Chipmunks are smarter than you think. One day my husband, Neil, and I heard a strange noise we had never heard before. It was a weird Chuck! Chuck! Chuck! coming from our detached garage and so loud that we heard it from inside the house, with all the windows closed. Curious, Neil and I both hurried outdoors.
Neil set up the ladder in the garage and checked under the eaves. Nothing. He searched our makeshift storage loft. Still nothing. I checked our big, birch tree. Nada.
“It sounds like an animal calling for help,” I said, afraid of sounding ridiculous.
“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Neil answered.
But what kind of animal, and where was it?
Searching for the source of the sound, Neil focused on a garage window he had boarded up years before. Where the window met the wall, there was a narrow gap. Could some little creature have fallen inside the partition? Neil held a mirror above the gap and shone a flashlight into the space between the plywood and the vinyl siding, while I squinted into the opening.
“It’s a chipmunk!” I yelled. “I can see its yellow fur and black stripes.” The chipmunk lay flat on its stomach about halfway down the partition. It was wedged in so tightly it couldn’t move. Neil grabbed a crowbar and pried out the plywood as much as he dared without ruining the siding. No good. The chipmunk remained trapped. “Maybe you could cut a hole,” I suggested.
Neil attached a hole cutting bit to his electric drill. As the drill whirred, I held my breath. Not only did Neil have to be careful not to damage the siding. If we had guessed wrong about where to drill, he might kill the helpless animal. The first hole proved too high up. Neil drilled a second hole closer to the floor.
And that did it! A little, pudgy-cheeked head popped out. Neil and I exchanged high fives as we watched the newly freed chipmunk jump out and scamper away.
Later, I searched online for noises chipmunks make and found that exact “Chuck, Chuck” sound on a National Geographic YouTube video. Scientists say it’s an alarm call used by chipmunks who fear being attacked by a raptor, like an owl, eagle, or hawk. But our chippie, at least, knew to use it when he faced trouble of another kind.
Aline Alexander Newman is a permanently certified teacher and the author of seven animal books for children, all published by National Geographic Kids. LUCKY LEOPARDS tells three true stories of amazing animal rescues. Included are a pair of clouded leopard kittens stolen from their mother, a stranded green sea turtle, and a loon tangled up in fishing line. Personalized copies of LUCKY LEOPARDS and Aline’s other books are available at www.alinealexandernewman.com, as is information on her in-person school visits, which excite kids and get them happily reading and writing.
Aline is also a member of Authors on Call. Bring her into your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Here’s where you can learn more about her and her programs.
writing science, history, and everything in between
Question: If your favorite snack was just out of reach, what would you do?
That’s what Preston Foerder, who studies animal behavior, asked Kandula, a male Asian elephant at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. Scientists have always thought that using a tool to solve a problem was a sign of higher intelligence. They also thought that only humans were tool users. But then Jane Goodall discovered chimps using sticks to fish termites out of a hole, and ravens were observed making hooks to nab a treat. People who’ve worked with elephants have long known that they are highly intelligent, but no one ever tested an elephant’s ability to use a tool to solve a problem.
To set up the experiment, Preston skewered Kandula’s favorite fruits on a branch and suspended it well out of trunk reach. Then he scattered potential tools such as long bamboo sticks and a heavy-duty plastic cube around the yard.
At first Kandula just stared at the fruit longingly. Occasionally he picked up a stick, but only played with it. On the seventh trial, Kandula got an idea. He rolled the cube several yards so it was beneath the fruit. He placed his two front feet on the cube, stretched his trunk as high as he could, and plucked the fruit off the branch. The next day, as soon as Preston suspended the fruit, Kandula was already shoving his cube into place. He seemed to enjoy his new tool. He used it to peek over walls, to check out birds in a nearby tree, and to eat blossoms off another tree that grew outside his yard.
Later, Kandula showed off by using a tractor tire and then a large ball as a stool. He even figured out that if he stacked one small block on top of another he might be able to reach higher fruit. Although he came up short (he needed to stack 3 blocks), he still showed that his brain was working out the problem.
So, congratulations! If you said you’d use a stool to reach your favorite snack, then you are as smart as an elephant.
Peggy Thomas is co-author of Anatomy of Nonfiction, the only writer’s guide to crafting true stories for children. She is currently working on a book about elephant intelligence. To learn more, visit her website.
Peggy Thomas is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Thomas, Peggy. “Are You as Smart as an Elephant?.” Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 17 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/are-you-as-smart-as-an-elephant?
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.
The Running Encyclopedia
Eighty-nine years ago today [11/18/1928], the world’s best-known rodent burst onto the national stage. Steamboat Willie, a seven-minute cartoon starring Mickey Mouse in the title role, launched the animated mouse on his road to global recognition.
By the 1920s, cartoons had become an important part of the movie business. In 1927, the fledgling Walt Disney studio created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald was a huge success. The company that distributed Oswald cartoons around the country repaid Disney by hiring nearly all his employees and offering him less money for future Oswald cartoons. Disney and his most important remaining employee—Ub Iwerks—secretly developed a new character—a mouse based on one of Disney’s former pets.
Originally the two men named him Mortimer. Disney’s wife Lilly didn’t like the name. At her suggestion, the new character became Mickey. He made his first appearances in the early summer of 1928 before test audiences. The viewers were underwhelmed. Nevertheless, Disney and Iwerks forged ahead. For Steamboat Willie, they added a soundtrack that was synchronized to the on-screen action—something that had never been done with cartoons.
It was a brilliant move. Sound films had debuted just the previous year, and moviegoers loved them. From its very first screening, Steamboat Willie was a huge hit.
It opens with Mickey piloting a river steamboat. Pete, the real captain, appears and kicks Mickey out of the wheelhouse. Mickey loads livestock during a brief stop, then helps Minnie Mouse board the boat after it has left the dock. The two of them play the song “Turkey in the Straw” using animals and objects strewn about the deck as musical instruments. The captain is angry at Mickey for wasting time and orders him to peel potatoes instead. A parrot makes fun of Mickey, who throws a potato at him and knocks him overboard. The cartoon ends with Mickey laughing at the sound of the parrot’s struggles in the water.
Disney and Iwerks worked feverishly to take advantage of Steamboat Willie’s success with a succession of additional Mickey Mouse cartoons. It became the nation’s most popular cartoon series. Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse were both on their way to becoming American icons.
Jim Whiting hasn't written a book about Walt Disney or Mickey Mouse--but he has written one about a pair of interesting entertainers named Gilbert and Sullivan. These two men wrote very very funny operettas, the most famous of which was the H.M.S Pinafore. Their work was so entertaining that in the late 19th century, it was greeted with the same excitement that we associate with a major rock concert or blockbuster movie today. To find out more, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Mouse That Roared." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ the-mouse-that-roared.
The "Julia Child" of kids' hands-on science.
Are your two nostrils exactly the same size? Don’t struggle to find out by looking in a small mirror. Put your nose right above the mirror and breathe down on it. You will see two circles of moisture as the warm moist air from your nose condenses into water when it hits the cool mirror surface. One circle will be a LOT larger than the other.
You might conclude that yes, one nostril is bigger than the other; that you will have to live with being lopsided. But wait! I mean wait an hour or so and do it again. Surprise! This time the small nostril is now the BIG one! The larger nostril is dominant and takes in more of the air. You can do scientific study of your nose and see just how long each nostril dominates. Perhaps if you check often enough, you’ll discover a time when the two circles will be about the same size. This will be the moment of the changing of the nostrils. Of course, you have to do this study when you don’t have a stuffy nose.
What’s behind this? It seems that your nostrils are on an automatic timer from your brain so that they take turns being dominant. It’s very interesting. But I’m not sure if it is important.
Not many people know about this. But your dentist might. A dentist is always looking at peoples’ nostrils. See if your dentist knows about this. He or she might even know why this happens. This just might be a medical mystery worth investigating. And you might be just the one to do it.
Vicki Cobb ‘s “Discover Your Senses” series of books are available through the iTunes store. She begins by asking: “Know how to stop smelling? Hold your nose.” Also, check your library for copies. I mean wait an hour or so and do it again.
Vicki 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
Cobb, Vicki. "The Mystery of the Alternating Nostrils." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 21 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-mystery-of-the-alternating-nostrils.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council