Many people have heard about the plight of polar bears, having to swim farther and farther to find food because of the melting sea ice in the Arctic. Professor Scott Mills is studying the effects of climate change on a smaller, cuter animal: the snowshoe hare.
For STEM Friday we have Hopping Ahead of Climate Change by Sneed B. Collard III, which chronicles Professor Mills’s studies.
Have you heard of snowshoe hares? They are one of a small number of animal species that have different colored fur in the summer versus the winter. In the summer they are brown and look very much like a cottontail rabbit. In the winter, their fur is mostly white.
How is climate change a threat? As with other animals that change from brown to white, the hares are triggered to molt their hair by changes in day length rather than temperature. That means when the nights start to get longer, the hares change to white, regardless of whether it has started to snow or not. Recently, the snows have been coming later and later in the season where snowshoe hares live. As you might imagine, a stark white hare is probably more vulnerable to predators on bare ground than on snowy ground. Professor Mills and his students test that hypothesis.
The book is illustrated with color photographs of hares and their habitats, as well as helpful graphs, charts, and maps. Although it may look superficially like a picture book, this is a solidly middle grade title for readers 10 years old and older.
Pick up Hopping Ahead of Climate Change for students interested in environmental issues, animals, or science. You will be glad you did.
Activity: Create a Chart of the Characteristics of Hares versus Rabbits
Why are the animals called hares rather than rabbits? In Arizona we have both types, so here are some differences:
- Babies born with fur
- Larger, longer hind legs and often have longer ears (although not snowshoes)
- Ears with some black fur
- Live on the surface
- Haven’t been domesticated
- Babies born without fur
- Shorter hind legs
- Most live in burrows in the ground, but not all
- Burrows are often near other rabbits, more social
- Some varieties domesticated
Gather some images of hares and rabbits and create a chart. See if you can find even more differences between hares and rabbits.
This video shows some of Professor Mills’s students research. Note: There are scenes of animal fur left behind by predators and also of animals in live traps. You should always preview videos to make sure they are appropriate for your child.
- Camouflage-related science activities at PBS Parents.
Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts by Sneed B. Collard III, in which he describes his adventures growing up during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly when visiting his dad who was a biologist.
Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Publisher: Bucking Horse Books (November 1, 2015)
3. Growing list of children’s books about polar habitats
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