The Running Encyclopedia
When he was a young man in his mid-twenties, future Roman leader Julius Caesar was voyaging across the Mediterranean Sea. Pirates swarmed over his ship. They took him to their base on tiny Farmakonisi Island, which lies off the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and held him for ransom.
When he learned how much the pirates were demanding for his release, Caesar laughed. Do you have any idea who I am, he asked. I belong to one of Rome’s most important families. So you can get more money for me—a lot more—almost three times as much. The astonished pirates were only too happy to oblige him.
Keeping a friend and two servants with him on Farmakonisi, Caesar ordered the rest of his traveling party to go to Asia Minor and raise his ransom. While they were doing that, Caesar acted as if he were the ruler of the tiny island, rather than a captive cowering in fright. He ordered the pirates to attend lectures and poetry readings he gave, and prodded those who nodded off as he droned on and on and on. When he wanted to sleep, he ordered the pirates to either speak in whispers or go to another part of the island. He even played games with them. He also told them that when he was released, I promise I will hunt you down and execute you. In the spirit of bonhomie he engendered, the pirates apparently thought he was joking.
He wasn’t. Though outwardly he was friendly with the pirates, he seethed inwardly at the humiliation of being taken prisoner. After the ransom was paid, Caesar sailed to a nearby port. He raised a fleet of ships and scores of armed men. He returned to Farmakonisi, captured the pirates, and reclaimed the ransom money. He threw his former captors into prison. They didn’t stay there long. Caesar crucified them. He did show some mercy. Since crucifixion was a long, lingering death, he cut their throats so they died instantly.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "A Man of His Word." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Mar.
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/
Wildlife Truth Teller
One warm, August day in 2020, Mark Eddy, of Old Forge, New York, spotted two wild turkeys in his backyard. Hmm, thought Eddy. Whitetail deer wander all around this Adirondack village. But turkeys? They're rare. Still, this pair of gobblers began showing up almost every day, twice a day.
In September, one turkey disappeared. Then the snow came. Aware that many turkeys perish in the harsh, Adirondack winters, Eddy decided to feed his remaining feathered friend. First, he learned to make two turkey sounds with his mouth--a rolling "brrrp" sound called a purr that he uses to calm the turkey and a "chip, chip" noise to call him to supper. It worked. "If I see him roosting in a tree in the morning and call him, he'll come down," Eddy says. "If he's across the street, he'll run over."
Commercial bird seed mix. Sunflower seeds. Cracked corn. Even live mealworms. The turkey loves them all. But talk about picky. "I put dried mealworms in his food once," says Eddy. "He focused one eye on them, looked sideways suspicious like, and walked away!"
The big bird trotted all over town, peering into movie theater doors, storefronts, and the school. He often turned up in the school's bus circle at dismissal time, amusing the kids. As his celebrity grew, one woman purchased a turkey costume that she parades around in for laughs.
Many people enjoy having a town turkey, but some don't. Perhaps they fear he'll scratch the paint on their cars when he perches on them. Or maybe they dislike him wandering into the road and stopping traffic, sometimes in both directions.
Now that spring is here, the turkey doesn't come around as much. When he does appear, he's likely to be strutting about fanning his tail. Female turkeys (hens) occasionally do that, but it's usually done by male birds (Toms) hoping to attract a female.
Which begs another question. Is the town turkey male or female? Some fans nicknamed it Henrietta Thomasina, in an attempt to cover both bases. However, Eddy now believes the turkey is a young male (jake). Why? "When he's excited or acting aggressive, his head turns bright blue," Eddy says. Only males do that. Not yet old enough to grow a beard from his chest, this young jake is old enough to find a mate. Once he does, the town turkey won't be alone anymore.
Aline Alexander Newman is a lifelong animal lover who has written more than 50 magazine stories about animals from cats and dogs to tortoises and whales. Her love of orangutans is reflected in her popular book, Ape Escapes! and More True Stories of Animals Behaving Badly (National Geographic Kids Chapters).
The Master Chef of Kids’ Hands-on Science
How does a virus cause a disease? A virus is not a complete living thing. It is like a free-floating nucleus of cell. It doesn’t “grow” but under certain conditions it can make a copy of itself or reproduce. It invades the cells of other living things to use the internal structure of the host cells to reproduce. At a certain point, the number of new viruses in a cell is so large that the cell ruptures and dies, spilling out newly made viruses to continue the invasion to other uninfected cells.
One virus we understand very well is chicken pox. Chicken pox is a very contagious disease that enters the body through the air and affects mostly children. When I was young almost every kid got chicken pox but, since 1995, there has been a vaccine, which makes you immune and protects the spread of the disease to others. Is there another way to explain how this virus works? Suppose I imagine a virus could think, which it can’t. But, imagination gives me the freedom to think differently.
So I wrote a poem about an army of chicken pox viruses as they are about to attack a human being, maybe you, my reader. A “battle hymm” is a chant or a song to rally the troups just before an attack.
The Battle Hymn of the Chicken Pox Troopers
Charge forward, fellow viruses!
Invade a cell or two
Then let us join together
And make a chicken pox on you.
Let cells try to fight us
No matter what they do
Red spots of our graffiti
Make a chicken pox on you
We make the top skin separate
And fill the space with goo,
Small, itchy blisters are a stage
Of chicken pox on you.
And when the blisters break, my friend
You think perhaps we’re through
But no. Now there is a scab
For each chicken pox on you
Scratch a scab so it comes off
Baring skin that’s raw and new,
A scar forever marks the spot
Of that chicken pox on you.
To the battle, fellow viruses!
We’re more noteworthy than flu
They just make you feel sick
We make our chicken pox on you!
Meet your personal superheroes - your body's cells Superhero cells rally together to battle common childhood ailments in this series in which Vicki Cobb explains how your amazing human body heals itself and fights off intruders. Here's her book on yet another virus: Your Body Battles a Cold.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
Have you heard about the “butterfly effect,” the idea that one small change can bring about big changes over time? This idea is important in the study of ecology, which deals with the interactions of living things and their environments. Each element of an ecosystem has its place. When one element is eliminated, it affects everything else.
The Yellowstone ecosystem centered in Yellowstone National Park provides a great example. Late in the 20th century, biologists were worried about the aspen trees there. Aspens occur in clusters that are actually clones growing up from shared root systems. Some of the Yellowstone clones were hundreds of years old, but the old, dying trees weren’t being replaced by strong young shoots. It looked like they might just die out, and no one was sure why.
When a severe drought in 1988 led to big wildfires in the park, the idea that fire might stimulate aspen growth proved wrong. Perhaps the elimination of wolves from the region in the early 20th century was to blame. Wolves? New trees? How could that be? Without wolves, the behavior of the Yellowstone elk had changed. No predators. No worry. So the elk became lazy, acting like cows, lying around in shaded areas along the rivers and creeks, munching contentedly on the juicy fresh growth of the willows and aspens.
In 1995, after much political battling, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone. The wolf population grew and the elk learned to be on the alert. As the wolves’ favorite food, the elk had to change their behavior to survive—no more relaxing by a stream where wolves could easy sneak up and make a meal of them! They had to move around and spend more time in open places where watching for hungry wolves was far easier.
The wolves are changing the Yellowstone landscape in positive ways. The aspens and willows are coming back. Beavers, which had almost disappeared from some parts of the park, are returning. These rodents feed on aspens and willows and use them to build their dams and lodges. Beaver dams create ponds, and the ponds provide homes for hundreds of species of plants and animals, from algae and water striders to ducks and muskrats. The willows and aspen trees around the pond are nesting sites for songbirds and homes for insects and spiders, all thanks to the wolf.
Welcome back, wolves!
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent's book, When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone, is an IRA/CBC Teachers' Choices book, an ALA Notable Children's Book, A Book Sense Pick, and an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children, as well as receiving the Orbis Pictus Honor Book Award. Booklist calls it "A great choice for elementary units about science and environmental protection," and Kirkus gave it a starred review. Click here to read the reviews.
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. "Everything Is Connected: The Butterfly Effect and the
Wolf." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Mar. 2018,
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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