For STEM Friday today we are going to take a look at the new children's book Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals by Heather L. Montgomery.
The book features thirty amazing newly-discovered creatures, ranging from hot pink millepedes to see-through frogs like the one shown on the cover. As Heather points out in the beginning of the book, these are not really "new" species, but that scientists have simply recently discovered and named them. The species are organized by region, helping to define habitats. The description of each animal is accompanied by fun facts and details about how they were found. (Unsure of what a species is? See a review of classification.)
Humans love exploration, so finding a new species is a thrill. Scientists often turn up new species by searching in hard to reach places, like the depths of the oceans. Other times they can stumble across a new species in their own back yard! Searching for new species is definitely within the realm of citizen science. In fact, this article from BBC News suggests that 60% of new species found in Europe are discovered by amateur enthusiasts. As Wild Discoveries reveals, age in no limit. Children have helped to uncover new species.
Inspired by these ideas? How would you find a new species yourself?
1. Learn about a group of animals, plants or fungi that interests you.
Choose a group that isn't too popular. Although new mammals and birds are found occasionally (a new monkey, a sengi, and a tarsier are described in the book), your chances of finding a new species increase greatly if you choose to look for animals without backbones, for example. If you learn the common species of a group that occur in your area, you will be able to recognize something new if you stumble upon it.
2. Get out and observe nature, and record what you see.
Keeping a nature journal or blog can be a great way of recording your findings. Take photographs when you find something new. New species have been recognized from photographs on sharing sites like Flickr.
3. Volunteer at a nearby natural history museum, aquarium or similar organization.
Take opportunities to learn with an expert. One of the girls from the book got to name a new species because she volunteered at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
5. Be realistic. Realize that sometimes it is simply a matter of luck, or as Heather Montgomery writes, being "in the right place at the right time."
Activity for youngsters:
Draw an imaginary new species or one of the species from the book.
Activity for older students:
Research a newly-discovered species. Write a report on what is known about it and how it was found. Even better, create a slide presentation or video and share it with your friends or classmates.
For inspiration, here is one of the cool newly-discovered species: the green bomber worm.
We are pleased to be hosting STEM Friday this week, a celebration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books for children. The theme for today is wildflowers, so be sure to click through the link and check it out. (This post contains affiliate links to Amazon).
We are fast approaching the the centennial of Lady Bird Johnson's birth, December 22, 2012, and it seemed like a perfect time to pull out Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein. This is a beautiful picture book biography that overflows with the beautiful wildflowers that Lady Bird Johnson enjoyed so much. (For a full review of the book, see our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.)
You may wonder how a picture book about a former first lady who loved wildflowers could be used as a jumping off point for STEM. Here are just a few ideas:
Construct two weather stations and compare the weather in a wildflower garden versus a parking lot
Wildflower seeds come in many different sizes and shapes. Investigate how wildflower seeds are planted, harvested, processed or threshed, and packaged for sale. Can you think of a machine to do this in a better way?
Look for patterns and shapes in a wildflower garden (see free .pdf curricula to download at the Wildflower Center)
Investigating wildflowers can be a wonderful way to promote all aspects of STEM.
Lupine life cycle
Let's take a look at the life cycle of one of Lady Bird Johnson's favorite flowers, the bluebonnet or lupine. Her favorite was Lupinus texensis, the Texas bluebonnet. We are showing the arroyo lupine, Lupinussucculentus, which is a similar plant.
sprout into seedlings. The first two smooth oval "leaves" are actually the cotyledons.
Soon the regular leaves emerge and the plants begin to grow.
In a few short months the lupines begin to flower.
Honey bees and other pollinators pollinate the flowers. When the flower has been pollinated, the white part turns red.
Now the petals fall off and the seed pods begin to form. You can see the dark green seeds forming inside.
When they are mature, the pods turn brown. Do you see the ones towards the bottom of the photograph that are twisted? The pods burst open when they are mature and send the seeds shooting through the air. Hopefully, the seeds will land in a good location and grow into new lupines the following year.
Plant some wildflowers so you can follow your own plant life cycles. In the Sonoran Desert the time to plant wildflowers flowers for a spring bloom is right now (November).
Be sure to check either Kathi Appelt's (click on the icon next to the "brand new" image) or Joy Fisher Hein's websites for a beautiful and fun activity kit (in .pdf) to download that accompanies the book. The kit includes a word search, card matching game and many ideas for hands-on learning.
Do you know what an ophiologist is? After you read today's featured book, Awesome Snake Science! 40 Activities for Learning About Snakes by Cindy Blobaum, you might want to become one yourself!
What is an ophiologist? As you probably have guessed, unlike a herpetologist, who studies amphibians and reptiles, an ophiologist is a person who specializes in the study of snakes.
Why would anyone study snakes? Snakes are fascinating (yet also sometimes feared creatures) that deserve further study. They can be important predators of pests like mice, rats, insects and slugs. Researchers are finding new medical uses for snake venom. Understanding snakes helps keep people safe from the venomous ones. Studying snakes helps us understand our natural world. The list goes on and on.
Do you need live snakes to do the activities from this book? No, Blobaum has created scientifically-relevant activities that can be done with items from around the home, although they beg to be supplemented by a trip to a zoo to see some live specimens. For example, learning how to estimate the length of a snake lying on the ground is something snake scientists must do in the field quickly and accurately. In Blobaum's "Snake Survey" activity, snake stand-ins like lengths of yarn and belts to help children learn the estimating, measuring and data-collecting skills that can definitely be applied in the real world.
Other activities sure to appeal to children include making foldable fangs, creating a model of snakes' eyes, investigating snake venom using an enzyme found in pineapple, and creating a bad odor to mimic snake defensive compounds. These are fabulous for the young hands-on learner.
Although I only have highest praise for the text in the book, I should mention that the photographs used to illustrate the activities are not printed in color like the vibrant cover. Some of the photographs are too dark to be really effective. It was probably done to reduce printing costs, which is unfortunate because the rest of the book is so good.
Awesome Snake Science! is an amazing book that sets a new standard for how hands-on science should be done. It is sure to appeal to budding scientists, particularly those interested in becoming ophiologists. 🙂
Our own learning adventures, inspired by the book:
Snake Identification Activity
Snakes can be hard to identify because you often only catch a glimpse of one slithering by, because many species are camouflaged, or because they may mimic other species that are well-defended. The good news is that these days there are Internet sites and even apps to help with snake identification.
Now hit one of the "search" buttons on the far right side
You should see matches come up in the column on the left side. Click on your guess for which snake it is (hopefully it will be in the list) and check the photographs to see if it matches. If not, try one of the other names. Remember, snakes can vary a lot in color, so look other characteristics, too.
Click in the top menu to "restart"
Which snake is this?
1. Body bottom color: other
2. Body bottom pattern: blotches
3. Body color: spots
4. Scales: smooth
5. Divided? don't check box
6. Range: North American West
This time only one of the names will probably come up in the list on the left. See if this snake matches.
If all went well, there's only one name left. Let's see what kind of snake this is.
1. Body bottom color: white
2. Body bottom pattern: solid color
3. Body color: spots
4. Scales: keeled strongly
5. Divided? don't check box
6. Range: North American West
Skip all the rattlesnakes, because it doesn't have a rattle on its tail.