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Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Okay, here it is for all of you who've asked for it. The TWELVE ARACHNIDS OF CHRISTMAS! are back. And for any of you who are discovering this for the first time, ENJOY!

[Books mentioned below are from my ARACHNID WORLD Series by Lerner]

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave me to a black widow in a fir tree.

As I watched, that black widow spider dangled upside down from a silk thread. Next, its exoskeleton (armor-like covering) split open along the back. Then the spider pushed and pulled and crawled out of its exoskeleton.

What in the world just happened? To find out, read Black Widows: Deadly Biters pages 22 through 23.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two striped bark scorpions--one big female 3 inches (7.5 cm) long and a smaller male.

As I watched, the male grabbed the female's pedipalps (body parts near the mouth). He tugged her forward and then they turned around in a circle. They did this over and over for hours.

What was happening to my scorpions? To find out, read Scorpions: Armored Stingers pages 28 and 29.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three female
Carolina wolf spiders.

As I watched, a round ball about one-third as big as the spider and stuck to its spinnerets split open. Hundreds of tiny spiders crawled out and climbed onto the big spider.

What's likely to happen next? To find out, read Wolf Spiders: Mothers On Guard pages 26 through 29.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four wind scorpions.

Almost at once, one of the wind scorpions ran straight up a nearly vertical rock. How did it keep from falling off? To find out, read Wind Scorpions: Killer Jaws pages 24 and 25.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five tarantulas.

One goliath bird-eater tarantula was holding a gecko. As I watched it sank in its fangs and brought up digestive juices.

Why in the world did it do that? To find out read Tarantulas: Supersized Predators pages 32 and 33.

Then keep on reading quickly to let me know whether I should stay to watch or run away. Two of the other tarantulas have turned their hairy rear ends toward me and look ready to rub these with their hind legs.

Help me decide what action to take by reading pages 30 and 31.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love to me six female cross spiders spinning their webs.

As I watched, a fly landed on one spider's web. That female ran to the fly and shots strands of silk over it.

Why did she do that? To find out, read Orb Weavers: Hungry Spinners pages 24 and 25.

I kept on watching and saw a fly zip into another spider's web. I expected the web to break, but it didn't. Why not? To find out, read page 17 and page 22.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven fishing spiders fishing in a pond.

At just that moment, a bat flew past and all the fishing spiders dived beneath the surface. They stayed underwater for nearly thirty minutes.

How were they able to stay underwater for so long? To find out, read Fishing Spiders: Water Ninjas pages 22 through 23.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight crab spiders
lurking inside flowers.

Some goldenrod crab spiders were inside yellow flowers and they were yellow. Other goldenrod crab spiders were inside white flowers and they were white.

How were these spiders able to be just the right flower color to hide and wait to ambush insects? To find out, read Crab Spiders: Phantom Hunters pages 22 and 23.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine harvestmen packed close together and bobbing up and down.

Why were they doing that? To find out, read Harvestmen: Secret Operatives page 21.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten ticks-a-sucking blood from their host.

As I watched these female dog ticks over several days, their bodies swelled up until they were nearly six hundred times bigger.

How in the world could they swell so big? To find out read Ticks: Dangerous Hitchhikers pages 14 and 15.

Why can a tick's bite make people and animals sick? Read pages 28 through 36 to find out.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven jumping spiders jumping.

As I watched, one leapt from one leaf to another to catch an insect.

How could it possibly jump so far? To find out, read Jumping Spiders: Gold Medal Stalkers pages 22 and 23.

What's the record for how far a jumping spider can leap? Read pages 46 and 47 to find out.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve mites-a-multiplying
on a bean plant.

At first, I couldn't see the tiny two-spotted mites sucking on one of the plant's leaves. In less than a month, the plant was nearly covered with web strands dotted with tiny mites. They were sucking the plant's juices and producing even more two-spotted mites.

How did there get to be so many so quickly. To find out, read Mites: Master Sneaks pages 36 and 37.

Yes, my arachnid Christmas this year is one I'll always remember. After all, it's the year I received:

12 mites-a-multiplying
11 jumping spiders jumping
10 ticks-a-sucking
harvestmen bobbing
crab spiders lurking
fishing spiders fishing
orb weavers spinning
4 wind scorpions
3 wolf spiders
2 scorpions
And a black widow in a fir tree

And as he drove out of sight, Spider Claus called, "Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year!"

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Go Batty For Bats: Biggest! Littlest!

Reading BATS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST! is the perfect way to start getting to know these amazing animals.  Then keep on exploring and learning about bats as you have fun with these activities.

Mother and Pup Reunion

Mother Mexican free-tail bats leave their babies behind in a nursery cave. When they return, they always find their baby. How do they do it?  Play this game to find out.

Cut a sheet of paper into twenty pieces.  On each of ten slips, write the name of a sound, such as tweet or click. Copy the name of each sound onto a second slip of paper.  Next, have a group of twenty people gather together.  Pass out one set of sound slips. Those players are now the “Mother bats”.  Have them leave the room. Or they can go to one wall and turn their backs on the others.  Next, pass out the other set of sound slips.  These players are now the “Bat Pups”.   Have these bats stand close together.

Tell the Mother Bats that their job will be to find their baby, the Bat Pup making their same sound. On your signal have the pups start making their sounds.  Also have the Mother Bats move toward the pups while making their own sounds. Give the Mother bats just ten seconds to find their Bat Pups. Any Pup without a Mother dies.  How many of the Pups were lost?

Just Like Bats

You could say bats did it first. They make noises and listen to the echoes to find their way through the dark.  Now, human inventors are copying them to help people who are blind.

What they invented is called the “UltraCane”.

To build it, scientists first studied the way bats make ultrasonic (super high-pitched) sounds and listen for echoes.  Hearing these echoes alerts bats to things they might run into. It even lets them “see” when its pitch dark.  Then scientists made a cane that puts out ultrasonic sounds and picks up the echoes.   It has a short range mode that picks up things that are about 6 feet (about 2 meters) away.  It also has a long range mode. That picks up any object about 13 feet (4 meters) away.  This way it senses things a blind person might run into.

Then two buttons on the handle—one for things that are close and one for things far away—vibrate.  Being warned what’s coming up lets the person have time to change directions. Like a flying bat, they can move freely through their environment. The UltraCane limits the risk of bumping into things.

Can you think of anything you might invent based on what’s special about bats? Think about these things:

  • Backward facing knees to make it easy to hang upside down. Also help steer in flight.
  • Funnel-like ears for sharp hearing.
  • Leather wings can wrap up in to stay warm and protect against rainy weather.
  • Wings that let a bat flip and turn easily in flight.

Brainstorm to think what you might invent that mimics bats and would help people.

Visit My Cave

What's it like to live like a bat?  

Cover a table on three sides with a blanket or paper to create a cave.  Have your family or a group of friends crawl inside your pretend cave with you.  While you're there with this group, think about these questions.

  1. Why is a cave a good home for small bats, like Mexican Free-tailed Bats? 
  2. Why do you think big bats, like Grey-Headed Flying Foxes, camp in the open in trees instead?
  3. What are some problems to sharing a cave with other bats?

What Good Are Bats?

Check out the hand-like structure of a bat's wings.

Try this to find out.  

Take a large bowl of popcorn kernels to the gym or outdoors to a paved area of the playground.  Work with friends to scatter 50 popped kernels on the floor or ground.  Count to ten. Then have people place two more popcorn kernels next to each original kernel.  This is as if the insect pests have multiplied.  

Now pretend you are an insect-hunting bat. Have four others pretend they are too.  While someone counts to five, have each “bat” pick up all of the insects they can carry.  Then have other children place two popcorn kernels next to each remaining kernel.  

Repeat these steps two more times, having “bats” collect “insects”.   Then have any remaining “insects” multiply. 

Now look at the results.
  • How much of an affect did the “bats” have on the “insect” population?
  • What limited how much of an effect the bats could have on the insects? 
  • What do you think would happen to populations of insect pests if there weren’t any bats?

My Favorite Bat

Decide which of the bats you read about in Bats: Biggest! Littlest! is your favorite.  Tell why you like it best.  Read the section about that bat again. Also Go on-line to learn more.  Then write a short story about the life of your favorite bat. Be sure your story answers the following questions:

  • Where does it live?
  • What does it eat?
  • How is this bat different from other kinds of bats?
  • How does it care of its babies?
  • Does it have any enemies?  If so, what must it watch out for?

Bats for Good Measure

Again, here's a good chance to see the arm and hand-like structure of a bat's wing.

The wingspan of the largest flying foxes can be up to 6 feet (about 2 meters).  Take string that length. Find at least 5 things about the same length.  What are they? 

Now, measure each of these things.  Find out how longer or shorter each is compared to a large flying fox’s wingspan.

  • The teacher’s desk
  • The class’s two shortest students lying head to feet on the floor.
  • The classes two tallest students lying head to feet on the floor.
  • Your teacher’s armspan (from fingertip to fingertip with both arms stretched out)

The wingspan of the Bumblebee bat is 6 inches (15 centimeters).  Take a piece of string that length.  Find at least 5 things about the same length.  What are they?

Now, measure each of these things.  Find out how much longer or shorter each is compared to a Bumblebee Bat’s wingspan.

  • The smallest book in the classroom
  • Your pencil
  • The shoe of the student with the littlest foot
  • Your right hand span (from thumb to little finger with your hand spread wide).  Draw around your hand span on a piece of paper. Then compare to your bat wing measuring string.
I hope you've enjoyed this chance to dig deeper into BATS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST!  I'm sure you'll also enjoy the other books in this series:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Come Fly With The Godwits!

I'm delighted to share the story of the bar-tailed godwits. Every year these birds make a marathon migration from their summer home in Alaska to their winter home in New Zealand. This bird's story is very special to me. For thirteen years, I lived near Christchurch, New Zealand.  Along with other New Zealanders, I eagerly awaited the godwits arrival each year in September.

Here I am the day the godwits arrived this year.
Check out the headline--"Godwits Are Back!"

That always signified winter was over and spring had arrived.  So, when scientists tracking the birds reported they were nearing land, bird watchers rushed to the shores.  Then as soon as the first group of godwits were spotted, the news was broadcast on the radio and television.  The big cathedral in Christchurch also rang its bells.  Everywhere banners were raised and crowds rushed to the estuaries to cheer the arriving birds.

Now open the book and enjoy the story. Then have fun digging deeper with these discovery activities.

Check out the aerial view of Cape Avinof, Alaska (the godwits' starting place) by visiting this website.  Next, do a Google search to find out how many miles it is between Alaska and New Zealand, the godwits' destination.  Now, think about how you would travel from Kipnuk Airport, the closet airport to Cape Avinof, Alaska to Christchurch, New Zealand, one of godwits destinations in New Zealand.  Check airline websites to answer the following questions:

Can you fly non-stop, the way the godwits do?  If not, how many stops do you have to make along the way?

How much will it cost you to fly between Alaska and New Zealand?
The trip isn't free for the godwits, either.  However, what it costs the birds isn't money.  Read page 15 of The Long, Long Journey to find out what it costs these birds to make such a long flight.

So you learned what it costs the godwits is energy--what they get from eating and storing body fat.  Adult godwits have to double their weight between June and September.  Chicks have to both grow up and put on weight.

Just for fun, figure out what you would weigh if you doubled your weight to make this long trip.

Look at the godwit's long legs.
Such long legs help it wade in the mud to find food.
Now, try this activity to find out how the godwit uses its long beak to find and pick up food.

First, cut the top off an empty gallon-sized milk jug. Fill it nearly full of wet sand. Next, have an adult partner bury five pennies in the sand and smooth the top flat to hide the coins.  Then use chopsticks or two pencils held like chopsticks to probe the sand for the pennies. Once you find them, use the chopsticks to pluck the pennies out of the sand.

Take a close look at this picture of godwits in flight.  Look at how they hold their wings and head.

How do you think holding their head and wings this way helps them fly?

Check out what the godwits are doing with their long legs while they fly.  Why do you think the birds hold their legs in this position rather than just letting them hang down below their body.

Now, spend some time watching your local birds take off and fly. Draw a picture of one of these birds in flight.  Be sure to show how they stretch out their wings, how they hold their head, and what they do with their legs.

Just for fun, play this game to find out how godwits stay together in a flock even while flying through thick clouds and heavy rain.  Ask six of your friends to stand in a circle around you. Close your eyes and ask them to make noises one at a time.  Try pointing to each person as they sound off.  Have your friends score a point for you each time you point at the person making the sound.  Now you know that being noisy helps birds keep track of each other and fly together.

The godwits take advantage of the fact that earth's northern and southern hemisphere's have summer at opposite times of the year. They always live where it's comfortably summer and there's plenty to eat year round.  To do that, though, means the godwits have to make a Long, Long Journey.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


The best memories are the times we share. So I developed these activities for children to enjoy while reading my book, Butterfly Tree (Peachtree Publishers, 2011).

First, the heart of this book is about making a memory—taking time to do something together you can remember sharing forever. Talk about and then write about a special time you remember sharing with someone.

*Where and when did it happen?

*What happened?

*What was the key moment of that shared time?

Of course, there are also places we’d like to go and things we’d like to do to make memories. Talk about and then write about something you’d like to share doing together.

Now, explore the special memory Jilly and her mother share in Butterfly Tree.

When Jilly first spots something strange in the sky out over Lake Erie, what does she think it looks like? Read and discover.

Describing what something looks like by comparing it to something else is called a metaphor. Basically, something unfamiliar is described by telling how it’s like something familiar. A metaphor can be a powerful way to use words to paint a picture in someone’s mind. Try it.

Sit quietly for a few minutes either indoors or outside. Look around. Pick out something to focus on. Then think how you could describe what it looks like to someone who’s never seen it by comparing it to something else--something familiar.

Next, share your metaphor. Ask the person to describe the visual image your words painted in their mind. Trade metaphors back and forth to work together building a description.

Here are some places and times you could use metaphors to partner building a description others can enjoy too.
*A sunset
*A stormy day
*An animal in action: a bird taking flight; a squirrel in a tree; a cat playing

When Jilly first sees the orange cloud in the sky, she makes lots of guesses of what it might be. Each of those guesses probably instantly made Jilly think of a different possibility for where the cloud came from and why it’s over Lake Erie. What did Jilly imagine the cloud might be? Read and discover.

Spend some time cloud watching with someone. Look out a window or go outside on a wonderfully cloudy day. Focus on one cloud that looks like an animal, an object, or something totally magical. Tell a short story about that cloud and what you imagined about it.

Then write your cloud story. Be sure to include at least one metaphor to help your reader see what you’re describing.

Jilly’s ready to run away because of the orange cloud she’s spotted, but her Mom suggests they go searching for where the cloud landed.

What orange things do Jilly and her Mom discover in the woods before they find the orange cloud? Read and discover.

What happens to reveal what the orange cloud really is? Don't miss reading to find out!

Mom says she remembers seeing the butterflies when she was a girl. Why do you think she didn’t just tell Jilly what the orange cloud was?

Now, discover more about monarch butterflies.

The Circle of Life

Look at these images of the stages of a monarch butterfly’s life cycle.

The female lays her eggs on the leaves of milkweed plants. Caterpillars hatch out in about four days.

Caterpillars eat their egg case and keep on eating. They eat the milkweed leaves they’re on. They eat nearly twenty-four hours a day for about two weeks.

The caterpillar spins a silk pad on the under side of a leaf. It grips this with tiny legs, called prolegs.  It hangs in a J-shape and molts. This way it sheds its exoskeleton, or outer covering.

That hardens to form a chrysalis, a protective case. Inside the chrysalis, digestive juices break down a lot of the caterpillar’s old body. Using energy from stored up fats, a new body grows from the old one bit by bit.

After about two weeks, an adult monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. It takes several hours for its wings to fully inflate and harden. Then it flies off to feed on nectar, the sweet liquid produced by flowers. It lives from two to eight weeks. During this time, the males and females mate. Then the females lay their eggs, starting the cycle over again.

Butterfly Inside
Experience what happens when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Cut out and color an adult monarch.

Then fold this up small and push it inside a balloon.
Have an adult partner blow up a balloon just enough to partly inflate it. Tie the neck to seal the balloon.

Cover the balloon with paper mache. To do this, first snip newspaper into strips about an inch (2.5 cm) wide and 6 inches (25 cm) long. Cut at least 25 strips. In a bowl, mix one-half cup flour with enough water to make a runny paste. Dip one paper strp into the glue mixture. Hold the strip over the bowl and slide between your thumb and fingers to remove excess paste. Smooth the strip onto the balloon. Repeat until the whole balloon is covered up to the neck. Smooth your fingers over the wet balloon. This will help seal the edges of the paper strips. Set the balloon in a clean, dry bowl. Turn frequently for a few hours to help it dry evenly. Leave overnight.

The balloon now represents the chrysalis inside which the caterpillar is changing into an adult butterfly. Use scissors to carefully snip into the balloon just below the neck. That will pop the balloon. It will deflate and separate from the inside of the paper mache. Carefully pull out the balloon. Open it and pull out the folded up adult. Unfold the adult slowly.

In real life, the adult butterfly’s body gives off a special chemical that helps break open the chrysalis. Then the adult crawls out and hangs upside down from its chrysalis. Its abdomen squeezes over and over, pumping fluid into the wings. The big wings slowly unfold. The butterfly flaps these wings while they dry and become strong. Then it’s ready to fly.

Scavenger Hunt

Now, go on an on-line scavenger hunt to track down the answers to these questions.

How can you help monarch butterflies?

Why is a viceroy butterfly colored to mimic a monarch butterfly?

Also, don’t miss the fun, interactive jigsaw puzzles on this site.

Where do monarch butterflies go to escape cold winters?
Watch the slide show at The Magic of Monarch Butterfly Migration

Also find out what is the longest any monarch butterfly has flown to date during its migration?

Wonder how monarch know where they’re going when they migrate?

Journey North’s Monarch Butterfly Migration Tracking Project reports
“This is a question that scientists are still working to answer. People working at the University of Kansas with Chip Taylor have shown that they use the sun, and also probably the earth’s magnetic field to know which way is south during the fall migration. But we don’t know how they find the specific spots in Mexico. Personally, I’m not sure that we’ll ever be able to answer this one—which I think is kind of nice. I like mysteries!”