Stephen R. Swinburne
Lion’s mane jellyfish can grow seven feet wide with tentacles reaching a length of 100 feet. That’s the same length as a blue whale! Their bodies are 98 percent seawater. They live in the cold, boreal waters of the Arctic, northern Atlantic and northern Pacific Oceans. Slowly pulsating ocean currents carry the big jellies great distances. The long trailing, stinging tentacles capture and tear apart their prey. Swimmers beware when currents sweep lion’s manes close to shore. Their stings cause red swollen welts, and severe body contact with a lion’s mane jellyfish may be deadly.
What animal can happily and safely slurp down a lion’s mane jellyfish as if it were a big bowl of Jello™? The leatherback sea turtle!
Adult leatherbacks are the largest reptiles on earth today, averaging seven feet long. As the planet’s biggest turtle, they range from the Arctic Circle south to Antarctica, and they swim, on average, more than 6,000 miles each year. And they love lion’s mane jellyfish. As a matter of fact, lion’s mane jellyfish make up almost their entire diet. How can a seven-foot long sea turtle consume a creature armored with a hundred feet of stinging tentacles?
Often referred to as Earth’s last dinosaur, leatherback sea turtles have lived on the planet for millions of years, surviving ice ages and major extinctions. For an animal to live that long on a diet of giant blobs of gelatinous saltwater, it better be very very good at tackling and consuming its delicious but dangerous meals of giant stinging jellyfish. And, it better have developed some cool adaptations over the ages. Here’s how they do it
First off, a sharp pointed lip acts like a hook so the turtle can snag the jellyfish and hang onto it.
Second, the turtle’s mouthful of backward-pointing spines prevents the jellyfish from escaping. A scientist once said to me, while looking into the mouth of a leatherback, “It’s the last thing a jellyfish will ever see!”
Once the leatherback has consumed dozens and dozens of jellyfish, there’s the problem of all that salt in its diet. Eating too much salt will cause dehydration. No problem for the leatherback! The turtle is perfectly adapted to rid its body of all that excess salt. Salt or lacrimal glands, located near their eyes, allow leatherbacks to secret saline tears—and then they cry them away.
So the largest marine reptile on earth evolved by getting better and better at eating the most unlikely diet, the largest jellyfish on earth.
Steve Swinburne has written a book on sea turtles. To see information about the book as well as a study guide and video and picture gallery, click here.
Steve Swinburne is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Swinburne, Stephen R. "Who Eats the Largest Jellyfish in the World -- and Enjoys It?" Nonfiction, iNK Think Tank, 12 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/who-eats-the-largest-jellyfish-in-the-world-and-enjoys-it.
Sneed B. Collard III
"Connecting Scientists and Kids”
Only you can prevent forest fires! At least that’s what Smokey Bear taught me growing up. His message? All forest fires are bad, and we’re helping nature by putting them all out.
Recently, I met a scientist who’s made me rethink this negative message about natural wildfires. His name is Dick Hutto and he’s a biology professor at the University of Montana. “There are two kinds of fires,” Dick explains. “The ones that burn down your house or kill your neighbor are bad, bad, bad. The other ones can be the greatest things in the world.”
To prove his point, Dick took me to the Black Mountain burn area, near my home in Missoula, Montana. A severe forest fire burned through this area only ten years ago, and thousands of blackened trees still stand like sentries across the landscape. Surprisingly, this charred landscape explodes with life. Tens of thousands of new tree saplings reach for the sky. Elk and deer graze on the fresh grass growing in the newly-opened areas. More than anything, the songs of birds fill the burned forest.
In his research, in fact, Dick discovered that dozens of bird species love fresh burn areas. In the West, 15 bird species prefer burned forests to all other habitats! Woodpeckers pave the way. As soon as a forest burns, legions of wood-boring beetles descend on the forest and lay their eggs in the dead trees. Three-toed, Hairy, and Black-backed Woodpeckers follow and begin devouring the newly-hatched beetle grubs. They also chisel out their own nest holes—holes that are used by Mountain Bluebirds, American Robins, Black-capped Chickadees, and many other species. Because of burned forests, these birds find food and shelter. They also find safety. How?
Green forests abound with squirrels and chipmunks—animals that feast on bird eggs. A severe forest fire, though, clears out the small mammals. That means that birds can raise their young much more safely.
But listen, don’t take my word for it—or even Dick Hutto’s.
To learn more about the benefits of fire, throw a water bottle, lunch, a bird guide, and a pair of binoculars in your backpack and go visit a burn area for yourself. You will be astonished by what you see. Take a notebook or a camera along, too. Part of the fun of discovering our planet is sharing what you see. By doing so you’ll help others realize the importance of natural wildfires and burned forest—and help create a healthier, more interesting world.
Sneed Collard III has written a book about the birds that thrive in burn areas. Fire Birds shows how dozens of bird species not only survive, but actually thrive in burned areas, depending on burns to create a unique and essential habitat that cannot be generated any other way. If you would like more information, click here to go to Sneed's website. If you click the Study Guide tab, you will find a guide that's been prepared for this book.
MLA 8 Citation
Collard, Sneed B., III. Weblog post. Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 11 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/rethinking-smokey-bears-message.
When I was about 10 years old, I lived in a small town on a prairie. I had to walk to and from school each day taking a short cut through our dark, crowded garage. This was fine until the spiders set up home in each corner of the garage-door opening, spinning huge blobs of flimsy webs, hanging there, ready to drop on my head or down my back. I ran under them to the safety of the alley. They feasted on Minnesota’s mosquitoes, growing to what I imagined to be tennis ball-sized bodies with red and yellow stripes, long, thick hairy legs, and large bulb-like eyes. My brother and sister thought they were monsters; we shudder when we remember them.
But actually they were wolf spiders because like wolves, they’re predators. They lie in wait for prey to come close. Then they chase and pounce on it, stinging it with their venom that dissolves the organs so the spider can suck up the nourishment.
In March of 2012, wolf spiders made news in Wagga Wagga, Australia, a town of 50,000 a few hours south of Sydney, Australia’s largest city. Some say due to climate change, it rained much more than usual, causing the river, peacefully flowing through the town, to flood the fields. It flooded the hibernation holes of the wolf spiders, which they had dug a few months earlier in the sun-baked ground and lined with silk, ready for the coming winter. The floodwaters woke up the spiders, which fled for higher ground, bushes, trees, houses, poles, any high places. As more than a million spiders ran they trailed behind “drag lines” of silk that caught the wind lifting some of them through the air. Countless thin trails of silk covered the bushes and fields, creating a blanket of web, looking like snow. No one had seen anything like it. When I read it about it, I knew instantly that this was the spider that terrorized me as a child. Wolf spiders are found all over the world, in Minnesota and Australia.
I believe that this was a small whisper from the earth about what is happening to it. If this damage in Wagga Wagga was caused by climate change, imagine the invasions and changes that may yet come. The next even could be a shout.
MLA 8 Citation
Marx, Trish. "The Invasion of the Wolf Spiders." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 6 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/the-invasion-of-the-wolf-spiders.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature's Animal Ambassador
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a wolf? You’re born in a cozy, dark den under the ground, probably along with at least one brother or sister. Your eyes are closed shut, but you can smell and feel your way over to your mother to drink sweet, warm milk from her teats. Your father and older brothers and sisters bring food from their hunts to feed your mother.
Your eyes open in about two weeks, but you can’t see much in the darkness of the den. You nap a lot, snuggled up to your siblings and your mom. Then, about a week later, your mother leads you all out of the den into the sunshine. How different it is up here! Now you explore the wild world, wandering among the trees, lapping water from a creek, wrestling and tumbling with your brothers and sisters.
After you get bigger and stronger, you and your family leave the den and move to a safe outdoor area. It’s scary at first, being in a strange new place with no dark den for comfort. An older brother or sister watches over you and the other pups while the rest of the family, or pack, goes hunting. When the hunters return you rush up and lick their faces and they share the meat they got on the hunt. All the older wolves in the pack let you climb all over them and nip their ears and tails while they take care of you, protecting you from danger.
All that good meat helps you grow into a big, strong wolf, with thick, shiny fur. In the fall, you go along on the hunt and learn how to find game and how best to catch it. Hunting is exciting but dangerous. You or other family members might get kicked by a deer or stomped on by a moose. But if you get injured, the other wolves take care of you until you recover. You are family, and family is what matters.
Grey wolf. © Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, 2014
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "What's It Like Being a Wolf?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/whats-it-like-being-a-wolf.
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