to my reptilian family members. Here I am reading Don’t Call Me Turtle! to Myrtle the tortoise, the book she insisted I write after being called ‘Myrtle the Turtle’ one too many times! It’s a rhyming picture book for the young ones about the many differences between tortoises and turtles—so parents and grandparents learn, too. And the rhymes help the knowledge to stick with the kids. I’m inspired to write fun science books, and you’re welcome. ?

Photo of interior book page of Don't Make Me Fly

Enjoy the vivid, colorful illustrations in the science-filled picture book about roadrunners, Don’t Make Me Fly!

image of book cover children's book Curtis Curly-tail Ship of Sneakers

Or a suspense-filled adventure tale like Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers. Curtis does not resist wanderlust very well—and then he has to find his way across the ocean and back home.

I encourage you to take up reading if you haven’t recently. There’s so much to learn and understand in our world. If you’re looking for something new, check out my books here at elaineapowers.com or all of the authors’ books at Lyric Power Publishing LLC.

At the very least, everybody, grab a book and READ! You will grow, and I like to think that’s why we’re here.

Today is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day– Meet Tabby the Five-Finger Fairy!

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.

photo of the cover of the book Tabby and Clean: Unexpected Friends
A Magical Chapter Book about
Tabby, the Five-Finger Fairy and Her
Adventures with Cleo, a Bahamian Boa
Reading Level: Ages 8+
52 Pages
Tabby Comes Alive in
Illustrations by Nick Thorpe
Tabby, the Five-Finger Fairy, who comes from the Five-Finger Tree, Tabebuia bahamensis, loves the native plants, animals and people of The Bahamas. She makes friends wherever she goes! Glossary of plants and animals included.

I encourage you to meet this new fairy tale character, Tabby, and enjoy her story aloud with another who appreciates warm tales of adventure and friendship, in Tabby and Cleo: Unexpected Friends. These stories are what I do: making science fun by weaving scientific information into adventure tales or rhyming stanzas. Enjoy a new fairy-tale story, on this special fairy-tale day.

Having Fun With The Mysterious Massachusetts Potatoes

With all the bad news today, unusual stories bring us a lot of entertainment, probably more than they should. They also provide opportunities for puns, as you will read in this tale about the baked potatoes found at the Wayland Free Public Library in Massachusetts.

The first cooked russet potato appeared on a Monday with a second arriving on the following Thursday. The library humorously suggested that the potatoes were part of a rare potato-migration. They are asking people to keep their eyes peeled for whoever left them. Perhaps the russets were rustled?

The library has been having great fun with the potato mystery. Books about cooking potatoes have become very popular. So far, the culprit has not been identified and no more potatoes have shown up—but Mr. Potato Head is looking for his friends.

You can still follow this developing story at the Wayland Library page.

Photo above is courtesy of the Wayland Free Public Library.

Book Note: I do enjoy funny stories, which is why I wrote How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird, after watching a man at the Tucson Botanical Gardens race around, trying to capture a photo of a hummingbird that seemed to be taunting him. In my story, he is injured by Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, but remains undaunted in his efforts. Of course, I also include a glossary of the plants and animals in the story because science education is what I’m all about. I just love to make it fun for all the budding scientists out there!

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants
and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit.
Maybe a permanent one.”
For All Ages
Reading Level Age 8+
26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas
A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona. Includes glossary.

Horse Care, Sirens, and a Desert Singalong

One afternoon about 3:00 p.m., I heard sirens on a nearby main road.  The sirens went on for quite a while and included several pitches. The vehicles probably included those from the police and fire departments, and perhaps an ambulance. I listened as I brushed my horse, Button.

Photo of a Missouri Foxtrotter horse
Button, my 1000 pound friend!

She turned to listen to the noise, too–not that she hadn’t heard sirens before, but these did seem to be excessive.

Then, voices nearby were raised in a chorus that matched the pitches of the sirens! The large pack of coyotes in the area joined in the song. I usually hear the coyotes’ chorus at dawn or dusk, not mid-afternoon, but they added spontaneous flourishes and harmony to the sirens that midday. One ran up and down the scale in an amazing arpeggio. It was a magical choral moment.

They typically call to each other in greeting to help them stay in contact and reunite. On that afternoon, did they believe the sirens were pack members calling hello, or did they simply grab an opportunity to enjoy a musical interlude in the afternoon?

Book Note: I live in the Sonoran Desert and enjoy the wildlife immensely. I have written three books on Sonoran Desert wildlife, one for little ones about desert tortoises entitled Don’t Call Me Turtle; and two others for all ages, called Don’t Make Me Fly about roadrunners, and Don’t Make Me Rattle, about rattlesnakes. They are written in rhyme and vividly illustrated to make learning the science throughout fun.

These books make excellent gifts and can be used for school projects, too. Check out my ‘Don’t Series’ today.