Have you ever seen a lizard hurtling over your head? How about a frog sailing down from the tree tops? I’m not making these animals up. They belong to one of earth’s most astonishing groups of animals.
Gliders travel through the air, but they don’t fly. Instead, they glide. What’s the difference? Well, to get itself off the ground, a bird, bat, or insect has to generate a force called lift. A flying animal generates lift using its wings, which are attached to powerful flight muscles. These wings move and bend in complicated motions to counteract the force of gravity.
Gliding animals do not have muscle-powered wings. Instead, most gliding animals have special flaps or folds of skin called patagia. Like wings, the patagia generate lift—but only after the animal is already moving through the air.
When chased by a snake, a Draco lizard leaps from its tree. Instead of plunging to its death, it spreads out its rib cage into two elegant airfoils covered with skin. As air rushes over them, these airfoils—the patagia—generate lift to keep the lizard from falling straight down. The lizard does steadily descend toward earth, but it is also riding the air. It can change directions, pull a U-turn, and control where it wants to go. In the process it can travel hundreds of feet before landing on another tree or on the ground.
The patagia of Wallace’s frogs lie between their toes. These frogs usually live up in the trees, but when it is time to mate or lay eggs, they leap, spread out their toes, and glide to earth.
Earth’s most astonishing gliders may be five species of gliding snakes. These snakes don’t have patagia. Instead, they flatten out their bodies and “crawl” through the air. Scientists aren’t sure if the crawling motion helps generate lift, or if lift comes mainly from a snake’s flattened shape, but the animals can glide more than 100 feet before landing.
Most of earth’s gliding animals live in Southeast Asian rainforests, which are home to more than eighty species of gliding lizards, frogs, snakes, and mammals. In North America, we have only two gliding animals: Northern and Southern flying squirrels. Despite their name, flying squirrels don’t fly. They glide—and are adorably cute! Want to see one? Try shining a flashlight on a bird feeder at night!
A male Draco lizard extending his gular flag (throat flap) and patagi (wings). While not capable of powered flight Dracos often obtain lift in the course of their gliding flights. Glides as long as 200 feet have been recorded, Wikimedia
Wallace's frogs live almost exclusively in the trees, and leap and "fly" from tree to tree or to bushes. The membranes between their toes and loose skin flaps on their sides catch the air as they fall, helping them to glide, sometimes 50 feet or more, to a neighboring tree branch or even all the way to the ground. They also have oversized toe pads to help them land softly and stick to tree trunks. Wikimedia
Flying squirrels are able to glide from one tree to another with the aid of a patagium, a furry, parachute-like membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle. Their long tail provides stability in flight. Wikimedia
There are five recognized species of flying snake, found from western India to the Indonesian archipelago. They flatten out their bodies and parachute or glide using their ribs to become flat, and then they whip their bodies in a fast, rhythmic S-shape to stay airborne. Wikimedia
Illustrated with arresting photographs, Sneed B. Collard's Catching Air: Taking the Leap with Gliding Animals takes us around the world to learn why so many gliders live in Southeast Asia, and to find out why this gravity-defying ability has evolved in Draco lizards, snakes, and frogs as well as mammals. Why do gliders stop short of flying, how did bats make that final leap, and how did Homo sapiens bypass evolution to glide via wingsuits and hang gliders―or is that evolution in another guise?
MLA 8 Citation
Collard, Sneed B., III. "Meet Earth's Incredible Gliders." Nonfiction Minute,
iNK Think Tank, 11 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
Sneed B. Collard III
Several years ago, I rode the world’s fastest elevator to the top of one of the world’s tallest buildings—Taipei 101. Shaped like an elegant stalk of bamboo, Taipei 101 soars 1670 feet above the island nation of Taiwan. However, the engineers who designed the building faced two monumental challenges. The first is that dozens of earthquakes shake Taiwan each year. The second is that in an average year, Taiwan gets hammered by three or four hurricanes, or typhoons.
How, engineers wondered, could they keep people comfortable inside Taipei 101 when it swayed back and forth? More important, how could they keep the building from getting damaged or collapsing in a massive earthquake or 100 mile-per-hour winds?
One solution: a damper ball.
Damping devices are weighty objects that can reduce the motion of a bridge, building, or other structure. In the case of Taipei 101, engineers placed the damper ball near the top of the building—the part that sways the most. The ball is hung from thick cables inside the building and rests on giant springs or “dampers.”
One of Isaac Newton’s basic laws of physics is that an object at rest tends to stay at rest—and the damper ball proves it. Every time Taipei 101 starts swaying, the damper ball wants to stay where it is and “pulls back” on the building, reducing how far the building moves. When the building sways in the opposite direction, the process repeats itself—but in the reverse direction. Of course the building also pulls on the damper ball, but the ball’s movements are restricted by the dampers it presses against.
Does the system work? You bet. The damper ball inside of Taipei 101 reduces the building’s movement by 30 to 40 percent!
Of course not just any damping device could protect an enormous building like Taipei 101. Taipei’s damper ball weighs 1.5 million pounds—as much as two fully-loaded jumbo jets. It is composed of 41 circular steel plates that stand taller than a one-story house. In 2008, when a giant earthquake hit mainland China, the people of Taiwan could feel it hundreds of miles away. The damper ball did its job, resisting Taipei 101’s movement, keeping the building safe. During Typhoon Soudelor in 2015, the damper again worked like a charm, protecting the building against 100- to 145-mile-per-hour winds.
Besides protecting Taipei 101, the damper ball has become a major tourist attraction. Each year, thousands of visitors ride to the 89th floor. They take selfies next to the damper ball. They even take “Damper Baby” souvenirs home with them. If you’re ever lucky enough to visit Taiwan, check it out!
The damper ball is visible between the 89th and 91st floor of Taipei 101 and has become an attraction for tourists.
Sneed B. Collard III is author of more than eighty award-winning children’s books as well as a new book for educators, Teaching Nonfiction Revision: A Professional Writer Shares Strategies, Tips, and Lessons.
Sneed is a dynamic speaker and offers school and conference programs that combine science, nature, and literacy. To learn more about him and his talks, visit his website,.
To learn more about the damper ball and watch how it performed during Typhoon Soudelor, check out this article and video: http://www.thorntontomasetti.com/taipei-101s-tmd-explained/
MLA 8 Citation
Collard, Sneed B. "Damping Down Danger." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 10
01 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Earth’s temperatures are getting warmer. In fact, sixteen of the seventeen hottest years on record have occurred since the year 2000. These warmer temperatures are driving larger, long-term changes in our planet’s weather and climate. Scientists refer to these changes as “climate change.”
In a few places, climate change might be welcome, but around the world, warmer temperatures and other changes are leading to a host of problems from rising sea levels to more extreme weather events and the spread of harmful human diseases.
Professor Scott Mills, from the University of Montana, wanted to see how climate change might be affecting one particular animal called the snowshoe hare.
Snowshoe hares live in regions of North America that receive snow every winter. The hares, in fact, change their coat color from brown to white and back again every year. This helps camouflage them against their background—and hides them from the eyes of lynx, owls, and other hungry predators.
Here’s the thing: snowshoe hares can’t choose when they molt, or change their coat color. Molt timing is controlled by their genes, which are part of the DNA inside their bodies. If a hare’s genes make it molt to white in October, but snow doesn’t fall until December, the hare will stick out like a light bulb against the brown earth. And that’s a problem. Why? Because almost everywhere on earth, the length of time with snow on the ground is growing shorter and shorter.
To find out if shorter winters might harm hare populations, Scott and his team spent three years tagging and following hares. They measured how many were born, how many died, and what they died from. They also recorded whether the hares were matched or mismatched against their backgrounds.
They discovered that predators killed mismatched hares significantly more often than hares whose coats match their backgrounds. Scott and his team also calculated that over the next one hundred years, this greater mortality, or death rate, could lead to the decline or disappearance of many snowshoe hare populations.
The good news? Different hares molt at different times. This may help some hare populations adapt to shorter winters and longer periods without snow.
Hares are not the only animals affected by shorter winters. More than twenty species of animals including lemmings, weasels, hamsters, and Arctic foxes change their coat colors every year. Scott’s research helps us predict what might happen to these animals—and decide what we can do to protect them.
Scott’s discoveries about Montana snowshoe hares, together with experts’ predictions about our future climate, indicate that hares will be mismatched between 5-½ and 10 weeks by the end of this century.
Before tagging and putting a radio collar on a snowshoe hare, Professor Mills and his team must weigh and measure it.
This snowshoe hare has been tagged and fitted with a radio collar—and is now ready to help scientists learn more about snowshoe hare survival.
Even from a great distance, a mismatched hare stands out like a glowing light bulb. (Photo Courtesy of L. Scott Mills research laboratory)
Besides serving as popular prey for predators, snowshoe hares are irresistibly cute. This is a young hare, also called a leveret.
Sneed B. Collard III is the author of more than eighty award-winning books, many focusing on science and the natural world. His entertaining memoir Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts—Journeys of a Biologist’s Son recounts his challenges and adventures growing up as the son of divorced biologist parents, and the experiences that would one day lay the foundation for his writing career. He is a dynamic speaker and offers school and conference programs that combine science, nature, and literacy. To learn more about him and his talks, visit his website, www.sneedbcollardiii.com.
This book was reviewed by Vicki Cobb in the Huffington Post: "The Cheeseburger of the Forest".
MLA 8 Citation
Collard, Sneed B., III. "Hopping Ahead of Climate Change." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 15 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/hopping-ahead-of-climate-change.
Have you ever wanted to tell your life's story? It's not as easy as you think. Here are some tips that can make it easier.
First, realize that you can't tell your whole story. Not only will you bore your readers, you'll probably give up before you write a quarter of it. Instead, choose a theme—something that's been important to you and that interests you about your life. Here are a few examples:
* The story of you and your favorite hobby.
* Your experiences with your favorite—or least favorite—pet.
* Fun times you've had with your dad, mom, or best friend.
* The three scariest things you ever did.
* Your best/worst school year.
In my memoir, Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts—Journeys of a Biologist's Son, I decided to focus mostly on my relationship and adventures with my dad. Narrowing down my story not only led to a better story, it made the writing process much less overwhelming. This kind of "slice" of a life is called a memoir. In contrast, when someone tries to tell their complete story, it's called an autobiography. Usually, the only people who write autobiographies have invented electricity or landed on the moon—or they are running for president!
A second tip for telling your story is to pick out certain characters and let the reader get to know them. When writing my memoir, I could have said a little bit about a lot of different people in my life. Instead, I chose just a few and tried to tell more about them. This lets readers get to know the people in your story—and care about your story more.
One last tip is to leave out the boring stuff. When you start writing, it's tempting to include every detail. Instead, start your story where it really gets interesting. For instance, don't begin with, "On my first day of school, I walked to class." Instead, you might start with, "When I looked in the cage, I realized that our twelve-foot long boa constrictor had escaped!" Just because it's your story doesn't mean it shouldn't have a good plot and plenty of action. Focus on topics you'd like to read about—even if you didn't know you!
After reading these tips, you might be asking yourself, "Can I write more than one memoir?" The answer: absolutely! So dig in, have fun, and tell your story. You, your friends, and family will be glad you did.
To help your story be more interesting, focus on one thing. For my memoir, I focused on my relationship and adventures with my dad. Here, he is graduating with his doctorate degree from U.C. Santa Barbara
Both my dad and I loved reptiles, so I told a lot of stories about them in my memoir.
During the long summers with my dad, I often hung out at his laboratory. One summer I helped him build this giant plankton net that he used to sample animals in the Gulf of Mexico.
My dog, Puppy, helped get me through the difficulty of my parents’ divorce, so Puppy became a primary character in my book. Man, I wish I still had that shirt!
Sneed B. Collard III is the author of more than eighty award-winning books, many focusing on science and the natural world. His entertaining memoir Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts--Journeys of a Biologist’s Son recounts his challenges and adventures growing up as the son of divorced biologist parents, and the experiences that would one day lay the foundation for his writing career. He is a dynamic speaker and offers school and conference programs that combine science, nature, and literacy. To learn more about him and his talks, visit his website, www.sneedbcollardiii.com.
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.
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