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Today we were inspired by two new picture books about deserts and desert animals. See full reviews at our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.

Get to Know Gila Monsters (Get To Know Reptiles) by Flora Brett is a simple text for beginning readers that helps sort myth from facts about this unique lizard found only in the desert Southwest.

A Day and Night in the Desert (Caroline Arnold's Habitats) by Caroline Arnold reveals which desert creatures are active during which parts of the day and night. Although it centers on animals and plants found in the Sonoran desert, the book also contains a map showing where deserts are located throughout the world.

Desert Mammals Activity

We often think of cacti and reptiles when we think of deserts, but as A Day and Night in the Desert shows, there are quite a few mammals found in deserts as well.

Some mammals found in deserts:

  • Jackrabbits
  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Ringtails
  • Coatis
  • Skunks
  • Cougars
  • Bobcats
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Javelinas
  • Bats
  • Ground squirrels
  • Mice
  • Packrats
  • Rats

Pick a desert mammal and find out more about it.

ground-squirrel-puffy
This ground squirrel is all puffed up on a cold morning.

For example, is the mammal diurnal or nocturnal? Is it active all year around or does it hibernate for part of the year? What does it eat? What is its life cycle? Does it have any special ways to conserve water in the desert?

javelinaWhat are these javelinas (also called collared peccaries) doing to keep cool?

Create a lapbook, poster, diorama, or report about your findings.

Resources to check:

1. The AZ-Sonora Desert Museum has an extensive list of fact sheets about desert bats as well as fact sheets about other desert animals and plants.

2. Pima Community College in Tucson has online facts about desert mammals

3. Arizona Naturalists has information about Sonora desert mammals

4. Tohono Chul Gardens has a number of desert related handouts on their website. Scroll down to "Fun and Smart Projects for Kids," and look for links to the Desert Pathfinders Activity Booklet (this link takes you directly to the .pdf), Saguaros, etc.

5. Look for the Desert Habitats activities page on our Growing With Science website.

Looking for a list of more books for kids about desert habitats? Try our growing list at Science Books for Kids.

desert-books-button

Disclosures:  These books were provided by the publisher for review purposes.  I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

 

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

 

Today for STEM Friday we are featuring Desert Food Webs in Action (Searchlight Books) by Paul Fleisher. desert-food-webs

We often think of the big, flashy animals like the mountain lions and the coyotes when we think of the desert. All the living things in the desert matter though, even the tiny ones. The bigger animals depend on many plants and smaller animals to provide them with food. Decomposers like ants, fungi and bacteria are also important because they help recycle nutrients. This book describes the various desert creatures and how their lives are interrelated via food chains and food webs.

desert-food-web

The producers are plants that gather and store energy from sunlight, like cacti, succulents, wildflowers, shrubs, trees and grasses. They produce food for the other stages.

Primary consumers are animals who depend on plants for food. Examples are insects, birds like hummingbirds, and desert tortoises.

Secondary consumers rely mostly on other animals for food. Spiders and birds that eat a lot of insects are secondary consumers.

Tertiary consumers are carnivores that eat both secondary and primary consumers. Examples are hawks and kingsnakes, a type of snake that eats other snakes.

Not shown in the illustration are scavengers and decomposers. Scavengers feed on dead animals. They are part of nature's clean up crew. Decomposers break down both animal and plant materials so that plants can use the nutrients again.

javelina

Food webs aren't always neat and tidy. For example, javelinas are mostly thought of as primary consumers because they eat plant materials like prickly pear fruit and mesquite beans. They are also known to eat lizards, mice and dead birds, which would make them scavengers and secondary consumers, too.

Want to learn more about desert creatures? Desert Food Webs in Action by Paul Fleisher is a good place to start.

When you are ready, why not construct a desert food web of your own?

Where to find out more:

Ages: 8-11
Series: Searchlight Books
Paperback: 40 pages
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group (August 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1467715522
ISBN-13: 978-1467715522

Disclosures: I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

 

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

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Our post today is inspired by a book I spotted at our local library: Sneed B. Collard III's Most Fun Book Ever About Lizards by, you guessed it, Sneed B. Collard III (for a full review, see Wrapped in Foil).

We have many different kinds of lizards here in Arizona. I love how this book starts out with an introduction to "Joe Lizard," a western fence lizard, which is the kind we see in our yard all the time. The author also discusses other lizards common to Arizona, such as Gila monsters, horned lizards and western whiptails.

What are lizards?

Lizards are reptiles with over-lapping scales. They also have moveable quadrate bones that allow them to open their mouths very wide. Finally most lizards (but not all) have legs, which distinguishes them from the snakes.

Lizards also have the ability to drop their tails if they are attacked by a predator. You can see the discolored area of the tail where this one has just grown its tail back.

Western fence lizards can be found climbing on trees, where they lend in perfectly with the bark, as well as on fences. The males have bright blue bellies, which they show off by doing push-ups.

Whiptails have particularly long and slender tails.

Collared lizards, named for the black band at their neck, are often brightly-colored.

Activity:  Lizard body temperature

Lizards and other reptiles are ectothermic, which means that their internal body temperature is controlled by the temperature of the environment around them. Another word for this is "cold-blooded," although lizard don't really have cold blood. Lizards move from sun to shade and place to place to keep their temperature in the optimal range.

Children may assume that when the outdoor temperature is 78° F, it is the same temperature everywhere. In fact, many surfaces will be colder or warmer than the air temperature depending on sun exposure and other factors. These differences are called "microclimates."

Gather:

  • Thermometers (enough for every participant, if possible.)
  • Lamp (if doing this activity indoors), or sunny day outdoors
  • Dry play sand (or soil if not available)
  • Water
  • 2 containers to hold sand (enough for small groups of participants to share)
  • Timer or watch
  • Pencil and paper

Place a similar amount of sand into each container. Moisten the sand in one of the containers with water. Set both containers in the shade or indoors with the lamp off for a a few minutes to allow it to stabilize. Now take the temperature of the sand just under the surface with the thermometer for both containers and record the results.

Move the containers to a sunny place or under a lamp. Take the temperature after five minutes and again after ten minutes. Did it change? How did the temperature of the wet sand change in comparison to the dry sand? (The temperature of the wet sand should change less than dry sand).

If outdoors, encourage the children to check and record temperatures in several locations, both in the shade and in the sun.

If you were a lizard that should have an internal temperature about 80 °F, where would you spend your time? How about if your preferred temperature was 90°F?

What do lizards do when it is too cold out? Our Arizona lizards hibernate during the coldest months of the year.

Citizen Science:  More opportunities for studying lizards

If you live in Texas, you might be interested in the Texas Horned Lizard Watch

Here in Arizona, we have the Arizona HerpCount

In the eastern United States, try Anole Lizards

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has Lost Lizards of Los Angeles - how to participate

For more information, try:

Scholastic has Uncover Snakes and Lizards

Smithsonian's Reptile and Amphibian page

Dragonfly TV has a video about gecko feet

And don't forget,

Sneed B. Collard III's Most Fun Book Ever About Lizards

Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing (February 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1580893244
ISBN-13: 978-1580893244


Disclosures: The book was from our local library. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Where is your favorite place to watch lizards?