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.
I 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.
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!
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!
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.
Recently, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Brooklynbugssite. 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.
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.
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 channelwhere 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:
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
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.
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
#elaineapowers #lyricpower #nightbloomingcereus #queen of the night #Amazon No. 1 Book
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.
However, 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
With time, the outer skin looks whiter.
Ridges and dents start to form, as the skin become looser.
The outer skin layer loosens and separates from the new skin underneath.
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.
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.
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.
She 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.
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.
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!”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
May 8, 2021 is the first International Blue Iguana Day. Blue iguanas, Cyclura lewisi, are the endemic iguanas on the island of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands.
I had the honor of volunteering with this program, collecting native plants and preparing the salad for the iguanas.
This is a story of success for a critically endangered species, which was on the brink of extinction. In 2002, only about two dozen blue iguanas remained in the wild. Currently, the population is 750. Because of the increase in numbers, the blue iguana has been down-listed to endangered. Fred Burton and the Blue Iguana Recovery Program (BIRP), now Blue Iguana Conservation, are responsible for this effort. The effort is located in a conservation facility in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. About 100 baby iguanas a year are head-started before being released there.
There are several reasons blue iguanas, who exist in one place in the world, almost became extinct. The reproductive rate of these iguanas is very low, and native snakes consume a lot of babies—but those issues are part of the natural cycle. Deaths due to domestic pets, however, are not and owners must control their dogs and cats, because iguanas don’t know that our pets are a threat to them. As the human population on Grand Cayman grew, habitat destruction and being killed on the roads increased as well. Iguanas enjoy basking on the warm road surface – and cars aren’t recognized as a danger, either.
My connection with the blue iguanas, in addition to donating time and money, is my reptile companion, Blue (pictured above). Blue is a hybrid blue iguana, Cyclura nubila lewisi, from a cross of the Blue Iguana and a Cuban Rock Iguana. Since he is a hybrid, he can never be released into the wild. However, though he is missing the classrooms, he is still enjoying his role as an ambassador for iguana conservation.
Book Note: Perhaps someday I will write a book about Blue Iguanas, but for now, I’d love to show you my book about the endangered Rock Iguana called Silent Rocks. So many species are now endangered, Rock Iguanas being among them. The book can be used to teach how animals in general become endangered and the difference conservation makes.
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.
These 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.
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.
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.
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.
Since my mare, Button, is approaching retirement from being a saddle horse, I decided to get a younger horse to take over her work. That is how Exuma, a Quarter Horse gelding, came into my life.
Exuma was born on April 28, 2017. Today is his fourth birthday!
Above photo courtesy of D. Iman
He has grown into his legs and is embracing his training to be a trail horse. He is fearless out in the desert, but he finds manmade objects, like furniture, mailboxes and garbage cans, a bit disconcerting. He is eager to learn, explore, taste (he is a growing boy) and just go!
It’s been an adventure for me to learn about young horses. His silliness, his testing of dominance and discovering the world outside of his stall are fascinating. He’s learning about relationships, getting along with other horses, standing patiently while I speak to other humans and that I will put my hands on him (brushing, hugging, petting).
One of the things that attracted me to him, other than his winning personality and lack of behavioral baggage, was his size. He is my mare’s size, about 14.2 hands. I wanted a nice small horse, like my mare. I don’t think I am an able enough rider for a bigger horse. As you may have guessed, with attention, time and exercise, Exuma has grown from his boyish figure into a taller, muscled gelding. Hopefully, with the bond we have forming, he will allow me to lead as we ride forth into the world.
It will be exciting as we both develop our trail riding skills. I hope we will create a team based on trust and mutual affection. Our story has just begun.
Oh, the places he–I mean we–will go!
Book Note: I do love being out in the Sonoran Desert and am often inspired with story ideas. I have written three children’s science books, written in rhyme with colorful illustrations that kids love. Looking for that perfect gift for a little one or a budding scientist? Check out my Don’t Series!
I have a suspended heat lamp that the tortoises like to use. They gather together underneath to share in the warmth. The tortoises chose their spot, then sit down and bask for a while.
Recently, Ezra Green Iguana was out for a stroll and happened across the non-creeping creep of tortoises. Ezra pulled himself up into the nice warm shells and laid down. He laid his head on Rose Red-footed Tortoise and took a nap.
Even though Rose Tortoise could feel Ezra on her shell, she didn’t move, allowing Ezra to use her as her comfy pillow.
Book Note: The reptiles I live with are an endless source of interesting stories about what they’re like with me and with each other. I enjoy their company tremendously and they inspire me to write and create science books about reptiles that are both educational and FUN. Here are some I’ve written about the Sonoran Desert. You can learn all about the Night-Blooming Cereus from my illustrated book written in rhyme by clicking here. Click on the image to see my ‘Don’t Series,’ which are also written in fun rhymes. Making science fun is my pleasure!
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.
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.
Usually, author Jo Busha writes the blog posts on plants, but one of my potted cacti inspired me to share this magnificent plant with you. Last year, a friend gave me this trio of the cactus, Mammilaria senilis.
This mammillaria is native to northern Mexico, growing on moss-covered boulders in high altitude pine forests. I am a bit surprised it is doing so well in my desert home. Its common name is Cabeza de Viejo, which translates to Old man’s Head. Not sure I see it . . .
Although this cactus may look like it is covered with white tufts, they are hooked white spines. But the most spectacular feature is the enormous red flowers that contrast with the diminutive body.
This plant is considered difficult to grow since it needs a lot of light and ample airflow. Outside in the desert, mine is certainly getting plenty of sunlight and airflow. Letting the soil dry before watering is not an issue. However, as a mountain plant, it prefers cooler temps . . . oops. It can withstand full sun as long as it is morning sun, not the baking afternoon sunlight.
A cultivation guide says that if grown correctly, this cactus will reward the grower with generous displays of red flowers. I like my reward.
andGrow Home, Little Seeds, a tale for ages 8+, 25 pages with a 10-page seed appendix, illustrated in pastel colors by Monique Carroll, in which a group of seeds leaves the Leon Levy Preserve to find their homes. Along the adventure, they learn they are different and that they each have their own needs to grow, but that they can grow up alongside each other and remain friends.
I was experimenting with a writing prompt for mysteries. The prompt was to write about a common object in a mysterious way. I looked at my pepper grinder, a device that pulverizes hard objects. All the multi-colored peppercorns are ground into indistinguishable pieces. How terrifying it must be for the peppercorn to be crushed and chopped into little pieces! Fortunately, they are no longer alive and can’t feel pain, but it does provide an example of how mundane objects can be turned into objects of malice. In addition, it got me wondering about how peppercorn grinders were invented.
I was surprised to find out that the grinder was invented by Peugeot back in 1842. Prior to its production, people used the mortar and pestle. The grinder was much less labor intensive! Stainless steel is the desired material, since it is durable and crack resistant (some of those peppercorns fight back!) Zinc alloy, ceramic and acrylic have also been used.
The instrument of destruction of the above peppercorns.
The results: releasing the delightful pepper flavors.
The next time you want to stimulate your creativity, look at some innocuous item in your house and make it into an object worthy of a murder mystery! I know I’ll never look at my peppercorn grinder the same way.
Book Note: I am a mystery lover and have several murder mysteries in progress. I have also written and published theater scripts in the mystery genre. You can see them all on my Theater Scripts page. Interested in the Performing Arts? Click on any of the book covers to buy them at Amazon–for your own practice as an actor, or for your performance group. They’ve been performed back East and are a lot of fun!
With Spring, the tortoises wander about more actively. The brumating species, like the Sonoran Desert and Sulcata tortoises, emerge from my bedroom to join the now more ever-wandering red-footed tortoises. I have a heat lamp set up in the front room where the tortoises can sit and bask. Usually, one or two will be utilizing the basking spot at a time. However, one fine day, all the tortoises had a spring in their step and met at the warm spot. They were happy to share the food and the warmth, so they could digest properly.
Normally, the tortoises in the photo above would be called a creep of tortoises, but on this day, they were a convergence of tortoises.
P.S. There are three species of tortoises in the picture. Can you identify which is which?
Note: Please join me tomorrow, Thursday, April 8 at 3:00 p.m. MST on my Facebook page for my informative and fun chat about Rock Iguanas, Cyclura species. April is Iguana Month and I will be introducing you to some of my iguana roomies–tomorrow the very handsome big guy, Blue.
To maintain safe social distance, my chorus has been meeting outside in a neighborhood cul-de-sac. We’re masked and standing six feet apart. We meet after dark and we each bring an illumination device, such as a clip-on light, or a head lamp or maybe even a wrap-around flashlight you wear on your neck. Whatever type we use, it only illuminates the music we are holding – even combined they do nothing to dispel the darkness around us.
One of the chorus members brings her service dog with her. He sits quietly at her feet, usually gazing into the darkness behind us. But every now and then, he’ll growl, sometimes barking at something unseen behind us.
What is in the darkness? One of the usual nocturnal desert creatures? Perhaps a Great Horned Owl, a coyote or a Gila Monster. We stop, look and listen, but the intruder is not identified.
Of course, my murder-mystery-writer’s-imagination suspects it isn’t merely an ordinary animal, but something much more sinister. Is it one of the infamous el chupacabra? Or perhaps a thunderbird? Maybe it is merely a ghost or evil spirit.
Chupacabra translates to “goat sucker.” The story goes that sheep and goats were found with puncture wounds in their chests with their blood drained out. Initially, descriptions were of a reptilian creature with spikes. Red eyes and fangs enhanced its fierceness. However, more recently the chupacabra is described as a breed of wild, hairless dog with a prominent ridge and, of course, fangs.
Or it might be a Thunderbird. I like large birds, but none of them, not even the golden eagle, can produce thunder from its wings and lightning from its beak. In some story versions, the feathers are knives. In the Sonoran Desert, my neighborhood, the thunderbird lived in a mountain cave. From its lair, the creature preyed upon Pima Indians, including men, women and children. Fortunately, the Pima warriors were able to defeat the thunderbirds.
So far, our chorus has emerged unscathed by the unseen dangers. But I’ll continue to be on alert, along with the canine chorus member. He’ll do his best to protect us, and I’ll fight by his side–even if it’s only a kangaroo rat.
Book Note: I weave science into adventure tales, figuring if the learning is fun, the knowledge will stick. I’ve created three adventure series, Curtis Curly-tail Lizard, the Lime Lizard Lads, and Clarissa Catfish. The characters do not stay at home, they make mischief, and they have to face dangers–with the science of the animals and their ecosystems written into the stories. I hope you’ll check out these adventure tales today and weave some fun science into your children’s lives. See the book descriptions by clicking on the links below.
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.
Bizarro is one of my favorite comic strips. I like its quirky look at life’s often ordinary activities. I particularly like the way the artists incorporate science into their comics. Entertaining and educational. Their play on words is delightful.
This particular strip reminded me of my own Conversations with Dudley Dewlap scripts, which feature life from a lizard’s point-of-view. One of my scripts starts with the lizards discussing having their scales buffed and waxed, to make them shiny.
We all need to look at the world around us with light-heartedness at times. And, we might as well learn something. I’d like to advise we all eat nutritionally to make our exteriors, whether an exoskeleton or flexible layers of keratin, the healthiest they can be.
It’s my nature to write fun science books. I simply believe the learning sticks when it’s fun. If you want to see what a couple of lizards think about the world, check out the script, Conservations with Dudley Dewlap. And, if your theater group is looking for something fun, performance rights are included with the purchase of my scripts.
#elaineapowers #dudleydewlap #performance rights #theater scripts #lizard point of view
In a previous blog post, I mentioned the surprises I had in my first Facebook Live talk. My second talk with my iguana went well and I thought I knew what I was doing.
For my third talk, I showed my Sonoran Desert Tortoise and I mentioned how reptiles urinate when they are stressed. That’s why you should never pick up a desert tortoise. Its supply of water is stored in its bladder and using it to repel you, it is doomed to death by dehydration.
I had learned from my in-person talks that the tortoises often will void, so I put down a tarp. Voiding is not an issue since I can provide them with as much water as they need to refill. Consequently, I had a towel in place for my Facebook talk just in case. The tortoise did great. She stayed on camera and was relaxed as I held her in the air for over ten minutes. As I signed off, I felt water run down my shirt. I placed her in the box on the chair beside me and finished up my presentation. I then noticed some water on my laptop and wiped it off. Yes, she had peed her displeasure onto my computer.
As I went to move my laptop back to the table where I usually worked, the screen went black. I pushed the on button, nothing. On no, had she doused my computer enough to kill it? Yes. Yes, she had. I rushed my trusty laptop, who had been with me for many years, off to the repairman. He wasn’t able to save my electronic companion, but he was able to save her memory.
I intend to share three tortoises during my Facebook Live Talk tomorrow, Thursday, March 18th. Look for me at 3:00 p.m. MST at my personal Facebook page, Elaine Powers, during which time I will be wrapping my new laptop in plastic! I can’t wait to get back to doing live talks. It is so much safer for my electronics.
I did give the manager a great story to tell of the woman whose laptop was destroyed by tortoise pee!
Book Note: To check out the fun children’s science books I’ve written about turtles and tortoises, please click on the books below or in the My Books section here. They’re fun, informative and are wonderfully illustrated by the talented artists I use.
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