Backstories and Barnacles

Recently, while on vacation in Florida, I listened to a lecture on compelling storytelling. It’s an important topic for me, and something I strive to accomplish. The speaker asserted that to attract a reader’s interest, a protagonist’s backstory is essential. After all, their actions and reactions are directly related to their past. It was an interesting premise, as many writing courses discourage backstories; they advise using them sparingly and only when necessary. Yet the lecture I was listening to stated that when a backstory is fully shared, the reader is engrained in the protagonist’s life. Even more, those readers want that internal story.

Backstories and My Characters

To be honest, I hadn’t considered much about the backstories of my characters, but the concept does make sense. It also explains why some of my beta readers are highly interested in the personal aspects of my protagonists, yet say the stories need more umph

Barnacles Ahoy

Later, I strolled along the beach pondering the concept while waves from a passing storm crashed against the sand. As one receded, it revealed a very nice lightning whelk shell, Sinistrofulgur perversum. The shell was about 6 inches long, intact, and still quite colorful. The mollusk who created the shell was long dead, as an oyster had grown on the inside. I picked up the shell, thinking it might be a keeper, but noticed the barnacles attached to the outside of the shell. 

A lightning whelk shell.

For our long-term desert dwellers, barnacles aren’t mineral deposits; they’re live crustaceans, Balanus amphitrite nivens. Even so, most people don’t care about barnacles, and the internet is full of instructions on how to remove barnacles from shells without damaging the seashell. Inevitably, the barnacles are killed in the process. I didn’t want the barnacles to die because of me, so I hurled the Whelk as far as I could into the waves. Why would I concern myself with barnacles, when countless others don’t? It has to do with my backstory. 

My Barnacle Backstory

Growing up, my brothers had pets. Mostly they were snakes who lived in terrariums kept on top of the TV set. (Back then, TV starter mechanisms kept the tops of TVs warm.) I liked the snakes, as long as my brothers held the worms they ate, but didn’t have a pet of my own until one year when it was time for school science projects. My project: barnacles and artificial saltwater.

I’d always loved the ocean and especially enjoyed watching the barnacles attached to the tree roots, seawalls, and rocks. It was fun to see them extend their legs and sift out morsels from the passing currents. Since I lived in central Illinois, I wasn’t able to visit them as much as I liked. At that point, artificial saltwater was a new concept; a company had only recently developed sea salt crystals for use in saltwater aquaria. Before that, ocean water had to be collected and filtered, so an artificial method for creating seawater was a breakthrough. 

My science project centered around artificial saltwater and whether it could keep barnacles alive in an aquarium. To set up my experiment I selected barnacles from a beach in southwest Florida, placed them in the saltwater, and took them home to central Illinois. The barnacles survived for many months and were even photographed for the local newspaper. One of the barnacles was very helpful and extended its legs for the photographer at just the right time! Several of the barnacles were particularly active, and they received names. Sadly, they all died a few months later. Even though I’d provided the correct saltwater, I wasn’t able to fully meet their dietary needs.

That’s why, nearly fifty years later, when I had the choice of taking home a ‘dead’ seashell that had been colonized by live barnacles, I instead returned it and the barnacles to their rightful habitat. I hope they thrive.

It seems the backstory lecturer was correct. A person’s past does impact both their behavior and future actions. Live long and prosper, barnacles!

Why You Should Feel Hopeful for 2022

Farewell, 2021! You’ve been an interesting year. Welcome, 2022! I’m sure the coming year will be as eventful as the last, but I have hope that it will bring more good than bad. Yes, I choose to have hope for the new year. This new year starts with difficulties, such as new variants thriving, economic difficulties, etc. Some may say that dark clouds hover on the horizon. But, I have hope that the seeds we have planted in 2021 will sprout.

Look to the Mangroves

A red mangrove sprouting in the sand.

Like this red mangrove propagule, I believe our efforts will sprout and build up the world around it. Red mangroves, Rhizophora mangle, are known for their ability to build up the land at the edges of oceans. They are able to hold on to the soil against the assaults of waves.

When I feel beaten down by life, I will think of the red mangrove seed and try to persevere, no matter how daunting the situation may seem. I want to believe that this little tree will grow, despite the isolation of its locale.
I hope to eliminate or endure the negativity I perceive, whether the faults are within me or derived from external sources.

Make Like a Crab

The exoskeleton of a crab lying in the sand.

I want to be like a crab and shed the negativity like I am removing an exoskeleton. When crustaceans molt, they are then able to grow. I want to grow as a person as well.

An empty moon shell lying on the beach.

I was encouraged to see this egg casing on the beach for a moon shell, Neverita duplicate. I want to believe that animals will be allowed to survive and thrive around us. This was my mother’s favorite seashell. I want others to enjoy them as much as she did. Knowing that eggs were released gives me a little bit of hope that future generations of mollusks will survive, despite the impact of man on the world’s environments. We are not alone in this world and together we can help us all survive.

Have Hope

I have hope that my books will bring entertainment and enlightenment to others. I have hope that the environment will endure in the presence of mankind. My wish for you is that everyone is able to flourish in 2022. May you go forth and multiply; if not biologically, then in accomplishments, good works, and enjoyment in living.

May the New Year bring you:

Happy New Year, Everyone!

-Elaine

Give the Gift of a Picture Book!

This is the season for gift giving. Why not give a gift that educates as it entertains, builds language skills, and can be enjoyed over and over again? Books are always a great gift for any age.

Not Your Average Picture Book

What makes my picture books worthwhile? Immense amounts of scientific information are included within the rhyming text. In addition, each page is filled with bold, colorful illustrations. Sometimes, the books contain extra features, such as the photographs of real boas in Bahamian Boas: A Tabby Tale.

As a scientist, my first goal is to provide science to my readers. However, I enjoy the fact that my texts are also capable of increasing literacy and vocabulary, as well as stimulating an interest in poetry and enjoyment of reading. Of course, we mustn’t forget the special bond formed when an adult reads to a child. 

Great for Children Ages 0-200

Sadly, as we grow older, our books include fewer and fewer illustrations. Shoppers often comment that they don’t have children to buy books for. However, my books are suitable for all ages. Everyone enjoys a great illustration, and the ones included in my titles are unique; they appeal to children without appearing ‘babyish’, and contain bits of humor that older kids and adults enjoy. I’m very fortunate to have incredibly talented artists, and their illustrations work with my words to enhance the reading experience. 

You’ll find that in my books, I use scientific terminology and refuse to talk down to children. If a reader doesn’t immediately understand a word, it will become familiar with time. Some may consider them too advanced for younger children due to the terms used, but they are all explained in the storyline, often with additional information in a glossary. Despite the abundance of information, the repetition of the rhymes ensures that readers are not overwhelmed. These are picture books, after all. They absolutely may be read before bed. 

Teaching Empathy and Compassion

I truly hope that through my books, people will gain compassion for animals that they might disregard and fear. Perhaps, through that compassion, they’ll be able to raise the level of empathy in the world and contribute to better treatment of the animals in our world. 

My Most Popular Books

A variety of picture books are currently available. Many were written with the Sonoran Desert in mind, although they are appropriate for other regions of North America and the world. Below are but a few options:

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

Don’t Call Me Turtle 

Myrtle the Tortoise helps explain the differences between turtles and tortoises. There are more than you realize!

 

illustration of a desert roadrunner

Don’t Make Me Fly

Roadrunners are fascinating birds who prefer to run instead of fly!

 

book cover graphic of rattlesnake

Don’t Make Rattle

The truth about rattlesnakes just might replace fear with respect. 

 

book cover Queen of the Night

Queen of the Night: Night-blooming Cereus 

This Sonoran Desert native is astonishing in that all the flowers bloom in one night, all together for one night only! How do they all know when bloom night is?

 

book cover for Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert

Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert

 I didn’t realize that the chipmunk and tree squirrels in my backyard are ground squirrels. Learn why these desert-adapted rodents are so important to the ecosystem.

 

A brown book cover with illustrations of bahamian boa snakes

Bahamian Boas: A Tabby Tale

To combat discrimination against snakes in The Bahamas, similar to that seen against rattlers, I wrote this book. It includes photographs taken by scientists in the field. 

 

book cover with photo of iguana from Cayman Brac

Silent Rocks: Iguanas of Cayman Brac

The first picture book I wrote for the Cayman Islands is a call-to-action to save the endemic rock iguana, the Sister Isle Rock Iguana, Cyclura nubila caymanensis. 

 

green book cover with turtle illustration

Hickatees vs Sea Turtles

People confuse freshwater turtles with sea turtles, with tragic results. Native freshwater hickatees are often thrown in the ocean as if they sea turtles!

Can’t Quite Choose?

If you’re unsure as to which books may be right for your family, feel free to contact me. Remember – picture books are appropriate for everyone. What you read in the privacy of your own home is your own business, so enjoy a picture book! 

Meet Calliope, the Muse of Long Poetry

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

Enter Calliope

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

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

Rhyming Science

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Squirrel is a Squirrel is a… Chipmunk?

Sometimes, stories are written to craft clarity from confusion. That’s certainly the case with my book Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert. I’ve lived in many places yet found myself perplexed by the local squirrels. In discussing them with other residents, it became clear that they were just as confused by the nature of these rodents. I was encouraged to write about them, and I’m very glad I did. 

The Regular Squirrels

Growing up in Illinois, I was used to “normal looking” squirrels, those with the bushy tails. They would scamper up and down trees, run across power and telephone lines, and gather acorns. Sometimes they would position themselves upside down on a tree trunk and chitter at people or other animals passing by. These were the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). In both Illinois and New Jersey, the Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) is the resident species.

Squirrels are often viewed as pests: raiding bird feeders, utilizing human structures for their needs, or falling victim to electrical lines and causing power outages. However, while we may view many of their activities as amusing, they also demonstrate how clever squirrels really are. For instance, time and again they thwart humans’ best efforts to keep them out of bird feeders. This is natural for them; they didn’t evolve from the need to out-think people. 

Squirrels are problem solvers, and notoriously plan in advance by storing food for the winter. At my home in New Jersey, the squirrels stored their walnuts on my second story porch at the top of the stairs. Not only was it easily accessible yet safe from competitors; my constant lurking provided a bonus measure of protection for their stash. 

The Sonoran Squirrels

When I saw chipmunk-like rodents in my Tucson, Arizona yard, I was delighted. Chipmunk holes never bother me. In fact, I find the little critters’ white stripes along their brown fur quite attractive. So, why am I describing squirrels and chipmunks in other states, even though I live in Tucson? Because when I moved here, a black, fluffy-tailed squirrel lived in my mesquite tree and little chipmunks scampered about the landscaping rocks. Or were they something different?

In fact, the three squirrel species in the Sonoran Desert are all ground squirrels, no matter their appearance. The fluffy-tailed squirrel in my mesquite tree was a Rock Squirrel. Those cute chipmunks scurrying about are Harris’s Antelope Squirrels. And finally, the miniature prairie dogs who dig through the hard ground and road asphalt are Round-tailed Squirrels.

What are the differences between tree and ground squirrels? Ground squirrels use their tunnels for life activities: sleeping, food storage, family dens and protection from predators. In contrast, tree squirrels live in trees and either utilize tree cavities or create nests from leaves, sticks and bark. Even though ground squirrels may climb into trees for food, it’s not where they make their homes.

All of this, and more, I learned in researching my book. A few highlights:

  • Fluffy rock squirrel tails are for more than balance – they provide protection!
  • In a battle between a rattlesnake and a ground squirrel, who would win?
  • How do the three species co-exist in the same habitat?
  • What purpose do the holes in your yard serve? 

Find out all this and more in Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert!

A squirrel jumps over a prickly pear pad as a snake looms ahead in the cover of Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert, by Elaine A. Powers. Illustrated by Anderson Atlas.
Illustration of a ground squirrel biting a rattlesnake.
A squirrel bites a rattlesnake in a scene from Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert.

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.

Morton Salt, Campbells, and Flamingos in the Bahamas.

Recently, while in Chicago I happened to see the iconic Morton Salt sign. It’s so huge you can’t miss it. While it’s called a sign, in actuality it’s a roof on the old Morton Salt factory on Elston Avenue. As a child, this sign always reminded me of the Morton Salt Girl and the drawing of her carrying around an umbrella in the rain. I confess, I always wondered what she had to do with salt. If you look closely, you’ll realize she also carried a container of Morton salt that spilled behind her. The marketing slogan was When It Rains, It Pours. It must have been effective, as the company kept her as their mascot and updated her through the years. I even remember her as an animated character on TV!

Animated characters are something I’ve delved into, starting with my character Curtis Curly-tail. However, this time my thoughts drifted not to curly-tail lizards, but the island of Great Inagua in the Bahamas. 

A Salty National Park

For those not aware, I collaborate with the Bahamas National Trust in several of my books. I’ve also given multiple presentations on the benefits of using children’s books in science education. Then there’s the National Trust’s biannual Natural History Conference, which brings college students and teachers together with scientists working in the Bahamas. I especially enjoy checking in with the scientists to make certain my stories contain the most current information.

The Bahamas consists of more than 700 islands, and I try to visit a few more on each trip. My goal is to visit all the inhabited islands and some of the uninhabited ones. One year, after the National History Conference, I jumped at the opportunity for a field trip to the island of Great Inagua. Why was I so excited to go there? Salt. You see, the major industry on Great Inagua is the collection of salt for Morton Salt!

With a dry climate, Great Inagua is perfect for salt production. Operations began in the late 1930s and continue to this day. Believe it or not, the island’s 300,000 acres produce about a million pounds of salt each year! Nature plays an important part in producing this salt. Energy for the drying is provided by the sun and wind. An algal mat in the reservoirs removes impurities. Brine shrimp eat the algae, which keeps the water clean. More importantly, the brine shrimp serve as food for Caribbean flamingos. The Morton Salt facility shares Great Inagua with the Inagua National Park. Established in 1965, the park is the site of the largest breeding colony of West Indian Flamingos, Phoenicopterus ruber, in the world. Once near extinction, the population of The Bahamas’ national bird is now growing.   

Sandy mounds with power poles and large piles of salt in the background.
Morton Salt facilities on Great Inagua
Flat field of white sale with a barely visible tree line in the distance.
Great Inagua Salt Fields

Along Came the Campbells

On this fascinating trip, I was joined by a gentleman named David George Campbell. When introduced to him by a mutual friend, Sandra Buckner, I was sure I’d remember his name, as I knew a George Campbell when I lived on Sanibel Island, Florida. George was a naturalist and a great inspiration to me. When I worked at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, George was also there. He kept an eye on our activities and the activities of others in his quest to protect the island’s special ecosystem, and I felt honored to know him. He wrote The Nature of Things on Sanibel. I treasure my copy and suspect he would be saddened by the damage later generations did to the island we both loved.

When mentioning George Campbell to David, I was astounded to learn that George was his father! It was intriguing to learn how intertwined our lives were. David grew up on Eleuthera Island, the location of the Leon Levy Preserve. Meanwhile, I wrote Grow Home, Little Seeds specifically for the preserve. To my delight, David shared that he attended Kalamazoo College. I lived in Kalamazoo while working for the Upjohn Company. In addition, in the seventies, David served as the Executive Director of The Bahamas National Trust. He worked on the conservation of the unique ecosystems in The Bahamas, the same ones I write about in my books. David wrote The Ephemeral Islands, the first natural history of the archipelago to be published since the 1800s. It seems that the islands inspired both of us to write.

It’s a Small World after all

They say it’s a small world and that everyone has only six degrees of separation from each other. The connections between David, George, me, a small island in the Bahamas, and that Morton Salt sign seem to add credence to these ideas. Despite these very diverse places and situations, they are all interconnected in my life.

How Not to Photograph a Bat

I wrote a book about the difficulties in photographing hummingbirds, How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird. It pits one bumbling human against the desert as he carelessly attempts to photograph an Anna’s Hummingbird. If lucky, a hummer may alight for a moment or two, allowing the photographer to get the shot she wants.  But there is a tougher subject, that for some unknown reason, I feel compelled to try to photograph – Bats!

There are two main reasons why bats are hard to photograph. Not only do bats move fast and erratically, but it’s also rather dark when they come out. If you thought photographing hummingbirds was hard, then bat photography might be downright impossible. Especially if using a cell phone to take photographs.

It’s all for science!

So why am I trying to take photographs of these photo-elusive nocturnal mammals? I’m taking part in a citizen scientist research project on bats’ use of pools, especially in times of drought or areas of low rainfall, such as the Sonoran Desert where I live. I have a bat call detector on the edge of my pool that records the bat calls each night. The researchers can identify which bat species made the call and determine bat activity.

I knew my pool would be a good location because I am often joined by bats when I swim at night. I know that I have at least two species. The most common bat visitor is a small, insect-eating species that comes in a group. But every now and then, like this summer, a much bigger, solitary bat swoops down to the water.

I was concerned that the chlorine in my pool water would bother the bats but it doesn’t. I’m very glad. I also wondered if chlorine would help fight white-nose syndrome. Another possible research project, perhaps?

The researchers asked for all sorts of details about my pool: depth, length, shape, lighting, surrounding vegetation, fencing, nearby busy streets, etc. The results will be interesting to see what species of bats are around and which pools had the most activity. Tucson has a variety of bats: Big Brown, California leaf-nosed, Cave Myotis, Peter’s Ghost-faced, Greater mastiff, Lesser Long-nosed, Mexican Free-tailed, Silver-haired, Spotted, Townsend’s Big-eared, Western Pipistrelle, Western Red, and the Pallid. Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out which ones, swoop down to share my pool with me. They prefer me to either be on the side of the pool, so they can swoop at will, or in the center of the pool, so they can fly in a circle around me.

I can’t resist the urge to photograph my aerial neighbors, but it’s a lot harder than photographing a hummingbird. Here are my best efforts:

 

 

 

 

 

So, what do you think? Yes, these really are bats, not just smudges on my camera lens. Perhaps my next book should be How Not to Photograph Bats.

Stay tuned to for more blogs about my research on the citizen science bat project. And if you know any budding young bat scientists, I highly recommend My Book About Bats and Rats, a fun and educational workbook that not only focuses on the Caribbean Fruit Bat, but also the much easier to photograph rats that live on Cayman Brac.

Mushrooms in the Desert? I Have Pictures!

Living in the Sonoran Desert, I don’t often see mushrooms.  Sometimes, fungus appears on the trunks of dying trees, but that’s not often. This year, Tucson has had a very wet monsoon season, which is wonderful after years of severe drought.

Along with the greening of the vegetation, the abundance of rain has brought forth some interesting mushrooms.

These interesting mushrooms are Podaxis pistillaris, the Desert Shaggy Mane mushroom. Possibly the most common mushroom in the Sonoran Desert, this genus of fungus, possibly this species, is found in deserts worldwide. The above ground portion, the fruiting body, appears after a soaking rain. The fibrous texture and closed cap are believed to protect the gills and spores from desiccation.

The mushroom starts out whitish, turns brown, eventually ends up as black powder.

Being unfamiliar with this type of mushroom, I was curious to see what happened to these specimens. Would they be consumed by rodents, rabbits or coyotes? Would the horses be interested in eating them?  No, these mushrooms were undisturbed. This made me think this fungus is toxic.  However, P. pistillaris, is eaten in many areas of the world and has high nutritional value.

In addition, this mushroom is used extensively in traditional medicines and cosmeceuticals throughout the world. Now, I’m intrigued to try this mushroom, but I’ll await instruction by an experienced mushroom hunter.

I’m always delighted when I discover new and different aspects of the Sonoran Desert.

Book Note: If you’d like to know more about the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert, check out my Don’t series and the other Sonoran Desert-themed picture books.

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#desertmushrooms

#Podaxispistillaris

 

 

 

 

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

Mesquite Trees and Horses: Incompatible

photo mesquite treeWhen I moved to the Sonoran Desert, I learned about mesquite pods.  I knew about the mesquite wood used for barbequing, but not the seed pods of the tree. They’re used as food by both people and animals.  The mature pods, not just the seeds, are ground into flour, which is quite delicious. A five-gallon bucket will produce about a pound of flour.

Many animals eat the pods: doves, quail, ravens, bighorn sheep, rabbits, ground squirrels, rats, mice and coyotes. In fact, if you find canine droppings on your property and you wonder if it was left by an irresponsible neighbor, look for the pods. If pods are present, it was left by a coyote, not a dog.

However, mesquite pods are not good for all animals. Horses find their sweet taste irresistible but eating too many of them can lead to colic. The beans impact the stomach or intestines, which can lead to surgery or the death of the horse.

When the pods ripen, the trees fling them about, carpeting the ground.

mesquite tree seed pods in horse corralUnfortunately, some pods land in the areas designated for horses, like this round pen. My horses eagerly head for the round pen in the hopes of finding pods. My task before they arrive is to remove the pods not only within the pen but also within reach of those long necks and agile lips.

Is it fair for me to enjoy something I deprive my horses of?  Yup. I enjoy their company and want them with me for as long as possible. Mesquite pods, be gone!

Book Note: The Sonoran Desert is a wild and beautiful place. I have written several books set in this extraordinary place. Please visit my Sonoran Desert Books tab for more information.

collage of sonoran desert book covers

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#mesquitepods

#mesquitepodsandhorses

 

 

Sharing the Morning Routine

As I watched the birds on the beach at sunrise on a recent trip, I noticed their actions reminded me of my own morning routine. Perhaps yours is similar.

Sandpiper in waterDo you start with a wash?  This sandpiper decided not to dip under the water for its wash. No, instead he or she was sucking up the saltwater and squirting it directly at the area of the wings that needed cleaning.

Then a friend joined in the morning washing.

Sometimes, the desired spot is a little hard to reach.

Two sandpipers in ocean

I’m not certain about the species of this sandpiper but believe it may be the Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus).

blue heron with oyster

Then do you grab a bit of breakfast before you fly off? Do you fix something at home or grab something on the go?

Yum, that clam was good.

But I think I want a bit more. I wonder what might be in the refrigerator, pantry or beneath the surface?

I thank this Little Blue Heron, Egretta caerulea, for allowing me to watch as he or she ate breakfast. I do like watching animals enjoy their food.

blue heron in florida

People think we’re so different from animals in the wild, but we aren’t, really.  We all have our morning routines.

Book Note: My book publisher, Lyric Power Publishing LLC, publishes workbooks of activity sheets to supplement my children’s science books that are written in fun rhymes or adventure tales, such as The Dragon of Nani Cave. This one, Flannel Boards and Standup Animals, is full of Caribbean island animals to make for educational purposes or just for fun. Pick up a copy for the kids today and enjoy some hands-on family time!

cover of a workbook to make flannel board animals

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#shorebirds

#littleblueheron

#dowitcher

#shorebirdswashing

#shorebirdseating

 

Saved: Dragonflies vs. Gnats–No Contest!

One major difference between the hot, dry weather of a desert (Tucson, AZ) and the hot, humid weather of the Gulf of Mexico (Ft. Myers, FL) in July is the number of human-eating insects. I was reminded of this recently. As I obtained my parking permit from the machine at the beach, a cloud of gnats descended upon me. I flailed my arms and wiggled my body as I waited impatiently for the printer to finish. I grabbed the receipt and dashed back to the car.

Unfortunately, my bug spray was back at the house. I would have driven home for the spray, but the parking is timed, and I needed my beach walk to stimulate my creativity. I approached the beach with determination and the expectation of a rapid walk with lots of arm movements and pulling up the back of my t-shirt. Gnats are called no-see-ums, because they look like black specks, but they have a very painful bite.  Nothing subtle about gnats. They strike fear in the boldest of people. In fact, I wrote a spoof horror audio theater script, In the Swamp, No One Can Hear You Scream, about gnats.

photo of dragonflies around the beach

I approached the beach path at a brisk pace when I saw my rescuers, waiting for me in the sea oats. Dragonflies, a swarm of dragonflies! I walked confidently forward, believing that these predatory insects, symbols of awakening and transformation in Native cultures, would consume the tormenting gnats.

As I walked along the beach, the dragonflies accompanied me. I was confident that they were protecting me and they did. The swarm of dragonflies was present the entire length of the beach, rising from their perches as I went by.

photo of dragonfly on sandThank you, aerial protectors. And, it’s always the right time for awakening and transformation in my book.

I’m not certain of the dragonfly species (see pictures), but it may be Tramea onusta, common name Red Saddlebag.

cover of script

Book Note: Before I was launched onto my writing children’s fun-science books career, I had written several performance scripts (being an actor myself), including In the Swamp, No One Can Hear You Scream, as one of two scripts included in Mayhem in Swamp and Snow.
Do you participate in a performance group? Check out my scripts on my author page—performance rights are included with the purchase.

#elaineapowers

#lyricpowerpublishing

#BuncheBeach

#dragonflies

#gnatsinftmyers

#audiotheatre

#audiotheaterscripts

Scientists Love Their Scat! And I Am One!

Scientists have long been using scat as a valuable tool in figuring out what animals have eaten. The indigestible parts pass through and are excreted. Some items can be easily identified, but others require a bit of investigation.

photo of tortoise scat 2When the temperatures were warm enough, I let my sulcata, or spur-thigh, tortoise loose in my walled-in backyard. With the drought, my vegetation is rather sparse. I provide food for her, but she likes to forage on her own, too.  She’d eaten all the aloe, munched on the prickly pear cactus pads, and gobbled up Texas olives (many of which came through intact.).

However, she recently left this deposit for me which had me perplexed.

I searched my yard and I think I finally found what she had been eating that wasn’t digested fully.

image pricklypear cactusI suspect the fibrous material is from the main stem of this large prickly pear cactus! She really should stick with eating the soft, juicy young pads.

Book Note: My publisher, Lyric Power Publishing LLC, publishes workbooks and activity sheets to go with my rhyming stories and adventure tales. If your children love hands-on coloring pages and solving problems, cutting and pasting, labeling the animal parts, learning the life cycles, and so on, they would love LPP’s fun, 40+ pages, comprehensive, yet economical workbooks. Click on the tortoise covers below to see what is in these workbooks all about tortoises, at the different grade levels.

Check them all out here.

imagebook cover tortoises preK-1Book about tortoises gr 2-4

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#sulcatatortoise

#spurthightortoise

#pricklypearcactus

Ergot: A Fungus and a Tissue Protuberance–Geez!

My favorite bread flavor is rye. Given a choice, I will always choose rye.  So, growing up, I wondered why rye hadn’t been more popular historically. After all, rye is easier to grow than wheat and, in my humble opinion, much tastier.

The reason is Ergot.  Ergot is a fungal disease that killed and disabled people throughout Europe. Symptoms produced by the fungus Claviceps purpurea include gangrene, convulsions, headaches and hallucinations. Healthy grains are replaced with dark, hard ergots and get mixed into the flour during harvesting and milling.

Once the source of the ergot was identified, the infections were able to be controlled. An interesting story in history.

photo ergot protuberance on horse fetlockI love learning about words and, as a new horse owner, I got a word-surprise one day. I get lots of advice from more experienced horse people. One of the recommendations I’ve gotten is to keep the tissue protuberances on the legs trimmed. These natural calluses are made of keratin that can flake off. They are hidden in the long hairs just above a horse’s hooves. My gelding’s flake off nicely by themselves, but I need to soften the tissue on my mare so I can pull them off.

Why am I telling you this? Because these protuberances on the horse’s fetlocks are also called Ergots. (Their purpose is not known.) The fetlock is sort of the ankle of a horse. Ergot is derived from the French word for a rooster’s spur, which makes sense, since that is what it looks like.

Ergot: one word, two very different meanings: A fungal disease or a protuberance on a horse’s fetlock.

Bonus Word: Higher up the horse leg is a round callus that also flakes off or can be trimmed flat. This is called a chestnut. That’s a word with three meanings:

A tree that produces an edible nut;
A reddish-brown colored horse with a brown mane and tail;
A callus on the inner side of a horse’s leg.

Book Note: I’ve recently released a new book, Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert. Did you know that every squirrel in this desert is a ground squirrel? Neither did I until I did my research. There are lots of fun science facts in this book, written in rhyme. You can see it on the Sonoran Desert books page.

book cover for Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert
Despite their different appearances, all the squirrels native to the Sonoran Desert are ground squirrels! Burrow into this book to learn about their shared and unique features. This is a great family read for ages 5 and up. If your little ones are curious about those borrowing, furry squirrels in your backyard or at your favorite park this book is a great introduction. It’s full of insightful information and wonderful illustrations. Even if younger children won’t remember all of the scientific knowledge contained in this book, it’s important to start imprinting their brains with positive, educational, interesting information about the world around them.

Prize-Winning Size Found in My Kitchen!

Have you eaten your leafy green vegetables today? You should! Vegetables are important for a healthy lifestyle.

My family members would agree – they are herbivores, and they enjoy their leafy greens. People may eat their greens cooked or raw.  My reptiles prefer their greens raw. These collard leaves are important sources of calcium, iron, vitamins A, C, K and folate, to build strong reptile bodies.

Every day I prepare a salad for each family member of leafy greens topped with various vegetables. The preferred greens are collard greens, turnip tops, dandelion greens and mustard greens. Every now and then, I include others, like spinach and kale. Never lettuce or cabbage.

Twice a week, I pick up a case of collard greens, the basis for my salads. They’re available year-round, but the sizes of the leaves and bunches changes with availability. Usually, the leaves around 10 inches long with six leaves to a bunch.

Recently, the farmers have outdone themselves, producing amazingly large leaves.

Pictured above is the meal-sized leaf!

6 tortoises of three species gathered around a heat lamp
Breakfast was good!

I hope you enjoy your leafy greens as much as my family does.

May all your leaves be big ones!

Book Note: Do you know the many differences between tortoises and turtles? They all enjoy collard greens, but there are ten differences noted in the illustrated, rhyming, fun science book, Don’t Call Me Turtle! This favorite among preschoolers (for its rhymes) is popular with Mom and Dad, too! Pick up a copy for your turtle- or tortoise-lover today!

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.)
Voted 5-Stars by the Preschool Crowd

#elaineapowers  #lyricpowers  #iguanas  #tortoises  #collardgreens

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

My, That’s a Really Big Tongue You Have!

I have learned a lot about horses in the past two years. But there is one ability that continues to amaze me: the agility of the horse’s tongue.

Above is a friend of mine, Simby. He has Cushing’s disease, which is treated with a small pill, Prascend.

I give the same medicine to my mare in a handful of pellets. She eats her pill, eagerly. I figure the tasty morsels hide the pill of similar size, and it readily eaten and swallowed.

So, when my friend asked me to give Simby his pill while she was traveling, I agreed.  After all, I’d just give him his pill in a handful of pellets, right? My friend warned me he would spit it out, but how could he with such a big tongue pick out a small pill from among all those pellets?

Well, big tongue aside, Simby had the dexterity to pick out the little pink pill from the midst of the pellets and spit it out!  He didn’t waste any pellets, either.

Their tongues do have twelve different muscles, and the top has protuberances called papillae to provide traction. This is important in moving food into the mouth and, apparently, in removing unwanted pills!

Every day is an adventure with horses.

Book Note: Kids on summer break? Why not give the gift of a fun adventure tale that weaves the science of the animals, plants and ecosystems into the story? Making science education fun is my goal as a retired-scientist-now-author, because science sticks when it’s fun.

Find out for yourself with a Curtis Curly-tail, Lime Lizards Lads or a Tabby Tale adventure!

screenshot Curtis books

#horsetongue  #horsepills  #elaineapowers  #lyricpower

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

How About a Big Bug Snack? It’s High in Protein!

Every seventeen years, the Brood X Cicadas emerge from the ground in the northeast US.  They climb and fly, singing their mating call, mate and produce the next generation.  With over a million per acre, there are a lot of big, very noisy insects out there.

Something different this year is the number of recipes being offered for cooking and eating these large insect morsels. After all, as part of the effort to conserve our planet, we are being encouraged to eat other more sustainable protein sources. And these insects are high in protein and low in fat.

A few years ago, at a Reptile Show, one of the vendors offered roasted grasshoppers and crickets for consumption.  If you were willing to taste one, you’d get an entry into a drawing for some nice prizes.  I am a curious eater, so I ate one of each. I discovered that the roasted insects were delicious, reminding me of pistachio nuts!  Most of the insects were still available at the end of the event, so I was rewarded with a full serving. Oh, and I did win the drawing for the grand prize.

Consequently, I was interested in the various articles about preparing and enjoying the plentiful cicadas: Recipes for eating them raw, roasted, boiled, grilled, and even smoked. There are instructions for making spicy popcorn cicadas from the Washington Post, cheese grits and blackened cicadas from Bon Appetit, on a nice asparagus salad or a cicada-nymph spring salad from the Brooklynbugs site. You can have them on a pizza, in tacos, or with chili guacamole from the AMNH. For dessert, you can have chocolate -covered cicadas or in a rhubarb pie. Yum!

Newly hatched cicadas, called tenerals, are preferred because the shells haven’t hardened. Storage is easy: use them immediately, refrigerate or freeze them. Choose the method that’s best for your recipe.  If the only cicadas you can find have hardened, females are best, because they’re filled with fat–males are hollow.  Remove the wings and legs, if you’re using the adults.  Unless you like the crunch, they’re not very flavorful.

photo cooked cicadas
Look fried to me. YUM!

I was curious to try this unfamiliar food item when the FDA squashed my desire. The cicada flavor is apparently reminiscent of crab and I shouldn’t eat crab. You see, I’m allergic to shellfish and the FDA warns people not to eat cicadas because they are related to shrimp and lobsters!  Oh, great, another food I’m allergic to!

Crustaceans are responsible for life-threatening allergies in many people. Insects and crustaceans are arthropods and share many proteins that might be the cause of the allergic reactions.  In addition, chitin, a complex carbohydrate involved in the body structure of arthropods, has been implicated in allergies.

Those of you who can, enjoy those cicadas! Please share your experiences with those of us who can’t in a Comment field.

Screenshot of Curtis Curly-tail books

Book Note from Curtis Curly-tail Lizard: Hi, friends, it’s me, Curtis Curly-tail! Have you missed me? I’ve missed you! I’ve been busy over at my YouTube channel where all kinds of stuff is happening! But I thought I’d butt in here. Elaine, as wonderful as she is, hasn’t written any books about insects yet, but because she knows how much they mean to me, she includes them in my stories. If you love island life, you’ll love my tales! Summer is here and kids love to read fun books. Pick up a Curtis Curly-tail tale today! My adventures are irresistibly fun science books! Who makes science fun? Elaine A. Powers, that’s who! (Though I, yes, I, Curtis Curly-tail lizard, inspired her writing career! In other words, where would she be without me? You can read the true story here.)

My latest adventure was a doozy! Check it out here:

children's book cover about Curtis Curly-tail lizard and a hurricane in the Bahamas
In this story, I join Allison Andros Iguana to warn the iguanas of Beach Cay about the impending hurricane. Low lying areas are particularly vulnerable to the storm surges, high rainfall and powerful winds of hurricanes. Small islands or cays here in the Bahamas can be completely washed over. Beach Cay, the setting of Curtis Curly-tail is Blown Away, has entire populations of endemic animals, such as the iguanas like Allison. One powerful hurricane could wipe out her entire species.

P.S.–Boy, do those big bugs get my saliva going! Elaine, please prepare and ship me some Cicada salads ASAP, to:
Curtis Curly-tail Lizard, the
Most Famous Lizard Ever
My Perfect Den
Warderick Wells Island
The Exumas
The Bahamas

Thank you, my friend!

#elaineapowers  #lyricpower   #cicadafood

 

 

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

Who Was Observing Whom?

I was exercising my young horse when he suddenly turned away from me to look at something outside the ring. I discovered my horse enjoys birdwatching as much as I do.

photo of roadrunnerHowever, as horse and human watched this Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus, pass by, I noticed that it seemed to be studying us as much as we were studying it. I have to say “it” because male and female roadrunners look alike.

photo of roadrunner bird

I wondered what the roadie thought of the two mammals watching it. Obviously, it didn’t feel threatened, moving ever closer, stopping frequently to examine us. After a few minutes of mutual observation, Exuma and I got back to work, and the roadrunner said as it continued on its way: “Places to go and prey to catch. Sorry, I can’t stay.” Perhaps we will all meet again.

photo of roadrunner running away

I was delighted to find out that my boy liked watching wildlife as much as I do. This bodes well for our future trail rides.

Book Note: In the midst of writing fun science books about reptiles, I veered off to write one about the predator I often see in my yard, the Greater Roadrunner. The result was the colorful and fact-filled book written in rhyme, Don’t Make Me Fly! Young and old alike seem to love the rhyming stanzas all about this Southern Arizona iconic bird. Pick up your copy today!

Infographic about book Don't Make Me Fly

You might also be interested in summer-fun workbooks full of activities about Roadrunners that are available from Lyric Power Publishing LLC. The covers below show what is included in each workbook, My Book About the Greater Roadrunner, one for grades K-2 and one for grades 2-4. 

Book cover about the Greater Roadrunner GR K-2book cover about greater roadrunner GR 2-4

#elaineapowers  #lyricpowerpub  #roadrunners

Ecdysis: It’s Time to Grow!

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

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

photo of red tegu back

With time, the outer skin looks whiter.

red tegu skin shedding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo of shedding skin ridges red tegu

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

Red tegu shedding skin starts to sag

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

photo of tegu skin coming off

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

photo of new shiny tegu skin

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Prettiest Head of All?

Red-footed tortoises, Geochelone carbonaria, are popular pets. These natives of Central and South America are easy to care for and don’t get too big, growing up to 30 pounds. They are also known for the bright colors on their skin and shell, including their namesake red scales on their legs.

Recently, I noticed how vivid Rose’s head is.  Her yellow markings (above) are very different from the others in my household.

photo of red-footed tortoiseShe is just as lovely from the side and you can see the red scles on her legs. Rose is the only one who has the yellow head.

Some red-footed tortoises have more red coloring on their heads – these are called cherry heads. Myrtle is an example of a cherry head.

photo of cherry head of red-footed tortoise

Not all heads are colorful. Some are rather humdrum like this one. No bright yellow or red scales on this tortoise.  But Gladiola is still a delightful tortoise.

photo of plain head of red-footed tortoise

The varied color patterns are normal for this species of tortoise. The same clutch of tortoises can have different colored individuals.

No matter their head color, I enjoy all my red-footed tortoises.  They are good natured, personable and a lot of fun to have around.

However, when I asked Rose if she had the prettiest head of all the tortoises, she came as close to a tortoise shout as one could get. “YES!”

photo of red-footed tortoise with open mouth

Book Note: Check out my fun tortoise book, Don’t Call Me Turtle!, in which I write about the many differences between tortoises and turtles—in rhyme. It’s a favorite book of little ones and their parents! Rhymes are not just fun—they help us to remember what we’ve learned.

 

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs
Don’t call me Myrtle the Turtle! I’m a tortoise! Learn the differences in fun rhymes inside!

And for keeping the science juices going in a fun way this summer, check out the workbooks full of interesting and fun activity sheets on a variety of science subjects at LyricPower.net. The books are comprehensive, educational, economical and fun. They range from PreK to 4th grade. Check them out today.

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

#elaineapowers   #lyricpower  #redfootedtortoise

That Hurt! Where is a Bottle of Alcohol When You Need It?

A couple of years ago I rescued a Rhinoceros Iguana, Rango, who had bitten her owner and a guest too many times. I brought her into my home and, after quarantine, allowed her to free roam — until she started biting my feet. I finally figured out it was the color socks or pants that was attracting her. I hypothesized that I was wearing clothes that reminded her of food — you know, fruit and vegetable colors. So, I put her into a large open enclosure in the middle of her territory. The food preference attacks continued but she usually couldn’t get hold of me.

I still needed to get into her enclosure for feeding and cleaning. Some days she would ignore me, other days she would leap at me, mouth agape. Most times, I was able to avoid her teeth, but one day, my reflexes were a bit too slow, and I got bitten!

Iguanas have razor sharp teeth designed to rip and bite through fibrous plant material. Powered by strong muscles, iguanas can deliver a significant bite. Consequently, my skin was easily pierced.

photo of iguana bite on finger

I resisted the urge to pull my finger from her teeth, since she kept hold of me. Doing that would have shredded my finger’s tissue even more. Rango bit down a few more times, perhaps trying to show me who was in charge.

I had only opened one end of the enclosure door when Rango grabbed me. I stood there trying to decide the best way to get her to release my finger. I unhooked the latch on the other side of the door, thinking she might let go for the opportunity to roam about the room, but she clamped down harder. I re-latched that side of door.

I thought about trying to lift her up, since repositioning the body position might encourage release, but then I’d have to let go of the other side of the door that I was holding open because both of us were in the opening.

I knew alcohol would get her to let go, but the nearest bottle was across two rooms in the kitchen.

I’ve been told that any alcohol would work: rubbing alcohol or hard liquor. I had a green iguana who used to taste my food and drinks and he never liked any of my alcoholic drinks. The fumes near the iguana’s face or a bit in its mouth should be sufficient to release the captured body part. But don’t pour it down the iguana’s throat — you don’t want to pour the alcohol into its lungs.

Patience paid off and Rango eventually released my finger. I quickly latched the enclosure door. I really couldn’t blame Rango, since she is a wild animal and did what her instincts told her.  I did wonder, but only for a moment, if she’d like meat in her diet. She wouldn’t — she’s an herbivore and, very much, a folivore (leaf eater).

I suspect Rango will attempt to bite me again in the future.  I think I’ll prepare for the eventuality and strategically place a bottle of some kind of alcohol on her enclosure. Within easy reach, of course, for the next time Rango latches on.

Book Note: I generally write fun science books for children, but I do also write about issues important to me, such as my book about the disappearing Rock Iguanas of Cayman Brac, Silent Rocks, that can be used to teach principles of Conservation.

white book cover with rock iguana photo on cover
The endemic Sister Isle Rock Iguana of Cayman Brac is critically endangered. This poignant book shows why* and how we humans can help. Includes many photographs of these magnificent large lizards.
*Silent Rocks can be used to teach how humans endanger many species

 

image of workbook cover, all about iguanasAnd to supplement your child’s education during the summer, check out the workbook full of fun and interesting activity sheets called My Unit Study on Iguanasat Lyric Power Publishing, LLC.  The pages included in the workbook are listed on the cover.

#elaineapowers    #lyricpower   #iguanabite

You Know You’re From Arizona When . . .

You might be familiar with these Fun Facts posted on Facebook by Brad Snyder in 2013. They are still very true today, and I’d like to share a bit more about these interesting and fun topics.

Book Note: I am fascinated by  animals and 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 summer 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. Powers

I 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.

#funsciencebooks  #funscienceeducation  #funchildrenssciencebooks

#AuthorElaineAPowers

 

 

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

I’d Like to Recommend Snorting!

When I’m not writing fun science books, I’m caring for my animal companions: the iguanas, tortoises and turtle I live with, and my two horses, which are stabled just down the road.

I’ve learned a lot about horses over the past two years. Many behaviors are still mysteries to me, however. One of them is the greeting squeal. When horses meet, they extend their noses to each other. The human handlers often wait cautiously off to the side at this point.

close up of horse head and human face in mask
Exuma and me

After a moment or two, one or both of the horses will issue a very loud squeaky cry, called a squeal. I’ve been told that the submissive horse will squeal, but I think they just enjoy squealing. If the horses are going to battle, the squeal is the first step before biting and kicking.  The first time my mare, Button, met her new neighbor, I made the mistake of standing behind her. I got kicked in the stomach and was left with a remarkable hoof-shaped bruise. (Don’t worry, I won’t make that mistake again.)

The sense of smell is very important to horses. It’s been suggested that the nosing is because of the different odors that are on the other horse. The horses aren’t really “shaking hands,” but are “exchanging medical records and business cards.”

But I’ve noticed that the squealing occurs even between horses that know each other, so it’s not only on the first meeting. Neighbors insist on squealing as loud as they can. Very annoying and a bit painful to my ears. Since horses depend on their sense of hearing, you’d think they’d want to tone it down, too.

Wouldn’t a simple snort suffice? Must such loud noises be uttered? Really, horses? Button? Exuma? At least they don’t squeal when I greet them. I’m pretty certain I’ll never understand why squealing so loudly is necessary.

The following video, showing some of the squealing, may help you to understand my point.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JWfWouuBgk

#elaineapowers  #horsenoises  #horsesqueal

Book Note: Summer and other breaks are soon upon us. Would you like to keep the science education coming, but make it fun? Check out the supplemental, educational, interesting and fun workbooks at Lyric Power Publishing LLC, my book publisher. Click the photos below and check them out. Lots of fun activities and they’re economical, too.

screenshot of workbook covers

 

Do You Slather or Smear?

The English language has a lot of really great words. As a writer, I enjoy exploring them. This time of year in the Sonoran Desert, we increase the amount of sunscreen we put on our bodies.  As the intensity of the sun increases with the warmer seasons, more sunscreen is definitely needed.
I put a copious amount of the protective cream in my hand and I slather it on my exposed face and arms. Slather is exactly the right word. I don’t apply, cover or spread the sunscreen on. I slather it.

The official definition of “to slather” is to spread or smear (another great word) thickly or liberally.  And that is what I do with my sunscreen.
With the danger of skin cancer, I encourage you, too, to slather your protective agents on.

Slather away!

#funsciencebooks  #funscienceeducation  #authorelaineapowers

#funinthesunadventuretales  #toinspirebuddingscientists

Book Note:  My adventure tales tend to be “fun in the sun with ecology and conservation mixed in.” I love to make science fun, hoping to inspire budding scientists. Check out My Books today for some delightful and educational summer reading for your children.

graphic with photos of book covers divided by subject

~Above image courtesy of Nika Akin from Pixabay~

Birds Do It, But Wow!

In the Spring, avian hearts turn to thoughts of love, or at least, to mating. Songs have been written about it. Cole Porter croons, “Birds do it, bees do it.” But have you ever thought about how birds “do it?”

Recently, I realized that a couple of white-winged doves, Zenaida asiatica, were getting together on the branch of a Palo Verde tree in my backyard. Watching the male trying to balance on the back of the female, who was receptive to the idea at least, in the gusty wind on a moving branch, got me thinking about the effort it takes for birds to mate.

It’s amazing that birds are able to perpetuate their species at all.

Mating takes place by the matching up of the cloacas. Keep in mind, the cloacas are located under the tails. So, along with the balancing act, they have to move their tails out of the way! Those tail feathers are stiff and can’t be bent. Just imagine having to maneuver the tails of a peacock or resplendent quetzal! Those tails are huge! Sure, they got the attention of the female, but just where do you put them during the cloacal matching? You can see why I’m impressed at the success rate of these interactions!

I knew a woman who wrote her Master’s degree thesis on aquatic birds’ ability to mate underwater! Wouldn’t the reproductive liquids be in danger of being diluted or washed away? The birds did fly, so it’s not like they couldn’t mate above water.

I encourage you to remember the effort it took for the ordinary birds flying about outside to be born and to congratulate them.

Book Note: I have written three fun-science books about birds. The book descriptions are here—perhaps you can find one for your child or grandchild.

infographic about three fun science books about birdsLooking to supplement your child’s education in a fun way? Check out all my books here—there’s something for everyone, from preschoolers to chapter books to adults, like my book, Queen of the Night, the Night-blooming Cereus, an Amazon #1 book in Children’s Botany.

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