The festival is coming! The festival is coming! On March 4 & 5, 2023, the best book festival in the country, the Tucson Festival of Books, will be held at the University of Arizona mall. If you’re a newbie to TFOB, or even a seasoned professional, planning your visit can be a bit overwhelming. Not to worry, I have some recommendations!
Join Me and My Fellow Authors
I’ll be sharing booth #325 with fellow author/illustrator Anderson Atlas. “Grab an Adventure by the Tale” will be in the Children’s section. We have books for kids of all ages, including those who are only kids at heart. Between the two of us, we have an incredible array of locally written and illustrated books. In addition, Atlas always comes up with an interesting decoration for the booth – you don’t want to miss what he comes with this year!
As you stroll around the mall, be sure to stop at the Arizona State Poetry Society, booth #413, and Tucson Sisters in Crime, #427. All of these booths will have books for sale by Arizona authors. Whether you prefer poetry or mysteries, these organizations will fulfill your desires.
Unfortunately, this amazing event only lasts one weekend. Clear your calendar and come on out. If you want to hear your favorite author, search for that one special tome, or enjoy learning some science, the Tucson Festival of Books is the place to be. Oh, and the funds raised go to support local literacy programs.
Hares! Here, there and everywhere. I seem to be finding hares everywhere. I live in the Sonoran Desert with the very large rabbits known as desert hares. The actual common name is Antelope Jackrabbit with the scientific name of Lepus alleni. I’ve tried many times to get a photo of a jackrabbit with its long, pointed ears, but they are very wary and take off before my cell photo camera can focus. This really large rabbit is found in the deserts of southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico. They prefer an area with some grass and mesquite trees. Whenever I’m out in the washes in the surrounding desert, I look for these incredible creatures.
The Hare of the Ocean
But the antelope jackrabbit isn’t the only hare I’ve been hanging with lately. After the flooding of my house in Fort Myers, FL, due to the storm surge of Hurricane Ian, I sought solace on Bunche Beach. I wanted to see life returning to normalcy after the storm’s destruction. I hoped the ocean had repaired its injuries and that I would find creatures crawling in the shore waters. Sadly, the plants along the shore were severely damaged and mostly killed.
I looked for the usual King’s crowns, Melongena corona, but they were missing along with the grass beds that they lived in. What I did find on the sand bars (it was low tide) were little round balls of jelly or what I thought were gelatinous algae.
But when I saw more of them in the puddles, they were elongated and gliding! I had never seen them before but suspected they were some sort of nudibranch. Using my handy iNaturalist app, these creatures were identified as the ragged sea hare or shaggy sea hare, Bursatella leachii. Sea hares are opisthobranchs or marine gastropod mollusks that have a small or missing shell. Nudibranchs are a kind of opisthobranchs. I was close in my guess.
When I stopped and surveyed the beach, I realized there were thousands of these sea hares either sliding over the sand or awaiting the returning waves.
A Hare Beach Party
Why were all these sea hares congregated on the beach? I’ve visited Bunche Beach for years, during different seasons, and never seen them. Believe me, I would have been excited by the presence of such interesting critters.
I guess that the hurricane’s winds and currents pushed them onto the beach. Another possibility is they were mating, but why now, for the first time? No, I suspect their presence is the result of the hurricane.
I didn’t perturb the mollusks. It turns out that they release purple ink when disturbed. If I had known that, I might have disturbed some. of them, just to see the purple ink.
Without the seagrass beds and being forced on the shore, I was worried about my new sea hare friends. What were they eating? Apparently, the sea hares eat cyanobacteria, so the lack of grass wasn’t a problem.
Many authors find the slugs unattractive. But I think they are quite attractive. There were some nice color variations.
However, what fascinated me the most was the way they were gliding across the sand, seemingly effortlessly, like hovercrafts zipping along. This movement will always be the sea slug slide to me.
I like the hares in my life, both on land and in the sea. Perhaps next will be flying hares! Is wishing for a flying hare, hare-e-sy? I am willing to admit to being a hare-a-tic and I definitely like my hares, here today and not gone tomorrow.
If you’d like to learn more about the wildlife on both the land and air, explore more hare-lariously fun and educational downloadable workbooks!
I recently wrote a blog about popcorn for National Popcorn Day. Microwave popcorn is very popular these days. Microwave ovens often have a designated popcorn button built into them. In addition, various foods have been produced specifically for cooking in microwave ovens. I understand the need for speed when preparing meals. Most people need to get out the door early in the morning, or in my case, I had 30 minutes to get changed after work, eat supper, then get to a theater rehearsal. I greatly appreciated the convenience of those rapid preparations that sometimes left me time to look through my mail, too! The other day, in my local grocery store, I saw a microwave food product I didn’t know existed. I had to try it and obviously had to blog about it.
I’m, what I like to call, cuisinely curious. I was raised by a father who had the philosophy of “if someone else can eat it and not turn green, so can I.” When I travel, I prefer to eat the local foods to fully experience the culture. After all, food is essential to each area’s identity. I like to taste local dishes, learn about their origins, and how the food reflects the daily lives of the locals.
But this blog isn’t about any far-flung locale, No, this blog is about a discovery during a routine shopping trip. Microwaveable pork rinds! I didn’t know my usual grocery store carried microwaveable pork rinds. I’ve purchased regular pork rinds in bags next to the potato and corn chips, but never seen this intriguing creation: microwaveable pork rinds! I had to try them.
Time for a Taste Test
They came in the usual microwave popcorn paper bag and cellophane wrapper.
And like the popcorn bags, the paper bag had instructions, which I followed very carefully. Unlike popcorn, pork rinds don’t have any popping sound indicators to signal it is cooking or when it’s cooking is finished.
I admit I was a little surprised at the result. I peeled open the bag, cautiously. After all, the contents were hot. They actually looked like the bagged, popped pork rinds. Ah, but how did they taste?
They tasted like bagged pork rinds. Amazing!
About This Snack
Pork rinds, or chicharrones, are usually made of pork belly, but when I was a child, they were made from real pork skin. My father would bring home a strip of pig skin with an inner layer of fat. He would cut it up and fry it until the skin was crisp and the fat was cooked through. I enjoyed scraping the tasty fat off with my teeth and then chewing the crispy skin. It was a rare treat but one I still treasure today.
Today’s pork rinds today are puffed-up, airy pieces of protein. They are certainly crunchy with good flavor. I find them more satisfying than potato or corn chips and they are considered a “healthier” snack option. Okay, pork rinds may be better than chips, but they still can’t beat an apple or carrots.
Unfortunately, the microwavable pork rinds were relocated to the “reduced for quick sale” section of my local grocery store. If I had known about this product before it became a close-out item, I would have been a frequent purchaser. I may never again get to experience the remarkable microwave pork rinds. Unless it’s sold online…
One of my favorite pastimes is listening to Old Time Radio (OTR) shows as I drive around. The other day while captivated by a comedy show, I heard an unusual word. I thought it was perhaps a slip of the tongue or a word created for comic effect. But then I heard it a few more times on other OTR shows. The word was “discombooberate.” I’m familiar with “discombobulate,” since my parents used it frequently during my childhood, but I had never heard discombooberate. The BOOB sound lands very differently on the ear than BOB does. Every time it was said, I paid more attention. The first broadcast was a comedy, but the subsequent occurrences were on mystery shows.
I learned about the impact of sound in audio stories when I was involved with the Hunterdon Radio Theatre (HRT) back in New Jersey. The ear catches details much more effectively than the eye. For example, I still remember a police drama episode where the door opened and never closed, even though the sound from the other room decreased as if the door had closed! I worried about that unclosed door through several scenes. Not a good thing for the show. Details like this are important when writing scripts, which I was doing for HRT.
I was curious about this new word version. I assumed correctly that it was another form of the word that I knew. Both versions are intentional comic alterations of the word “discompose” or “discomfit” which are old-fashioned terms for upsetting, confusing, disturbing, or frustrating a person. Word historians consider them be derivatives of “discombobricate.” The intentionally reworked word first appeared around 1834, as “discombobracated.” Since then, it has become “discombobberate,” “discombooberate,” “discombobulate” and “discomboomerate,” according to an article in the Times Leader (January 22, 2001). Wow! What a ever-changing word. I’m considering creating a new version. How about “discombobboberate”? That has a nice rhythm.
If you’d like to check out my New Time Radio theater or audio scripts, you can see them on elaineapowers.com. They are family-friendly. They are different lengths from five minutes to ninety minutes in length. Some of them, I based on the OTR style of talk show hosts, like the Bob and Ray comic duo. Of course, my talk show hosts are lizards, a green iguana, and a water monitor. They are entertaining and educational, just like my books. Don’t worry, they won’t make you feel discombobulated!
What food do you put down when a survey asks for your favorite food? I always put down popcorn! I love popcorn. I love the flavor, the crunchiness, and the childhood memories it brings. My father’s favorite snack was popcorn cooked with bacon grease. Many years later, I read a survey of popcorn produced in New York City that declared the best-tasting popcorn is made with bacon grease! I could have told them that. As you can see, popcorn has a special place in my heart. This is why I’ve dedicated this blog to my favorite popping snack.
The Magic of Popcorn
It’s magical how applying a little heat makes the small kernels explode into a fluffy white flower-like ball. No matter the color of the kernel, all popped popcorn is white fluffiness. Popcorn contains 15% water and is the only corn that pops. When the internal pressure from steam is too great for the shell, the innards explode, inflate and turn the kernel inside out. How great it is to have food that is both tasty and entertaining.
My father would make big batches that he first put in a big roasting pan, then transferred to large paper bags. I still use his pan, but mine never lasts long enough to make it into a paper bag. Occasionally, I’ll keep some in a plastic storage container, but it doesn’t last very long. I can eat it every day!
Apparently, I’m not the only person who loves popcorn, since there is National Popcorn Day on January 19. Popcorn can be prepared in many ways: plain (my preference), buttered (sometimes), sweet, savory, mixed and molded into a ball, or tossed with nuts and chocolate. So many choices of flavoring, if you feel the need for flavor enhancement. I even add it to soup instead of crackers. Popcorn is a good source of roughage, too! However, my dental hygienist did complain about having to pull pieces out of my gums.
The History of Popcorn
Americans consume 13 billion quarts of popcorn a year! It’s not surprising that the US consumes the greatest amount of popcorn in the world. After all, it is a local crop. The Old English term “corn” referred to the most prominent grain grown in a region. When Native Americans shared their most common grain, maize, calling it corn was their obvious term to use. Popcorn is a special kind of corn.
Maize has been cultivated for a long time. In the 16th century, Aztecs used popcorn in the worship of their god, Tlaloc, the god of maize and fertility.
In the mid-1800s, popcorn gained popularity in the US. Popcorn became part of American culture, when Louise Ruckheim added peanuts and molasses, creating Cracker Jack. The iconic snack was immortalized by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer Jack in their baseball song, Take Me Out to the Ball Game!
Even today, popcorn it’s a given to be sold in any movie theater. Popcorn is the perfect long-lasting snack to consume while enjoying visual entertainment. A bowl/bag/tub of popcorn can be consumed alone or shared with a friend.
Perhaps, some of your first cooking, like mine, either on the stove or a campfire as a child involved the disposable frying pans of popcorn kernels – Jiffy Pop. No dishes to clean up afterward. You can still buy it!
With the invention of the microwave, it’s obvious that microwaveable popcorn would be developed. In fact, Percy Spencer used popcorn in the experiments during the initial microwave experiments. Today you can use microwaves, hot air, or the traditional oil/grease to cause the water within the kernel to turn to steam and burst open the kernel.
The creators of National Popcorn Day encourage us to pop some popcorn, share it with friends and then post photos of it on social media using #NationalPopcornDay. Popcorn has been honored with a national day since 1988, perhaps longer. What a tasty way to celebrate one of the most important foods! Now, go pop some popcorn and dig into your favorite book or grab one of my science-based workbooks.
On January 7, we as a nation will celebrate the spring-connected figurines known as Bobbleheads! I don’t remember bobbleheads from my childhood, but now they seem to be everywhere. I see them most often for athletes and teams. I often wonder how significant those figurines will be in the following season. And yes, this topic is a little unusual for my blog. But I just happened to find an unusual bobblehead worth blogging about.
A Short Bobble History
I was stunned when I learned that bobbleheads have been around for more than one hundred years! Bobbers or nodders, as they were originally known, were developed in Germany. They gained popularity in the US in the ‘50s and ‘60s, then again in the late ‘90s when those sports teams used them as promotional items.
You can probably guess by my dismissive tone that I’m not a big fan of bobbleheads. I’m not, except for one, very special, very important and very unique bobblehead. The only worthwhile bobblehead in my eyes is the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana Bobblehead. This amazing figurine was created by Joel Friesch and John Binns.
The Story of the Blue Iguana Bobber
Joel is known for his whimsical artwork that features the Blue Iguana. John Binns, of course, is known for his International Reptile Conservation Foundation. You might also have noticed that he formatted the iguana identification booklets I created to help people tell the difference between endemic iguanas and the invasive green iguanas. I provide the content and he makes them look fabulous!
The critically endangered Grand Cayman Blue Iguana, Cyclura lewisi,has inspired not only this great bobble head, but other marketing souvenirs as well. The bouncing of the head reminds me of the head bobbing by my hybrid blue iguana, Blue, which you see me holding in one of my marketing photos.
The blue iguana bobblehead was designed to help raise funds for the Blue Iguana Recovery Fund (BIRF). Note the details of the scales on the face and tail, the stripes on the torso and the lovely black hands and feet. The butterfly looks like it was carved from the unique Caymanian gemstone caymanite.
The BIRF provides support of the conservation effort of the blue iguana found on Grand Cayman. This is the only place, the only island, where this iguana species is found. So, blue iguanas are bred to provide juveniles for release in native environments, community education and habitat conservation programs.
Saving the Blue Iguanas
Conservation of the blue iguanas only started in 1990; most Caymanians didn’t know anything about their endemic lizard. Then came the invasion of the green iguanas (Iguana iguana), whose population exploded, destroying large parts of the island’s ecology.
Determined scientists and volunteers have brought the blue iguanas back from the brink of extinction. Education programs have introduced their fellow Caymanian to the locals. Visitors are greeted at the airport with a blue iguana statement “His ancestors have been here for 2 million years.” Perhaps these large lizards were mistaken for caimans by early European explorers, who gave the islands their name. Modern-day tourists are encouraged to meet the blues at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park. They are a remarkable color of blue.
Although I have authored children’s books and workbooks on Iguanas in general, I haven’t written any books about the blue iguanas. I have created identification booklets to help people differentiate between the magnificent blue and the invasive green iguanas. I’m honored to do my part for their conservation.
I woke up on November 28, 2022, to the headline announcing “Hawaii’s Mauna Loa is erupting for the first time since 1984.” Mauna Loa erupting always gets my attention. Before 1984, the volcano on the big island of Hawaii had last erupted on July 5, 1975. I know because I was on the side of it when it did! My volcanic adventure was certainly a tale to remember and share…
A Summer Like No Other
After graduating high school, I attended a summer science course on the island of Hawaii before starting college in the fall. It was a great trip with visits to the black sand beaches, scuba diving off the coast, making a rubbing of a petroglyph, walking across the lava field of Kilauea volcano (my shoe soles got really hot!), and camping on the side of Mauna Loa in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park campground.
The camping trip was almost canceled because the seismologists had detected 26 separate earthquakes in the previous 24 hours. Something was going to erupt! However, everyone assumed it would be Kilauea, as usual. Many tourists had checked into the hotel that had an overlook of Kilauea, specifically for that reason. Nothing like enjoying a meal as you watch lava splash.
A cabin in the campground had been rented for our group, but when we arrived, we quickly realized that there wasn’t enough room for all of us to sleep inside. No problem, some of us hardier folks volunteered to sleep outside in our sleeping bags. We were quite comfy and the night sky was magnificent.
An Explosive Night
Around midnight, we saw an orange flame leap into the sky. At first, the flame was thin but increasingly widened across the top of the volcano. Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, was erupting. That answered the question of who was going to erupt. This was exciting because it hadn’t erupted in decades! We, the outsiders, got up and enjoyed the show. Mauna Loa is not an explosive type of volcano, instead, the lava fountains fill the summit caldera, Moku‘āweoweo, and then spills over. Fortunately, the flow usually goes over the other side, so we felt safe in the campground.
We decided we should share this incredible event with the other campers, so we ran around the campground yelling “the volcano is erupting, the volcano is erupting.” Our classmates believed us and came out to enjoy the show. However, the majority of the other campers told us to be quiet (in stronger terms) and didn’t come out. They were rather upset with themselves the next morning when they realized we had been telling the truth. Hey, we tried.
One of the leaders yelled that we could drive to the top! We jumped in the van to go to the top of the volcano where the park service had erected a viewing platform over the summit caldera. However, halfway up, our driver stopped and turned around. We were low on gas and wouldn’t be able to outrun the lava flow if it came our way. Lava flows at 30 mph. People run up to 8 mph. It wasn’t a risk we wanted to take. Our retreat turned out for the best since the molten rock consumed the viewing platform on its way down the volcano’s side. Another 3 feet of land was added to the island that night
Unlike the current eruption, the 1975 eruption lasted less than 24 hours. Starting just before midnight, all activity stopped by 7:30 pm on July 6. After all, we had returned to the school that day, so why would Mauna Loa keep erupting if I wasn’t there?
November 16th is National Button Day. What do you think of when you hear the word “button?” Do images of the many colors, diversely shaped garment fasteners come to mind? I remember selecting colors and shapes to add interest to my clothes. Then there’s the time spent searching through the massive collection that my mother had amassed over the years to find one that matched, or came close, to matching a missing one. But there is more to that word than one would expect. Join me as I explore more about buttons and share all about my favorite Button!
All About Buttons
I had never thought that much about buttons as a child, until my father mentioned harvesting freshwater mussels from the Illinois River to make buttons. In fact, it was quite the lucrative business in the area. The mussels’ shells were punched to create disks that were polished to reveal the shiny nacre, otherwise known as mother of pearl. Unfortunately, this industry led to the demise of many of the mussel populations. The loss of these water filtering mollusks increased the degradation of the river’s water quality. I tried to find the species names for the mussels involved in the button manufacture and could only find a few. Mentioned are yellow sandshells, pistolgrips, ebonyshells and thedrilled threeridge mussel (Amblema plicata).
Or perhaps, your mind wandered to the phrases “cute as a button” or “to push my buttons.” Did you ever wonder where the phrase “cute as a button” came from? If someone was cute, you were saying they were clever or intelligent. Certainly, a compliment. But how does that relate to a button sewn on clothing?
The “button” in the phrase probably actually referred to a flower bud, which are attractive. The tip of a rattlesnake tail when it’s born is also called a button. The rattler can’t rattle until its first shed, when the first keratin segment is added. But I don’t think the phrase originators were thinking of a rattlesnake when they came up with “cute as a button,” although I do think they are cute.
The phrase “to push my buttons” refers to intentionally making someone angry. How it evolved from household appliances going electric and “push button,” I’m not really sure.
My Favorite Button
But when I hear the word “button,” I think of Button, my first and my heart horse. Button was my second lesson horse when I was learning to ride bareback. She is a Missouri Foxtrotter, one of the gaited horse varieties. She is both a “cute as a button” and “pushing my buttons,” kind of girl. Buttons taught me a lot about horse philosophy and the mind of a prey animal. But mostly, she taught me about the bond that can occur between females of different species.
Before Button, I never really liked horses. I like all animals and plants as a biologist, but reptiles have always been my thing. I had no interest in “owning” dogs and cats, which was enhanced by my allergies to them.But from the first time I climbed on Button’s back, we had a special connection. Given a choice of lesson horses, I always chose Button. Apparently, Button felt it too, since she chose me as her preferred human. I’m sure that rankled her owner, my trainer, at the time. When her owner’s life took a significant change, I was offered Button as my own and I took her. I really knew nothing about caring for a horse and the next few years were a rapid course in horse care, disease, attitude and how to ride! I’ve learned a lot.
Button is a gorgeous copper-colored chestnut with a flowing mane. With her seeming calm manner, she is definitely “cute as a button.” And with the attitude of a dominant mare, the stereotypical red-headed mare who feels she should be in charge, she can definitely “push my buttons.”
With age and the advancement of a non-operable tumor, Button has retired from riding. But we still take walks together and we still talk and share views of our world. Okay, I do the talking, but she communicates quite well.
On November 16, when the intent is to celebrate the world of buttons produced for clothing, I will be celebrating Button who brought such a wondrous change into my life. If you are interested in learning more about Button read my previous blog all about her on the Lyric Publishing website.
When I need an ocean fix, I head to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But when I need a green fix, I head back to my hometown of Peoria, IL. I call it my writing retreat because I sit on my cousin’s back porch, where my muse refreshes and my writing output increases. Having his two dogs draped on the furniture around me helps with the inspiration. I often take his Goldendoodle for a walk around the tree-filled neighborhood, to get some exercise and increase blood flow to my brain. After living in the Sonoran Desert for over a decade, the trees strike me as so…green! The trees are tall with thick branches and really big leaves! Why such a big difference in the flora? I’m glad you asked.
Small vs. Big Leaves
I’ve become used to the small, thin leaves of the desert trees. Their short stature, their thin branches, and the sight of the landscape through the leafy sparseness are what I now expect. This is a mesquite tree, common in the Sonoran Desert.
The significant differences between the leaves got me thinking about how the tree species have adapted to their environments. Desert tree leaves are small to reduce surface area thereby decreasing water loss. Access to water is limited in desert environments. In the Midwest, water conservation is less of an issue for the trees. They have leaves with lots of surface area. It’s interesting that leaves that grow in the shade (all those leaves produce a great deal of shade) are usually bigger. They need a greater surface area to increase their amount of photosynthesis. The leaves exposed to the sun can be smaller. No need for them to fight over the sunshine.
Some of the more common Midwest trees are the oaks. The average oak leaf can be up to eight inches in length. This is huge compared to the palo verde or mesquite leaves which have leaflets about an inch long. In addition, the oak leaves are present from spring until fall, since they are deciduous, drop off for winter. In comparison, the desert trees’ leaves tend to show up after rainfall.
The leaves are responsible for feeding the trees. Photosynthesis is where sunlight is used to synthesize carbon dioxide and water into food for plants. Oxygen is given off as a byproduct, fortunately for us oxygen breathers.
A Whole New Tree-preciation
I must confess, living in the desert has made me appreciate trees more than I need, as a once native Midwesterner. Sure, I knew they were important and beautiful, but I usually appreciated it when they bloomed in the spring or changed colors in the fall. Now, I more fully realize how critical they are to life in any environment. Animals and other plants really depend on their presence to survive.
We humans like to find ways of enhancing our means of movement. We strap wheels onto our feet, jump on skateboards, and climb on bicycles or motorcycles. We build cars to drive faster than we can walk. We build airplanes to fly in the sky like birds. But we’ve also invented wonderful devices to assist humans with mobility impairments. Furthermore, we don’t just build these devices for ourselves, we build them for other animals too. Explore some of these animal mobility devices with me, including one that gives snakes… legs!
Some Helpful Human Devices
Science and engineering have developed many useful tools for animals. Wheels allow animals without use of their back legs to roll along, from dogs to turtles. Then there’s the prosthetic limbs for alligators like Mr. Stubbs at the nearby Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary. Another remarkable prosthetic was the tail created for Winter, a bottle-nose dolphin.
Movement is very important to people, even if it borders on the absurd. For instance, I included the technology that allowed a fish to move its tank on wheel, i.e. FOV, fish-operated vehicle in one of my books. I used a FOV to allow my protagonist Clarissa Catfish to wander around the Peoria Play House Children’s Museum in my hometown of Peoria, IL.
How a Snake Got Legs
So it should be no surprise, I was intrigued when an engineer decided to give snakes legs, claiming they were reversing an evolutionary mistake. Robotic technology has really advanced over the recent years, so that a robotic exoskeleton could be built.
It took a few tries for the snake to enter the contraption, but once she did, she seemed to enjoy moving about with legs. Of course, she wasn’t controlling the movement or the direction like the fish did, but those could be future enhancements. I am curious to see if this technology leads to more practical uses or if this was just fun with snakes. Maybe if the legs had a camera like the fish tank, the snake could be in control. Giving snakes legs might be the ultimate in enhancing movement, but then again who knows where movement technology will lead us and our animal associates.
Oh, and by the way, don’t be surprised if your snake requests legs for its next gift-giving event! If you are interested in learning more about snakes, download one of my many educational workbooks on the topic.
Last year, I wrote about the bat survey I’m taking part in. Researchers at Texas Christian University are studying the usage of pools by desert-dwelling bats. I live in Oro Valley, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. And I have a pool in my backyard. Both make me a perfect candidate for this citizen scientist endeavor. It’s been one year since I signed up and here is what I have found.
A “Bat” of Info on the Survey
To identify the bats that stop by my pool I had to install a bit of technology. The scientists detect the bats through an ultrasonic microphone that records their calls. They use reference recordings of the different species expected in various areas. Once I have collected enough recordings, a student from the university identifies the bats heard on them.
I’ve been amazed and delighted with the number of recordings I’ve been obtaining at my pool. I find it interesting that when it rains, the bats are particularly talkative.
How Many Species?
Can you guess how many different species of bats were detected in my backyard this past year? I suspected I had at least 4 bat species around my pool, based on personal observations. Usually, I have small bats flitting about, frequently coming down to the pool surface. Once or twice, I’ve seen a few slightly bigger bats, but it was hard to precisely determine the size because they fly sooo fast. A special treat was when the BIG bats showed up. Recently, three of them even joined me in the pool. Their sharp triangular wings were incredible.
The researchers were busy analyzing all the recordings from the various locations around Tucson, so it wasn’t until recently that they were able to provide tentative results. They sent us a list of the bat species tentatively identified at each of our pools. I had 21 species of bats! 21!! I’m astounded.
I don’t know how many times each of the species were at my house, so expect another update. Most of the locations around Tucson had the same species of bats. One of them had an extra one, a spotted bat. I hope this species wanders up to my house.
Of the seventy bat species found in the Sonoran Desert, eighteen have been found in the Tucson area. So, which of them flies above my house?
Here is the tentative list:
Greater Mastiff Bat
Mexican Free-Tailed Bat
Silver Haired Bat
Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat
Western Red Bat
Underwood’s bonneted Bat
Western Yellow Bat
Myotis California Bat
Western Small-footed Bat
Long-eared myotis Bat
Arizona Myotis Bat
Fringed Myotis Bat
Long-legged Myotis Bat
Yuma Myotis Bat
Pocketed free-tailed Bat
Big Free-tailed Bat
I’ve suspected the big bat I’ve seen is the greater mastiff bat, but that’s only my uneducated guess. However, this species is on the list, so maybe my guess was right. Or it might be a big brown bat.
Another of my guesses is that the little ones I see most often are canyon bats. They are the smallest bats in North America. They are known for coming out early in the evening, which makes them easier to see. I’ve even got photos of them…kind of.
More Bat Questions!
Most of the bats found in this study are insectivores, but a few are nectar drinkers. This leads to the question of whether these bats are showing up for the hummingbird feeders or the water in the pool.
Knowing which species are present is wonderful, but there are so many more questions. How often did each species visit? Did they come at specific periods, such as only in July, or were they around for many months? What time of night were they active and for how long? The little bats seem to visit just at sunset and then fly off or is it that I just couldn’t see them anymore in the dark – they are small? How many of each species visited, one or many?
I hope to have this information for a future blog. However, I was so excited by the number of bat species that I had to share this early information.
By the way, the researchers at TCU are rather jealous. They only have four species of bats in their area. Maybe the diversity of bats in the Tucson area is why they are so popular. One of the famous activities here is going to the larger bridges over the washes and watching the Mexican free-tailed bats emerge at sunset. According to the list, I can do my own observations right in my backyard. I’ll also look a bit more carefully at those bats around my pool. Maybe I’ll be able to definitively identify these amazing animals who share my pool with me.
If you know any budding young bat scientists, I highly recommend My Book About Bats and Rats, a fun and educational workbook that focuses on the Caribbean Fruit Bat.
I’ve noticed when I’m trying to write, the ideas really flow. Not while I’m sitting at my computer, of course. But rather, when I’m immersed in water. Showers are great, but swimming laps in the pool really opens up the creativity taps. So many ideas will “float” around that I keep a notepad by the side of the pool. Before you ask, yes I did investigate underwater writing tablets. They weren’t what I needed to transcribe my thoughts quickly. Yes, the paper tends to get a bit damp, but I write carefully so that even water-smudged, I can still read my writing. If you’ve seen my scrawl, you’d know how hard it is to read on dry paper. Anyway, I digress. Intrigued by my soggy moments of inspiration, I set out to investigate this phenomenon. And wouldn’t you know, science has the answer!
Science Loves a Shower
This topic was inspired by an article by Stacey Colino in National Geographic entitled The science of why you have great ideas in the shower. Apparently, water-induced inspiration isn’t unique to me! The author summarizes the research of the past couple of decades into where in the brain creativity is activated.
Often when we grind away at a problem, we’re told to go do something else, work on another project. Frequently, doing activities on “autopilot” results in a mental breakthrough. Why is this happening? Scientists believe that letting your mind wander allows the brain to tap into unusual memories and generate new ideas. It’s not hard work that comes up with great ideas, but passive activities. Passive activities are those involving habitual actions or resting, like a shower. In fact, specific areas of the brain are more active during passive tasks.
Letting my mind wander is the best way to come up with creative ideas. Supposedly, it lets thoughts, memories, and ideas bounce around and combine in new ways. I imagine it as something like a mental pinball machine.
The scientists offer suggestions for increasing creative output. Getting sufficient sleep is important in solidifying the information inputted during the day. Immediately upon awakening, you should record your thoughts since they have tapped your creative potential. I do have a notepad by my bed.
Intermingle your day with mentally demanding activities, such as writing this blog, with more mindless activities to let your mind wander. So, why are showers stimulating mentally? Your mind is free to roam, there’s the white noise of the falling water, and ideas are allowed to bounce around.
No Water Needed
Another suggestion is getting out into nature. My friend calls it Vitamin N. Your thoughts wander when you’re outside, trying to take in the enormity of the world around you. The researchers suggest taking a walk. I prefer to get on my horse and let him do the walking.
Science recommends engaging in passive activities for as long as it takes your mind to unwind. But for many people, this leads to guilt. After all, why am I wasting time swimming or riding when I should be working on my next book or, more importantly, my marketing? Actually, taking the time to let my mind roam freely will lead to increased productivity and save me time when writing.
So, excuse me, I must go and daydream for a while. Maybe in a pool, sitting in the falling rain, in the hot tub, or a quick shower. Remember, power your muse with a shower!
If you’d like to shower your kids with science-based learning take a look at my educational and fun workbooks, based on topics such as biology and conservation.
Even though I live in the Sonoran Desert, many of my book’s settings are in areas that have ocean beaches. Often in the Caribbean. These books deal with environmental issues. And with good reason. The Caribbean is one of the world’s most biologically diverse marine regions. That’s why I was concerned to learn about recent algae blooms in the region. Here’s what I learned.
Good Alga, Gone Bad
This summer, many islands in the Caribbean are suffering from too much sargassum washing ashore. Sargassum is a brown alga, which, unlike most algae that attach to a substrate, grows as free-floating mats. In proper amounts, sargassum decomposing on the shore provides important nutrients to the coastal ecosystem. The piles also help reduce erosion. Unfortunately, too much washed-up decomposing sargassum depletes oxygen in the water, resulting in fish kills. In addition, hydrogen sulfide gas is released, affecting people. So, the current huge amounts of sargassum are impacting the beaches, preventing sea turtles from nesting, boats from leaving docks, and tourists enjoying the shore.
This is why I was concerned when I saw this on my favorite beach in Florida. Was this sargassum on the shore? Was sargassum clogging the beaches as they had in the past?
I was relieved when I identified this as Red Drift Algae. Even though there have been times sargassum has clogged the area’s beaches, red drift algae are found in the local inshore waters and this build-up is normal. The algae are frequently found in small amounts along the shore, but recent conditions (high tides and strong winds) have caused higher amounts to drift.
All the Colors of Algae
When seen on the shore, we often call algae, plants found in aquatic environments, macroalgae, or seaweed. Macroalgae are algae that can be seen with the naked eye. Other algae require a microscope to be observed. Macroalgae usually grow attached to sediment. When they detach, they become drift algae. I use the pronoun “they” because algae are plural, and alga is singular. Macroalgae don’t have vascular systems like grasses or land plants. No, they absorb water and nutrients directly through their surfaces.
The various colors of macroalgae are used to divide them into three groups: green, red, and brown algae. Pigments give these plants their colors: fucoxanthin for brown, phycoerythrin for red, and chlorophyll for green. However, you can’t judge an alga by its color. Red algae can be green and brown as well, green algae can be yellow and brown algae can be red or green! This sounds rather complicated.
So, I shouldn’t be surprised by the various colors in the red drift algae on my beach. In addition, the shapes of the algae were different, which made me curious about what species of macroalgae might be in the mix. I used a nature app to try to identify them.
The app couldn’t positively identify this alga but offered some suggestions: genera Ceramium, Laurencia, or Jania. My guess is that it is Laurencia sp., based on its description. This red algae genus is found in temperate and tropical littoral zones. The littoral zone is the area near the shores of oceans, lakes, or rivers. It’s my favorite area of the ocean.
This green alga may be of the genus Ulva, commonly known as sea lettuce. If this is sea lettuce, it is edible by humans and manatees. I’m happy to leave my portion to the manatees. I know they will enjoy it far more than I will.
One alga that seemed easier to identify is this one. It looks just like its picture in the app. Then again maybe not. This genus is usually found in the Pacific Ocean, although there is a species found along the eastern US coast.
Codium sp., Deadman’s fingers
I am not satisfied with the wishy-washy identification of these algae species and will continue my efforts to learn more about them. Their presence on the beaches does impact other animals. Birds and crustaceans have to move around the piles. People find it in the way of their beach activities and unattractive in appearance. Hopefully, this natural occurrence won’t have too negative an impact but provide a beneficial impact on the ecosystem.
If you are interested in learning more about protecting our Caribbean beaches, check out my workbook, Five Ways To Protect Cayman Brac. It’s a fun way to learn about beach conservation!
Are you a night person, like the yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea)? Or are you a morning person, like the green heron (Butorides virescens)? Personally, I like getting up in the pre-dawn darkness and looking out at the dark world. Although sometimes with a full moon, it isn’t very dark. So what does this green heron do with her day? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Good Morning, Muse
The first thing I do is prepare myself a morning beverage and sit down at my laptop to watch the horizon brighten. In the early hours, my muse is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The ideas form and the words flow out of my fingertips. I’m encouraged and optimistic. I listen to the birds and revel in their varied calls.
The early morning is also the time when I feel motivated to complete those household tasks. So, after a few minutes of writing, I want to get up and do things. Of course, I have the usual chores of feeding my reptilian family members. I pull myself away from my writing and prepare their morning repast. Then back to some writing, up to accomplish a task, back to writing, and so on. As the morning becomes midday, the writing zeal diminishes and progress slows.
An Afternoon Break
My productivity is also impacted by the need to ride my horses in the early morning of the desert summer. Once again, I whisk myself away from my flowing words to refresh my souls with my equine family. It’s good that I do that because along with interacting with another species, I get a lot of very needed exercise. Sitting at a desk or even standing at a desk in one spot for hours, is not good for an aging body. Perhaps I could wear a dictating device as I walked and rode, so I could multi-task and improve my efficiency.
Many days, as bedtime approaches, I say the famous comment “I need more hours in the day.” In reality, I need more morning hours in the day!
I’m fortunate to live in Tucson, AZ, in the Mountain Standard Time Zone. Sunrises come early, between 5-6 am, unlike the Florida sunrises that are between 6-7 am. Arizona gives me an extra hour and makes the morning a whopping seven hours long!
A Perfect Day
For me the perfect day would be:
Get up an hour or two before sunrise.
At sunrise, walk for an hour on a Gulf of Mexico beach. Somehow, I need to move the ocean closer to Tucson. Right now, it is 1350 miles away. A little too far.
After my walk, I’d prepare breakfast for all of us.
Then off to the stables for a ride.
Home for lunch and a bit more writing, perhaps some chores.
Supper at some point, when convenient.
After dining, evening activity (like chorus) or doing research for future writing.
Then to bed early to arise refreshed the next pre-dawn. As Ben Franklin said, “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy, and wise.”
This schedule would give me a nice mix of writing and exercise outdoors. Fresh air and vitamin D are very important. And don’t worry, I will make time to interact with people, too.
The early start time would not be a problem. When I started seriously writing I would get up at 4 am. I had a spot in the front room where I would work in the dark. My elderly mother lived with me. If she saw that I was up, she would insist on getting up. Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to stop writing and tend to her needs. I discovered I liked writing with only the glow of my laptop screen and a view of the pre-dawn desert.
More Morning Please
Where and when you write is a frequent question of authors. I confess I don’t write all day long unless the muse is really flowing and I have an open schedule to just keep going. No, I need to break up my life into writing and experiencing the world around me, whether it’s the tortoises circling my feet, an iguana sitting on my shoulder, the lizard out on the patio, or hugging my horse. Surely, there is time in my life to live. I just wish more of it could be in the morning!
Home sweet home. What do you think of when you think of home? Family? Safety? Danger? Well, maybe not danger, but there are so many things to trip over while going about one’s daily routine. Parents often complain about their children’s toys lying about on the floor, rug edges, strewn clothes, etc. My house is also full of trip hazards. However, it’s not what I’ll trip over but who. Yes, I regularly trip over my family members. Of course, they are rather short and walk very quietly. Sandburg’s cat feet have nothing on a tortoise or turtle feet. At least, my iguanas have the decency to click their nails on my tile floor as they approach. Join me for a day in the life with my rascally reptiles.
Rascals from the Start!
My day starts with tortoises circling me as I prepare everyone’s breakfasts. I’m trying to concentrate on all their plates spread out on the counter and I have to deal with multiple tortoises roaming around my feet. One moment, I’m alone, tearing collard green leaves, the next I’m being circled by several hard-shelled creatures. I move them away, but they just come back. Not only do I trip over them, but they walk over my feet, pinning them to the floor.
Another place that the tortoises like to lie in wait to trip me is on the rug in the front room. Their dark shells blend in nicely with my rug. They are particularly effective speed bumps when the room is dark. I’ve done a few face plants on this, fortunately, very plush rug, so no significant injuries. But it is always a surprise!
If I place something on the floor, the tortoises have to explore, pushing it or climbing over it.
You wouldn’t think an animal with this body shape would have such a need to climb. I guess tortoises and people are a lot alike when it comes to climbing. After all, why do we climb Mount Everest? Because it’s there.
But climbing isn’t limited to my tortoises. The master climber in the household is the box turtle. He particularly likes screens. And tight spaces. I put the box in the space to keep him from crawling to the back. Unfortunately, the box was an obstacle he could overcome…
I always double-check that there isn’t a turtle in the door before I lock it up.
As I mentioned above, the tortoises are tripping hazards. But I can’t get away from their attacks even while sitting. If they can’t go under or over something, they push it, like a bulldozer. They have enough oomph to move the chair with me on it. An empty chair can end up in a different room.
I have other reptiles in my family that I have to watch for. I always double-check my sofa before sitting, because there just might be a large lizard lurking beneath the pillows.
There’s a mouth at the other end of that tail.
I’m not the only household member who is targeted by the tortoises. At least they don’t flip me on my back and spin me like a top…
So, the next time you step on your child’s toys with your bare feet, remember it could be worse. You could be the unwitting or intentional victim of scheming tortoises, turtles, and iguanas. Those rascally reptiles! If you’d like to learn more about my reptile family please visit my YouTube channel and while you’re there, remember to subscribe!
If you are familiar with my writing, you’ll have noticed that turtles are a frequent topic. But wait, you may say, I thought you usually wrote about tortoises? I hate to admit it, but tortoises fall into the category of turtles! Please don’t tell Myrtle, my red-foot tortoise. I wrote my first rhyming picture book, Don’t Call Me Turtle, for her. She kept being called Myrtle the turtle, which she hated. Most people don’t realize just how different turtles and tortoises are. No matter if you prefer terrestrial or sea turtles, or tortoises, join together to shell-a-brate Turtle World Day on May 23.
World Turtle Day started in 2000 as an event sponsored by American Tortoise Rescue. The purpose is to celebrate all turtles and bring awareness to their disappearing habitats and efforts to protect them. The majority, 61%, of the 356 species of turtle are threatened or have become extinct in modern times.
What Makes a Turtle a Turtle?
Since turtles are a diverse group of reptiles, let’s explore what makes a turtle a turtle. As reptiles, they breathe air, lay eggs, and are ectotherms (their body temperatures vary with the environment). Turtles are all in the order Testudines, which is characterized by a shell developed primarily from their ribs. The shells consist of bone and are covered with scales made of keratin (the protein of hair and fingernails).
Turtles are found on most continents, many islands, and most of the ocean. What continent are turtles not found on? Antarctica, where it’s a bit too cold. They are found in both freshwater and saltwater.
Over Land and Sea
Land turtles don’t travel much, while sea turtles migrate long distances to lay eggs on selected beaches. But the sea turtles don’t travel alone, many other animals travel along with them. Barnacles (one of my favorite animals), other crustaceans, remoras (fish), algae, and diatoms tag along and are dispersed to new locations.
Land turtles are also important dispersers of seeds as well as modifying their environment. They dig tunnels and help. maintain the environment in deserts, wetlands, and both freshwater and marine environs. These seemingly lackluster reptiles have a significant impact on the health of their ecosystems and our quality of life. In my book, Don’t Make Me Rattle, you can learn about how many animals brumate* together in tortoise dens during cold weather. Animals that would be considered predator and prey, diner and meal, spend time together in underground dens. If turtle species are lost, many other species will be impacted, both plants and animals.
*In extreme temperatures, mammals hibernate, while reptiles brumate.
People are easily confused and can’t tell the difference between terrestrial (land) turtles and sea turtles. This results in land turtles being thrown into the ocean. I wrote a book on this difference on behalf of the Cayman Islands where many freshwater hickatees are thrown to their death in the ocean.
But this is also true of tortoises and land turtles. People too frequently throw tortoises into the water, where they drown. Turtles can swim, but tortoises can’t. More on this later.
So, where do tortoises fit into this family? When I ask people if they know the differences between turtles and tortoises, the most common response is that turtles live in water. But the correct answer is, that all turtles can swim, although they may never be near water. Meet Ela, my Sonoran Desert Box Turtle.
This turtle will never see a body of water but spent her life in the dryness of the desert. I did have another Sonoran Desert Box turtle who loved swimming in my pool. Every night I’d come home from work and find him paddling happily in the water, even though the water was very, very cold! The chlorine wasn’t an issue to him. I worried about hypothermia, so blocked his path to the pool – he left! His spot in my yard was taken over by Ela. Ela would brumate with Zoe my Sonoran Desert tortoise each winter and they would emerge together in the spring.
For some of the many differences between turtles and tortoises, I humbly suggest you read Don’t Call Me Turtle.
The Importance of Conservation
Why are turtles losing the battle to extinction? After all, turtles roamed about with dinosaurs and were able to survive what killed them off. Many are hunted for their meat and eggs, used in traditional medicine, their shells are used for jewelry, run over on the road, and drowned as bycatch. On top of this are habitat destruction, climate change, and disease. Sadly, this has reduced turtles around the world, something a meteor couldn’t do 65 million years ago.
We have witnessed turtle extinctions in our lifetime. I had the honor of meeting Lonesome George in the Galapagos, the last surviving Pinta giant tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii). His death in June 2012 was the end of a species. Although his death was publicized and mourned around the world, many reptilian species die without any notice.
But they’re just turtles, tortoises, and terrapins, right? How much impact could they really have? When the giant tortoises were reintroduced to islands in the Galapagos (Ecuador), the savanna ecosystem was restored. This allows for the survival of other native plants and animals. One keystone species can accomplish a lot.
People look at turtles and tortoises and see moving lumps. Nondescript lumps that make a nice pop when you run over them on the road. However, if you’ve ever gotten to know a tortoise or a turtle, you know they have a lot of personalities. They don’t hesitate to let you know their likes and dislikes. They are not “shrinking violets.” No, these reptiles bite each other, ram each other with their gular horn, and chase each other at surprising speeds.
If you look closely at this photo, you’ll see a bobcat on the right about to flee for its life from the rampaging sulcate tortoise on the left. Duke, the tortoise, was very proud of himself, strutting around the yard, looking for other predators to chase off. I should put up a “Beware of Attack Tortoise” sign on my gate.
Now, are you ready to shell-a-brate?! These fascinating reptiles deserve our support and admiration on May 23 and every day. My twelve tortoises and two turtles agree. If you have any questions about turtles, please reach out to me. You might also enjoy my turtle and tortoise videos on my YouTube channel.
Do you enjoy shadows as much as I do? As a child, I fondly remember making shadow puppets with my family, creating animals out of our hands. My shadows were always very simple and I admired people who could make more complex animal shadows. Little did I know that shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling. That makes sense, though; as long as you have a surface for a light to be pointed at, you can make shadows. Hopefully, this blog will shed some light on the shadowy business of shadows.
A Shadow by any Other Name
One of my favorite shadows is in that popular poem that I recited repeatedly as a child and, I confess, I still do today. You can’t go wrong with the poems by Robert Louis Stevenson.
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Me and My Shadows
I, too, delighted in the diversity of my shadow’s forms, and still do today. I even use shadows to examine my horse’s stride, since I can’t always determine what its feet are doing from my perch on its back. It’s so much easier when I can look at the horse’s shadow for confirmation that we’re moving correctly.
From my home in Tucson, I can see Pusch Ridge in the Santa Catalina Mountains, east of the city. When the sunsets, not only do the mountains change colors, orange to maroon, but shadows darken the indentations. These shadows give the ridge an air of harshness and mystery.
One mountain shadow near Phoenix is quite famous. From the third week of March through the third week of September, a shadow forms that looks like a mountain lion chasing a prey animal. This shadow forms in the Superstition Mountains, east of Mesa. The sun must be at the correct latitude on the western horizon to create this shadow. It’s amazing and spectacular to use one’s imagination on such a large scale. I wonder if the Native Americans enjoyed this phenomenon as much as modern people do.
I’m so happy in-person book sales are returning. I love speaking to people about my books and about the importance of science education through children’s books. Many people are delighted to find my books and often suggest other topics for me to write about. I write them all down.
My most popular books are my Don’t series, which features animals and plants found in the Sonoran Desert (and other places), are popular in the Tucson area. Often people will comment that they’ve bought one or seen it for sale in various gift shops. That makes my day. However, even though I’m delighted when people recognize my books, I often get credit for a book I didn’t write: Don’t Call Me Pig! But I do have a story about it.
Once Upon a Don’t
Don’t Call Me Pig! is about the javelinas, or peccaries, of the Sonoran Desert. They are not pigs, although they look a lot like pigs. One clue is that javelinas don’t have tails! Another difference, which is important to my frequent topic of invasiveness of species, is that javelinas are native to the Americas (the New World), but domestic pigs (which become wild boars) are from the Old World (Africa, Asia and Europe).
Don’t Call Me Pig! was written by the very talented author, Conrad Storad. When I was planning on writing about the differences between turtles and tortoises, I wanted to emulate Storad’s book style. His books included many scientific facts and natural history, just like I wanted to do. When I bought my copy of Don’t Call Me Pig!, I discovered that his picture book rhymed. You may be familiar with my opinion that children’s pictures books should rhyme. Inspired, I created my rhyming picture book on behalf of my tortoise, Myrtle (not Myrtle the turtle!)
However, I was concerned about the title. I wanted to name my book, Don’t Call Me Turtle! Was this too close to Don’t Call Me Pig!? Even though, he didn’t have any other titles with Don’t Call Me, would people confuse us?
As I was contemplating my book’s name, I had the opportunity to sit next to Storad at a book festival in Tucson. This gave me a chance to speak with him. First, I learned that his book, Don’t Call Me Pig!, had just sold a million copies. Not bad for a rhyming picture book, published 1999. Modern traditional publishers have been wary of rhyming picture books, with some editors and agents refusing to even look at them. I doubt I will ever reach that sales level, but why not try?
I asked Storad if he minded if I titled my book so closely to his. He graciously told me to go ahead, that he didn’t mind at all. That was the start of my Don’t series about animals and plants that are found in the Sonoran Desert and other places. I am grateful to Storad for his kindness and encouragement. I doubt he remembers me, but I will always remember him.
For more information about my books and me, check out www.LyricPower.net. You’ll find tons of educational and entertaining books, downloadable workbooks, and puzzles.
Elaine A. Powers was recently featured on Tucson Environmental Community Partners. This felicitous editorial aligns with Elaine’s aim as an author, conservationist, and biologist to spread science and fun through her stories.
Tucson Environmental Community Partners’ mission is to share the ‘purpose and passion’ of Tucson environmentalist residents, enthusiasts, professionals, educators, business owners, and volunteers.
The group touts Elaine’s “refreshing approach to teaching kids about reptiles & land conservation.” And while they love the fact that “Elaine does not shy away from scientific Latin names to identify the animals,” they also call her books “humorous’ and “leave an impression in [children’s] minds.”
Tucson Environmental Community Partners is a resource for Tucsonans to engage in the community of diverse events, activities, education, volunteerism, outdoor and eco-driven businesses, and to locate many opportunities to participate and get involved in supporting and making practical, restorative, and powerful environmental change and care.
When I lived in New Jersey, I ran an iguana rescue and adoption program. If an iguana’s life was in danger, I would always have room for it. All of the iguanas I took in were green iguanas, Iguana iguana, but I really wanted one another type of iguana, the spiny-tail iguana, Ctenosaura similis. C. similis, also called black iguanas. Enter Krinkle. Krinkle had an important life, but an even more important legacy.
The Story of Krinkle
Because I would always take in iguanas, I was on the call list for many police departments and animal control centers. One day I got a call from an animal control center saying they had a black iguana. I told them I was on my way. I picked up a five-year-old spiny-tail iguana that I named Krinkle. A cute name for a sad condition.
You see, Krinkle had a deformed body. For the first five years of his life, he’d been kept in a five-gallon aquarium, which he quickly outgrew. His body sacrificed his hips and tail in the tight space. His head and shoulders were full-sized, but his hips were small and his tail was accordioned. Worst of all, Krinkle couldn’t walk. He eventually got angry enough that he bit his owners, who took him to Animal Control. Which turned out for the best, I was delighted to welcome this black iguana into my family.
With some physical therapy, nutritious food, and affection, Krinkle thrived. His tail eventually relaxed a bit. He learned to walk, although he was never able to run. But most importantly he became an important educator. Content in his new life, he never showed aggression and was always calm, even as he was passed around, child to child, at my reptile talks. He never opened his mouth in anger or for any reason. I wanted him to open up so the kids and adults could see his impressive teeth, but he wouldn’t. I believe he truly enjoyed educating people about lizards and the cruelty perpetrated upon reptiles.
He even liked hanging out with other family members. This is Krinkle with Rose Red-foot Tortoise and Calliope Green Iguana.
The Legacy of Krinkle
Sadly, a few years ago Krinkle passed away. But his educational influence continues to this day. In a previous blog, I described how Chelsea Richardson at Respectfully Dead prepares and cleans animal skeletons. She agreed to take on Krinkle and did a phenomenal job. I knew Krinkle’s skeleton would be fascinating. After cleaning, the bones were reassembled. Below is the result of her team’s efforts. Truly magnificent – Krinkle would be happy.
His tail end is mostly fused, instead of articulated vertebrae.
Even in death, Krinkle’s story will continue to be told. He will educate about proper care and animal abuse of reptiles. I do appreciate the first owners being responsible enough to turn Krinkle into their local Animal Control so that he could be rehomed. He was truly an ambassador for reptiles and lizards, in particular. RIP, Krinkle and Long live Krinkle the lizard!
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:
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
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
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