Territorial!

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

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

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

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

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

Natural Fire: Helpful or Destructive?

Fire can be a wonderful or terrify thing. In many ecosystems, fires are important for keeping them healthy. These are low intensity fires that clear the ground of brush and scrub. However, invasive plant species like buffelgrass cause fires to burn hotter destroying the ecosystem, instead of nurturing it.

May and June in the Sonoran Desert are high fire periods. This is the dry season between the winter rains and summer monsoons. Plants dry, grass turns brown. It is very easy to accidentally start a fire, so open fires are restricted. Sudden, heat-generated storms are produced, containing a lot of lightning, and nature uses the lightning to ignite fires during this time.

One such storm ignited the dry vegetation on Pusch Ridge, near my home, on June 5. Pusch Ridge is in the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson, AZ. The three peaks are between 5,000 to 6,000 feet high. At the lower elevations are the iconic saguaro cactus, while juniper and pines are found higher.

Picture by Elaine A. Powers early on in the Bighorn Fire

Natural low-intensity fires clear out the ground debris allowing for new growth that support animals, such as bighorn sheep. Unfortunately, the introduction of invasive plants, like buffel grass, have changed the nature of the fires. The dried invasive plants fuel much larger, higher intensity fires, resulting in the destruction of the ecosystem instead of enhancing it.

Sadly, the Bighorn Fire on Pusch Ridge is one of the destructive fires. This destruction is the results of man’s altering of the environment. Buffel grass was introduced for erosion control and cattle forage. The buffel grass thrived and forced out the natural plants. Buffel grass-fueled fires also destroy buildings.

Image courtesy of www.wildfiretoday.com; Photographer not credited; photo undated

The fire is still raging today. According to The Arizona Daily Star, “Firefighters spent most of Sunday strengthening fire lines in the Summerhaven area and burning down the ridge line north of the town as they continued to fight the 58,500-acre Bighorn Fire,” officials said. 950 people are fighting the fire that is about 16% contained.

It is hoped that some of the areas will be able to rejuvenate with native species, but the loss may be irreparable or last for many years. Unfortunately, humankind has never been able to quickly stop its destructive behaviors.

NOTE: Staying indoors with children? Check out my science-based, fun and educational books; and the science workbooks and activity sheets at Lyric Power Publishing, LLC.

image of MY Books Page

Eat Your Veggies!

June 17th is one of my favorite days of the year.  June 17 is National Eat Your Vegetable Day. As an omnivore, I enjoy my vegetables. My iguana and tortoise friends are also big connoisseurs of vegetables–that means they’re experts.

There are so many delicious vegetables to choose from. Don’t be afraid to try something new; you just might discover a new taste delight.

If you want to see some of my friends enjoying their vegetables, take a look at the YouTube videos on Curtis Curly-tail Speaks.

To learn more about iguanas and tortoises, check out the thorough and fun educational workbooks, activity sheets and coloring pages at Lyric Power Publishing, LLC.

image of book cover My Book About Tortoises GRades 2-4

Forty-seven pages of fun activities about tortoises. Includes a KWL chart, fact sheet and coloring page; label the parts or a tortoise; predators of the tortoise coloring page; color by multiplication and division, color by three-digit addition; reading comprehension, 3rd and 4th grade vocabulary; four vocabulary-in-context pages; dangers to tortoises; ecology short answer; fill-in-the blank reading comprehension; True-or-False; cut-and-paste life-cycle; cause-and-effect worksheet; project sheets for writing a fable; nouns, adjectives, and adverbs; ecology crossword puzzle and word search.

Empty Night Skies

I love to swim. I taught myself how as a child after watching my brothers’ swim classes. I’m fortunate to have a pool at my house. Every day the water is warm enough (80s and above), I’ll take a swim. Sometimes, I swim laps for an hour; sometimes I jump in only for a few minutes, but I will get in.

My favorite time to swim is dusk. It’s the time to reward myself for completing another day, to recharge my creativity tank (I get a lot of good ideas while immersed), and exercise some of the muscles that didn’t get moved enough, and, most importantly, to observe wildlife.

I’ve seen some incredible things while in the pool. My favorite viewing is of the bats. Every evening as dusk fell, I would see bats flying toward my pool. They would spend about an hour circling, lapping up insects, and taking drinks of water by skimming along the pool surface. If I was in the middle of the pool, they would circle around me. If I was at the edge of the pool, they would “strafe” the surface. I tried to remain still, usually floating on my back, to encourage them to join me. One would roost on my chimney; others roosted in the trees. I usually had three bats, but one year I had five. I was always delighted to see my friends. I’m not sure what species of bats they were, possibly Big Brown bats or Mexican Free-tail bats. One year I had two species – I only noticed because one bat was twice the size of the others, possibly a Mastiff bat?

Image of bat
Image of bat courtesy of Signe Allerslev from Pixabay

This year, I’ve been going outside at dusk but not seeing any bats. For the first time in nine years, there are no bats flying around my house. Why? Had they succumbed to disease? Maybe found a better pool? Then I heard it: Hooo Hoot. The call of the Great Horned Owl. I have a pair nesting in my yard. One sits on my roof and calls to the other in the neighbor’s tree. In the past, the owls visited for a night or two, but this spring, the pair has stayed. Yes, owls are predators of bats. Sadly, as I enjoy one local species, another is sacrificed.

image of great horned owl
Image of Great Horned Owl courtesy of 272447 from Pixabay

Nature can be very unfair.

To learn more about bats, and rats, check out the workbook at Lyric Power Publishing called My Book About Bats and Rats.

Who Protects Your Home?

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

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

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

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

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

She does a good job from here.

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

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

Why Flake When You Can Shed?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

See What Happens!

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

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

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

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

With a flip of a nibbled tail . . .

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

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

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

Comfortable in Her Own Skin

There’s a saying about being comfortable in one’s own on skin.  Recently, this saying took on a new meaning for me.  Last year, I became the delighted owner of a Missouri Fox Trotter named Button.  She was born in Missouri, so every winter she grows a coat worthy of the cold cruel Midwest winter winds; she is quite cozy here in Tucson’s cool winter weather.

Button, before her stylist arrived

Come spring, Button would shed the massive amount of hair down to her more comfortable summer thin coat.  This spring, however, she didn’t shed sufficiently. Temperatures were in the 80s with 90s being forecast. Our workouts left her “sopping” wet with sweat.  Action needed to be taken.

I noticed that one of the other horses had been shaved by a local groomer.  She’d done a lovely job, leaving the horse’s coat smooth. No razor ridges like I would create. I gave her a call, scheduled Button’s hair appointment and off the thick winter coat came. It was like watching a sheep being sheared! I expected her to be a bright shiny copper penny color underneath but she looks more bronze to me. She is now much more comfortable temperature-wise, but I wondered if she would miss her hair.

After a day of multiple rolls in the dirt, I think Button is now truly comfortable in her own skin.

And now, being comfortable in my own skin, it’s back to to stories I go! To see my science-based and fun adventure tales and rhyming stories, please go to the My Books page.

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

Watch Out for Those Dangerous Choices in Clothing Colors!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Your Favorite Footrest?

Do you have a favorite footrest in your home? Putting one’s feet up is so relaxing and relieving. The cushioniest footrest in my house is the one that came with a comfy chair. Simple, functional, the perfect height, very practical.

My favorite non-living footrest

My favorite footrest is covered with a needlepoint I stitched many decades ago. I was living in Michigan, so the Canada Goose theme was appropriate . . . as is the snow. Lots of snow in the lake-effect region of Southern Michigan. I could cross-country ski right out of my garage. I don’t miss the snow now that I’m here in the Sonoran Desert. Snow here is just wrong to me.

My most recent footrest comes to me while I am writing at the table. I don’t even have to pick my feet up – she walks right under me.  She stops, not minding that my feet are resting on her shell. In fact, I think it’s her way of making contact.

Myrtle says hello and rests under my feet as
I type away on the next story

If you want to learn more about tortoises, Myrtle, my footrest tortoise, has inspired a book Don’t Call Me Turtle and a number of workbooks at Lyric Power Publishing, LLC, where science education is fun!

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs, pointing at the viewer
Learn the differences between tortoises and turtles today!
Collage of Science Education Workbooks
Click on Workbooks to see all 23 workbooks, making science education fun!

Word for the Day: Saurophagy (And Autophagy!)

Photo courtesy of Kaimuki Backyard on You Tube.

I learned a new term today. It’s not a word to be used in daily conversation but interesting, nonetheless. The new term is saurophagy. Its means “the eating of lizards.”

I was a little sad to learn this word in a report about one iguana species, C. similis, eating its cousin, C. bakeri. Normally herbivores, iguanas can be opportunistic consumers. C. similis seem to take the opportunity to eat the hatchling C. bakeri heading to the mangroves.

Like most people with access to the Internet, the first thing I did was search saurophagy. It’s apparently a well-kept secret. Google offered me autophagy which is very different. Autophagy is the destruction of cells during normal physiological cycles.

It took a while to find anything on saurophagy. Most of what I found was lizards-eating-lizards research, which makes sense in places with high numbers of lizards. But of course, lizards have many predators. Those predators are usually just called carnivores, nothing fancy like saurophagy.

Saurophagy is a fun word to know. You just might need it someday for a trivia contest or Scrabble game. And don’t forget, there’s autophagy, too.

To learn more about iguanas, check out this wonderful downloadable resource at Lyric Power Publishing, LLC. Nothing about saurophagy in it, but lots of other information about iguanas and wonderful activity sheets. Full description below.

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

What is that Tongue Doing?

I have lived with many iguanas over the years, but Stella, a green iguana, is the only one who constantly sticks her tongue out. I’m always afraid I’ll startle her and she’ll cut her tongue with her razor sharp teeth. Fortunately, that has never happened. Her tongue is intact. 

So, why is her tongue always sticking out? She’s tasting or “smelling” the world around her. Iguanas don’t smell with their noses like people do. They “taste” the world. Scent particles in the air are collected on the tongue, then brought into the mouth. The particles are analyzed by special sensory cells for identification. These cells make up the Jacobson’s or vomeronasal organ. If you watch an iguana walking, you’ll see her flicking her tongue out. If something is particularly interesting, say a tasty bit of food, the tongue flicks back and forth a lot.

Stella’s forked tongue, with which she “tastes” the world.

Another interesting thing about iguana tongues is that they are forked! Just like a snake’s tongue. You might also notice that the end of Stella’s tongue is darker. That’s because it is more enriched with blood. The better for tasting!

Iguanas are fascinating friends. To learn more about them, check out the Lyric Power Publishing workbook with activity sheets, called My Unit Study on Iguanas.

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

Pet Peeves

I love having animals in my life.  Over the years, they’ve mostly been reptiles and lately, if you’ve been following my story, there’s a horse tale in it. 

If we accept responsibility for an animal, we are responsible for its welfare, even if we have to sacrifice for it. This has come up in the care of my horse.  She developed chronic sinusitis as a result of an abscessed tooth. Every month, the equine dentist comes out to do the next step in her care.  Of course, this specialist’s care costs money. But I took responsibility for her life, so I owe Button the best care I can provide. Apparently, not all horse owners feel the same way, which is very sad to me. There are several famous quotes about judging a person by the way he cares for his fellow animals.

I owe her my best care.

The impetus for this post was a statement in a local neighborhood chat room.  The person posting had observed a bobcat enjoying its dinner.  A wonderful sight to see in the limited wilderness remaining in the Sonoran Desert. However, the poster concluded that the bobcat’s only purpose was as a threat to local dogs and cats. The bobcat was most likely eating a rabbit – it’s been a good year for rabbits. Of course, the danger from coyotes was included in the post.   

I disagree that local wildlife is the threat to domestic companion animals. The problem is people not taking proper care of their pets. When I let my reptiles out in the backyard, I stay with them. We have birds of prey in the area that could carry off an iguana. The bobcats could enjoy a nice turtle or tortoise meal—but it’s not on them. It’s my job as their human companion to ensure their safety in the environment I place them.

Along with watching out for our dogs and pets, I also feel it is our duty to ensure that our pets don’t harm the local wildlife. Billions of birds are killed each year by cats. Please keep your cats inside, where they are safe and healthy, or use a leash. Many people love to feed the birds in their yards but are unable to enjoy them due to a cat(s). I run into cat predation in my iguana conservation work. Too many are the years we don’t see any juvenile iguanas because they’ve all been killed by domestic pets that the iguanas didn’t recognize as predators. Dogs are equally dangerous when not properly supervised.

People, please protect and control your furry family members. We can all thrive together in this world.

Remember, if the local bobcat or coyote gets your family member, it is not the predator’s fault.  It’s yours.  Protect your pet!

How Do You Take a Selfie with a Horse?

Have you ever tried to take a selfie with a horse? I recently attempted to take one with my mare, Button.  Horse noses are really loooong–my arms, not so much.

Here is a recent endeavor.

You’re too close to the phone, Button. Hey, look the OTHER way, please!  (Oh, and block out the sun, too).

Better, but you forgot to block the sun.

Button and me in the Sonoran Desert.

I think we’ve got this!

Button and I run into a LOT of rocks on our morning rides. I’ll bet you do, too! This workbook is filled with fun activity sheets about rocks. Learning while having fun is a great way to spend some time!

See a Video about this Workbook at Curtis Curly-tail Speaks on You Tube!

It’s National Pet Parents Day!

When I became the owner and BFF of a horse, I was surprised and amused that the vet always refers to me as “Mom.” (Yes, she does know my name.) I do think of Button as a friend but as her mother—not so much.

The last Sunday in April is said to recognize pet parents who go the extra mile to care for their fur babies.  Wait! Only fur babies?  What about those of us who have scale babies? Or people who have feather babies? I think all pet parents should be recognized.

Even though they don’t have fur, my pets are members of my family.  A bunch of them, or more accurately a creep of them, roam my house and sleep in my bedroom at night. Not with me on the bed, but in the corners.

If you visit my house, you may wonder why I have cardboard boxes in many of the corners. Now you know why—well, if you know how “creep” is used as a collective animal-noun, you know. If you don’t know what “creep,” means, may I suggest my book, “Don’t Call Me Turtle!”? It’s full of fun, scientific and rhyming facts, beloved by little ones and their parents alike!

So, let’s celebrate our non-human family members. Give them an extra treat or cuddle or a few minutes of quality time. They bring so much affection and contentment into our lives.

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs, pointing at the viewer
Learn the differences between tortoises and turtles today!

Ever Heard of a ‘Book Iguana?’

Several animals have been associated with books, such as the book worm. In addition, many libraries have instituted “read to the dog” programs and they encourage children to read to their pets. I have neither worms nor dogs. Calliope is my book iguana.  Her name means the “muse of long poetry.” My picture books are long poems. Yes, she is definitely a muse for me. Her first enclosure was located beside my writing table. Now, she roams freely around the house, but she still supervises my writing.

An important part of writing is reading, which improves your craft. Calliope decided I had been working on the writing part too much and needed to do some reading.  She selected a book for us to relish. She selected Directing a Play by my neighbor and friend, Stuart Vaughan. Stuart and I shared a love of the theater.  And this is where I plug my theater scripts. When you buy a copy of the scripts, you get performance rights, as well. It’s a fabulous deal.

If you’re familiar with the theater scene in New York City, you might be familiar with Stuart. He directed Joseph Papp’s “Shakespeare in the Park” shows, in the famous Central Park, in case you didn’t know. We shared a driveway in New Jersey. You couldn’t ask for better neighbors.

When I moved to Arizona, my life situation didn’t allow time for theater, so I spent my time writing fun science-based children’s books. Even though the genre of my writing has changed, I still love creating stories. I enjoy writing these blogs, as well. I hope to bring both enjoyment and factual science to the readers’ lives.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to “act out” again, but I hope you’ll grab some fun for yourself and act out my scripts.

Performance rights are included with a purchase of my theater scripts.

Just Start!

Have you ever had to do something that you didn’t want to do or you just couldn’t get started? 

Author Elaine Powers at easel
I finally decided to start the painting with a little seed sprout.

It happens to all of us. It’s easy to find excuses not to start. Like when writing blog posts, I stare at the blank page and wonder what I should write. All that white space, staring back at me.

Today, I remembered when I was on Eleuthera, where the island’s artists had all come together to sell their work. As part of the event, a blank canvas was set up with paints. The idea was, artists and visitors would each add something to the painting. 

The canvas was set up right behind my table. I saw the hesitancy to begin and I encouraged every artist that went by to start the painting, but none of them would. So I did. I was there celebrating the publication of my new book, Grow Home, Little Seeds, which is about plants finding their homes and sprouting, so I painted a plant sprouting as it pushed up out of the earth.

Amazingly, that’s all it took. The artists each added something and, as you can see, created an amazing piece of art.

You can still see my original sprout, too! So you see, just a little effort can get things going and you just might end up with a masterpiece.

The book I was selling is set in the Leon Levy Preserve on Eleuthera. It’s a tale of seed-friends, each finding their own perfect place to sprout.

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

Starfish: How Many Arms?

I started out my biology career wanting to be a marine biologist. Even though I ended up as a laboratory researcher, I’m always looking for interesting creatures when I visit the ocean. I never know who I’m going to write about in my next fun science book!

One group of animals I always enjoy seeing are starfish. They come in different shapes and colors. Starfish are echinoderms, a diverse family of marine invertebrates. They are found in all oceans and none of them can live in freshwater. Of course, starfish are not fish; the name comes from their star-like shape. Starfish usually have five arms but some have up to 40 arms!

One thing all starfish have in common is their radial symmetry. Their body can be divided into five equal parts. Amazing. Don’t worry that they’ll become asymmetrical if a predator bites off an arm–starfish have the ability to regenerate their arms.

Starfish themselves are carnivores. Their mouths are located on the underside of their bodies (the anus is on the top side). Interestingly, a starfish has two stomachs, one of which can be pushed outside the body to allow it to swallow the large prey that can’t fit in its small mouth.

I like playing with the multitude of starfish feet–feeling the tube feet crawl on my hand. The feet are used for moving, of course, but also for catching prey. While the feet are moving the starfish, its bony skeleton with its spikes and thorns provides protection from above. Which is a good thing, because starfish have lots of predators.

These are some of the beautiful starfish I have encountered.

Someday, I might write a book about starfish. For now, I’ll just have to know they run into the sea turtles you’ll see pictured in the book below that I wrote about the Hickatee turtle. It teaches the physical traits and differences between the land-dwelling Hickatee and the ocean-dwelling sea turtles.

Or, learn all about another fellow ocean feeder, in this Lyric Power Publishing workbook full of activity sheets about the Brown Booby–the large seabirds who live on only one island in the world.

Fun Geology and Biology for The Lime Lizards Lads!

Geology is the science that explores the earth’s physical structure and substance, its history, and the processes that act on it. Geology is often included under the topic of Earth Sciences.  You might be surprised to learn that I often include geology in my fun science books that feature lizards. You can’t really study biology without knowing the geology of the ecosystem. Everything is interconnected.

One of my favorite inclusions in The Dragon of Nani Cave in the mineral, caymanite.

Hidden in the limestone karst of Grand Cayman’s East End and the Bluff of Cayman Brac is an uncommon variety of dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2.  Caymanite is prized for its layers of earth tone colors, which are the result of different metal contents. Its harness allows for it to be shaped into jewelry and carvings.

In The Dragon of Nani Cave, the Lime Lizard Lads are sent on a quest to find a piece of caymanite for Old Soldier crab. It’s the most dangerous thing a lizard can do on Cayman Brac, because that’s where the dragon lives! One of the fun things about being an author is having a say in the design of the book cover. I had mine when I asked that the book title be colored just like caymanite.

book cover illustration of two curly-tail lizards
With the Lime Lizard Lads, it’s one adventure after another. They know how to make science fun!

For additional ways to supplement science education in fun ways, please see the activity sheets and workbooks at Lyric Power Publishing. The workbook pictured above is a supplement to The Dragon of Nani Cave.

Ground Squirrels: These Cute Little Burrowers Soon to Have Their Own Book!

When I lived in the Midwest and Northeast, I knew it was Spring when the crocus and daffodils raised their heads from the ground.  Here in the Sonoran Desert, I know it is Spring when the round-tailed ground squirrels, Xerospermophilus tereticaudus, which dwell in the desert of the US Southwest and northwestern Mexico, raise their heads from the ground.

The common name for these small mammals is derived from their long round tail and long fluffy hind feet. I think they look like small prairie dogs due to their uniform sandy color.

Instead of running up and down large, lush trees found in the more temperate areas of the country, these squirrels burrow into ground beneath mesquite trees and creosote bushes, plants tough enough to survive the harsh desert clime. They are active during hot summer days and stay underground during the winter, but they don’t hibernate.

Some people find the squirrels a bother because they are always digging holes in their yards, driveways and even streets. I think they make a new tunnel each day. I like to think of their efforts as aerating the soil and loosening the rock-hard ground. Going underground, they are able to evade their many predators: coyotes, badgers, hawks and snakes.

These cute little mammals do love their burrows!

Even though they live in colonies, ground squirrels like their space. Males like to be in charge during mating season, but the mothers dominate when they have young!

Why am I writing about these delightful squirrels? I am starting to work on a picture book about the local ground squirrels. This book was requested by an educator at a local park. There are no books about area ground squirrels. Another fun, science book waiting to be written in rhyme! Gosh, I love my work!

I’ve got to get back now to my burrowing into the world of ground squirrels.

Thanks for visiting!

I’ve written many books about reptiles, and am excited about adding mammals to my book collection. Here is a workbook on mammals from my publisher, Lyric Power Publishing, LLC, focused on making science fun. Their activity sheets and workbooks really help to pass the time in a fun way.

Pink Animals Rock!

I like pink animals. Pink is one of my favorite colors and I admire animals that go through life sporting pink coloration. Flamingos are probably the most popular pink animal. These tall birds are found around the world and perform at zoos for us. I love watching them walk with their reversed (from mine) knees. They belong in family Phoenicopteridae and are the only family in the order Phoenicopteriformes. They are truly unique.

Flamingos don’t make their own pink pigment; they get their coloration from their food. They eat crustaceans containing alpha and beta carotenoids. Interestingly, these pigments start out linked to protein molecules and appear blue or green. After digestion, the pigments are dissolved in fats and become orange or pink. You may have seen this color change when boiling shrimp. Shrimp start out bluish and become red when cooked.

My favorite shorter bird is the Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), which also gets its pink color from its food.

photo of  the bird Roseate Spoonbill
Image courtesy of Lolame from Pixabay

However, my favorite pink reptile, the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, makes its own coloration, which is a warning that this lizard is venomous! Gilas have three-layered chromatophores, cells filled with pigment. To appear red or orange, the top layer must contain red pigments, which block out blue light. However, the predominant pigment of the Gila monster is melanin, a dark brown or black pigment.

photo of a Gila monster
Photo by Jim Rorabaugh of Gila Monster in Maricopa Co., AZ

The black areas of the lizard have lots of melanin and the lighter areas have less, of course. The lighter areas also have a xanthophore layer of yellow or red pigments which combine to produce the colorful regions of orange to pink! As well as a warning regarding venom, the pink areas also help protect the Gila monster’s skin from the harsh sunlight of the Sonoran Desert.

Note: Gila monster is calling to me to write her story—and I might just have to do that. For now, I hope you might check out two of Heloderma suspectum’s fellow desert dwellers. EAP

book cover graphic of rattlesnake
Written in rhyme with powerful, vibrant illustrations. People fear rattlesnakes because they don’t understand them. Come inside and learn about these amazing snakes, how they help people, and why the rattlesnake should be respected, not exterminated.
illustration of a desert roadrunner
Written in rhyme with bright, colorful illustrations. Learn all about this strong, fast and courageous bird that doesn’t need to fly.

Is School Out? Kids Stir-Crazy? Worried About Education? How About Fun Science Workbooks?

The mission of my book publisher, Lyric Power Publishing LLC, is to “Make Science Fun!” That’s because they know how fun science really is.

Their Activity Sheets and Workbooks are for Ages K-5 (see workbook covers for grade level and contents) and while they are highly educational, they are also lots of fun! Have you ever counted iguanas? Or made a lizard clock? Made your own Compass Rose or Passport?

Depending on the grade, they can include: Animal Facts, Name the Animal, Lifecycles, Compare Traits, Food Chains, Label the Parts, Color by Math, Mean/Median/Mode/Range, Color by Number, Printing, Underline the Answer, Counting, Convert Grams to Pounds, Fill in the Blanks, True or False, Cut Along the Dotted Lines, Cut and Paste, Cut and Classify, Fill in the Right Word, Word Search, Match the Facts, Using a Histogram, Venn Diagrams, Making Charts, Interpreting Charts, Crossword Puzzle, Other Puzzles, Conservation, Vocabulary, Complete the Sentence, Unscramble the Sentences, Prepositions of Place, Using Maps, Writing Prompts, Essay Writing Exercise, Reading Comprehension, and More!

Who can make all the above fun, economically? Lyric Power Publishing!
Purchase a Download Once and Print as Many Times as You’d Like!

For additional relaxing fun, check out their Coloring Books and Flannel Board Templates, enjoyed by children and adults alike. Coloring is handwork and creative, proven to reduce stress. Let your creativity run wild! Get out your colored pencils or crayons and have some fun today! Then print the pages again and color them in a whole new assortment!

You’re welcome!

The Marshmallow: Not Merely Fluffy Sugar

In a previous blog, I related a story how even in my early years, I was working to keep wild alligators away from people food with stale, very hard, marshmallows. This occurred on Sanibel Island, FL. 

Have you ever thought about where marshmallows come from? My marshmallow story took place on Sanibel Island, FL, where you can find the marsh mallow growing. Yes, the marsh mallow is a plant. I learned about it while I was working at the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. On Sanibel the species is called Kosteletzkya virginica.

Did you think marshmallows were merely fluffy sugar? Well, they’re not. Marshmallows have been around since ancient Egypt. They used the mallow, Althaea officinalis, which grew in salty marshes. The sweet sap was made into a candy that was dedicated to their gods.

The ancient Greeks valued the medicinal properties of the mallow. Many cultures have used mallow to treat wounds, inflammation, toothaches and sore throats.

In the 1800s, the French created a candy for adult consumption, in addition to its previous medicinal uses. The mallow sap was whipped with egg whites and corn syrup into an easily moldable substance and the modern marshmallow was created. The next time you enjoy a marshmallow, think of the plant from which it came:  the mallow growing in salty marshes.

Botanical illustration of the Marsh Mallow Plant

A botanical drawing of the marshmallow plant, featuring the plant as well as close-ups of the flower and seed.

FRANZ EUGEN KOHLER, KOHLERS MEDIZINAL-PFLANZEN

NOTE: Every now and then, I divert from writing about animals to do a bit of plant investigation. To see some of my work on plants, check out The Queen of the Night about the fascinating Night-Blooming Cereus, plants that bloom magnificently only one night per year—and they wait for each other to bloom all at the same time. EAP

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

Using Children’s Books for Science Education–at a Bar!

Last February, I had the honor of giving a science talk at a local bar.  Yes, a bar! But it’s a very different bar–it specializes in astronomy and holds weekly science trivia contests with March for Science Southern Arizona.

My talk was about using entertaining children’s books in science education.  It was kind of fun that I had multi-colored spotlights instead of plain white. I spoke from a platform and looking down and around the room, I wondered if my talk was appropriate for such an audience. I couldn’t gesticulate as I usually do, because I had to hold the microphone to my mouth (eat the mic) and the slide clicker in the other hand. I felt constrained, but carried on with my assignment.

This is me with my Blue-iguana hybrid, named Blue, of course!

Even though I watched people drinking and talking through my entire talk and the background noise level was high – it was a bar, after all – some of the audience actually listened. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by that response and there were even a few questions afterward about book publishing and children’s science books. All in all, it was a great experience. 

My thanks to the March for Science organization for letting me present during Brains and Brews at Sky Bar in Tucson, Az.

Balloon Curtis created by artist Jeremy Twister.

And to the wonderful artist, Jeremy Twister, for creating the balloon version of the perfect curly-tail lizard of Warderick Wells in The Bahamas: Curtis Curly-tail.

Alligator vs. the Marshmallow

As a science book writer, I am asked to speak at schools and libraries about my favorite subject: reptiles. I often use props to help people visualize the facts I present. For instance, an iguana egg is about the size of a marshmallow. So, I bring a bag of marshmallows to use and, when allowed, for the kids to eat. The last time I spoke, one bag didn’t get used and the soft puffs got hard. These hard marshmallows brought back a memory from my childhood involving alligators on Sanibel Island, FL.

When I was a child, people in the park gathered at a bridge to feed marshmallows to the local gators. It was not well understood then how we were affecting the local alligators’ behavior. We know now how bad it is to feed wild animals. Not only is the food not good for them, they lose their fear of people and become “problem” animals. Simply relocating them doesn’t usually work, because they are plopped down in the middle of another’s territory and a moved individual can be killed by its own kind already there.

But back to my story about feeding marshmallows to alligators. The only marshmallows Mom could find in the trailer was a forgotten bag way back on a shelf. The usually fluffy confections were rock hard. But we were going to throw them in the water and gators have a bite strength of 2125 pounds per square inch, so a hard marshmallow should be no problem, right? I soon joined the other feeders tossing the treats into the water. Their marshmallows bobbed until a gator stealthily approached, snatched it rapidly, submerged, and re-emerged a short distance away, waiting for the next one. Several gators took turns gobbling down the sugary snacks.

Until they got to my marshmallows. A gator approached, quickly bit down on one and submerged.  Suddenly, the water erupted with thrashing. The marshmallow was released . . . unscathed. The gator swam away. This happened again and again until all the gators failed at damaging my marshmallows and swam away in disgust. The other people looked at me angrily. I had driven all the alligators away, leaving only my hardened marshmallows bobbing in the gently moving water.

I like to think that in my unintentional way, my disgusting marshmallows helped prevent a few alligators from becoming “problem” animals.

I guess I was a conservationist even back then.

a collage of books about conservation

I hope you will check out my books on the subject of Conservation. I love to make science books fun–it is a part of who I am–but conservation is a subject deserving of both our respect and action. Saving endangered species and looking out for all life on the only planet we and they have is up to all of us.

Come and Say Hello at The Tucson Festival of Books!

EVENT CANCELED

On March 14-15, 2020, Tucson will host the third largest book festival in the US, the Tucson Festival of Books. Over 130,000 people come to enjoy this world-of-books every year.

All aspects of the book business are included, with several hundred authors in attendance, many who are involved in panels open to the public. Special programs for children and teens and about science are presented. This event is known for its cultural diversity and promoting literacy among children and adults in Southern Arizona. Millions of dollars have been donated to literacy programs because of this focus.

I participate in this event by having a booth from which I sell my books. It’s wonderful how much people like buying books directly from authors and I love meeting them, as well, and personalizing and signing the books. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of being an author.

We will be at Booth 324 in the Children’s Section

I share the booth with my friend and author/illustrator, Anderson Atlas. Between the two of us, we have books that cover all the children’s book age groups, and some for adult readers, too.

Stop by and say hello on the weekend of March 14-15, Booth 324. I’ve included a TFOB map of the location of the Children’s Area at U of A below.

Tucson Festival of Books
March 14-15, 2020   9:30 – 5:30
University of Arizona
Children’s Section
Booth 324
Grab an Adventure by the Tail
Elaine A. Powers, Author
Anderson Atlas, Author/Illustrator
BOOKS FOR ALL AGES OF CHILDREN

The Tortoise and the Chair by Elaine A. Powers

Note: This post was inspired by my friend, Don Fialkowski. I had complained about my tortoise, Myrtle, pushing on my chair.
My apologies to Aesop and his fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.

A tortoise was recently pushing on my chair to move it away from the table, over to where she wanted it, by the door.

“I’ll take you away from there,” she said with a mocking tortoise laugh.

“No,” I replied to the tortoise, “I’m going to sit here and write science books on my laptop. But I will lift my feet, so that you can push away.”

The tortoise was so amused by my idea that my weight would hold the chair in place that she agreed to the challenge. The iguana in the room, who had consented to act as judge, took her position as observer and told the tortoise, “Push!”

The tortoise braced herself between the spokes of the rolling wheels. I couldn’t see her beneath my seat, but I felt her shell hit the metal. She pushed and pushed, and I felt very deeply how ridiculous it was for her to try to push my chair away from the table. Confident, I returned to my typing.

The tortoise, meanwhile, kept steadily moving, and, after a time, pushed the chair slightly away from the table. I quite peacefully continued to type until I had to stretch so the tips of my fingers could reach the keyboard. It was too late then. I realized I couldn’t stop her progress. The next push and I couldn’t reach keyboard anymore.

The tortoise had won the battle of the chair, proving the old adage that perseverance pays off.

Below is the book Myrtle asked me to write: Don’t Call Me Turtle! It tells about the differences between tortoises and turtles and there are many! A favorite of preschoolers and their grandparents!

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs, pointing at the viewer
Learn the differences between tortoises and turtles today!

It Does Take a Village to Make a Book

I do write my science books, of course, but I don’t create the books by myself.  As the saying goes, it really does take a village. Where did I find Nora Miller, editor extraordinaire and designer of my books? At an editor speed-dating event! I had written, “Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers,” and my friend, Art Winstanley, had brought Curtis to life in the illustrations. But I had a problem: How would I get the text onto the pages with illustrations? That was beyond my technical capabilities.

Illustration of Curtis on boat looking at a sneaker
Illustration by Arthur Winstanley. Words on the page by Nora Miller!

As I was contemplating this situation, I read an article in the newspaper. The local editorial association was hosting an event to allow a limited number of authors to meet with editors who provided a variety of services.  Each author could meet with an editor for five minutes, then move onto the next editor—just like speed dating. If a connection was made, the parties exchanged information for a follow-up meeting.

I thought my need was straightforward and that I would have to choose between several editors. However, when I asked the editors if they could put text onto an illustration, the repeated response was, “No.” I needed a graphic designer, too. I was getting discouraged. Then I got to Nora’s table and her answer was, “Of course.”

This was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.  Not only does Nora compile my books, she tweaks the pictures, formats the files for the publishing types and she edits in at least three languages! She is truly versatile and indispensable in an industry requiring knowledgeable and thorough partners.

Thanks, Nora!

Saving the Sister Isle Rock Iguana

a book cover with a photograph of an iguana on the island of Cayman Brac

The Cayman Islands are a system of three islands located south of Cuba: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. I’ve been privileged to work as a citizen scientist for the conservation of the two types of iguanas found there. The most famous is the Blue Iguana found on Grand Cayman, Cyclura lewisi.  Their body color really is sky blue.  They were almost lost to extinction, but some hardworking humans created the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme and their numbers are climbing. This doesn’t mean they are out of danger, but it is a step in the right direction as they say.  You should visit the Blues at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park if you’re ever on Grand Cayman.

I am more interested in the lesser known Sister Island Rock Iguanas (SIRI), Cyclura nubila caymanensis.  They’ve also been called the Lesser Caymans Iguana but there is nothing lesser about them. They’re said to be a subspecies of the Cuban Rock Iguana, Cyclura nubilaThey are endemic to only the Sister Islands.

Little Cayman has a fairly large population of iguanas, but Cayman Brac’s iguanas are having a tough time surviving.  Along with the usual human-caused problems, habitat destruction and feral pets, the iguanas on Brac have a high road mortality. Because the iguanas enjoy the warm, smooth roads, they are at risk for being run over by cars. Sadly, over the last few years many of the local iguanas have died this way.

My friend Bonnie Scott Edwards, who lives on the Brac, asked me to help her spread the word about the iguanas being needlessly killed. I’m always willing to help with causes like this. She had some terrific photos of iguanas both living and dead – I prefer the live ones myself. Then my friend, Anderson, who does great drawings for my books, filled in the blanks with his illustrations for my book, Silent Rocks. The book turned out great and I hope it helps not only to educate people but also tugs at their consciences. Every time an iguana is senselessly killed, a part of the future dies.

Some people wonder about the value of the iguanas. Did you know that many plants require the help of the iguanas to germinate and grow? When seeds pass through the iguana after being eaten, they germinate faster. The iguanas also help with the seed dispersal because it’s hard to make such large, active lizards stay in one place. They go up the bluff, then down the bluff, then up the bluff, then down–well, you get the idea.

However, not just any iguana will do. Many areas have introduced the Green Iguana, Iguana iguana, into rock iguana territories. Some research suggests that seeds passing through the Green’s gut does not help the plants in rock iguana territories. Only the correct iguana will do. This makes sense, since many of the plants evolved along with the iguanas. More studies are being done.

I’m helping Bonnie with her mission to save her Brac iguanas. They’ve put up some signs reminding people that there are iguanas on the road, so they’ll slow down and maybe even stop texting. Bonnie also tells them about the dangers of letting their pets run loose. Iguanas didn’t evolve with large mammalian predators, so they don’t know that dogs and cats are dangerous. They think they are just friends they haven’t met yet. It is so sad when they realize their mistake too late.

Then there’s the habitat destruction, with the iguanas’ dens being buried during construction. And lastly, are the poisons. Some rat poisons are the same color as the iguanas’ favorite flowers. Of course, the rats and mice were introduced by people, too. So many dangers have come along with people.

The population of the endemic Sister Island Rock Iguana (Cyclura nubila caymanensis) on Cayman Brac is in serious decline. These vegetarian lizards are an important part of the island’s ecosystem. The reduction in population is the result of human activity on their habitat and the threats can only be eliminated by human action.

But people can also solve these problems and I’m hoping the people on Brac working to help the iguanas do succeed. Like the blue iguanas on Grand Cayman, the Brac rock iguanas can be brought back from the brink of extinction.

I wrote a book about this important issue. It’s called Silent Rocks. Bonnie’s photos of the iguanas of Cayman Brac are wonderful.

The Story of a Green Iguana Named Stella

I am an author of both children’s and adult science books, inspired to write about the world of reptiles. I am as ‘at-home’ with reptiles as I am with mammals–perhaps even more so. And I tend to look after the underdogs.

So, when Stella, a green iguana, was found on a street in Bethlehem, PA, with her tail badly chewed, I took an interest in her. The veterinarian thought it was done by dogs, possibly pit bulls owned by drug dealers. Her rescuers had to amputate most of her gorgeous four-foot tail.

The amputated tail of a green iguana
Stella’s tail was chewed up and had to be amputated.

Stella was full-sized, uncommon for captive green iguanas. Apparently, she had been cared for up until she was separated from her family. Once she had sufficiently healed from her surgery, they sent her to my rescue center in Highbridge, New Jersey. Her health returned, and she soon moved to her forever home with me.

Despite her injuries, she produced eggs after her arrival. She also tried to regenerate her tail, but the stump had been sewn shut.

She likes to hang out with her buddy, Ezra, another green iguana who lives in a nearby separate enclosure. Ezra likes to stand on his rear legs and show off for Stella every now and then. They’re very attentive to each other.

Stella has developed high blood pressure, as evidenced by a swollen nictitating membrane. It is kept under control with medication.

She is a sweet-natured iguana, and it is my pleasure to have her as a pet in my home.