Alligators are one of the world’s most feared predators. With rows of dagger-sharp teeth, a muscled reptilian body, a dinosaur face and eyes, alligators frighten yet fascinate people. Scientists are working hard to understand this modern-day reptile.
Dr. Daphne Soares, biology professor at the University of Maryland, was intrigued by the hunting ability of the alligator. She knew alligators have keen eyesight and excellent hearing but there was something else that made them such efficient predators, the king of the swamp. Careful focus on the dark bumps all over the animal’s upper and lower jaws led her to conclude that these bumps “were very sensitive tactile organs that can detect ripples in the water.” The ability to feel waves or ripples is one of the many features that makes the alligator an excellent predator. Once the alligator detects ripples, it swims swiftly and silently in the direction of the prey.
Alligators are carnivores. They seize and hold their prey with sharp teeth. Small quarry, such as fish and ducks, are swallowed hold. Larger victims are shaken apart into smaller, bite size pieces. Gators have between 74 and 80 teeth in the jaws at a time. When their teeth get worn down, they are replaced with new ones. Imagine that! No need for a dentist. Alligators can go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.
Alligators are a rare success story of an endangered species saved from the brink of extinction. As late as 1950s, alligators were hunted for meat and hide. They were placed on the Endangered Species list in 1967, and now thrive in the freshwater swamps and wetlands of the southeastern United States.
A smiling American Alligator displaying the bumps around its upper and lower jaws.
Steve wrote, Sea Turtle Scientist after spending time with Dr. Kimberly Stewart, “the turtle lady,” and describes her work on St. Kitts with endangered loggerhead sea turtles.
Steve 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. "Alligator Smiles." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 29 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/alligator-smiles.
Bites of Passage
Celebrating the History of Science and the
Science behind History
The insect pictured is called Paraponera clavata, commonly known as a bullet ant. It can grow to be about an inch long.
They’re among the world’s most venomous insects, and are supposed to deliver the most painful sting of any insect, according to J.O. Schmidt. He’s an entomologist who’s been stung by pretty much every hymenopteran possible and who developed a pain scale rating that lists the relative pain caused by insects. His ratings go from 0, where the sting is as mild as the little zap you might feel while walking across a carpet in your socks, up to 4, where you might as well just lie down and scream. Bullet ants get a 4+. When he later revised his index, he described bullet ant stings as “pure, intense, brilliant pain, like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail in your heel.”
But wait, it gets worse.
The ants have abdominal stridulatory organs—that means they can shriek at you when threatened, which alerts the rest of the group to come boiling up out of the nest to help impale you.
There’s a tribe of people in Brazil, deep in the Amazon forest, the Sateré-Mawé, who use bullet ants as an initiation rite to manhood. Boys have to slip on gloves that resemble oven mitts. Live bullet ants are woven into these gloves, with the stingers pointing toward the wearer’s hands. The boys have to keep the gloves on for ten minutes. Evidently paralysis of the arms sets in rather quickly, so it’s after the gloves come off that the real pain and convulsions begin—and they last at least 24 hours.
Did I mention these ants also shriek?
Did you know that bugs played a role in history? Sarah’s book Bugged: How Insects Changed History tells the story.
MLA 8 Citation
Albee, Sarah. "Bites of Passage." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Apr.
Tecumseh, the "Shooting Star"
On a night in 1768, a meteor streaked across the skies over a Shawnee village in western Ohio so Chief Puckshinwau named his new little son Tecumseh or “Shooting Star.” He hoped his boy would grow up as he had, farming and hunting along with the other Native tribes in the wild Ohio River Valley. But how troubling it was, those white people from the east, who kept arriving, always wanting more of the beautiful land! Tecumseh was six when one of them killed his father in 1774, the year before the Revolutionary War began.
Throughout the war, British, American, and Native warriors attacked one another in the vast frontier that lay west of the white folks’ towns. At age 12, Tecumseh saw white soldiers burn his village and his people’s crops. After the Americans won their independence, in 1783, they were even more determined to win the West and settle there. To Tecumseh, the Native peoples were up against an all-out invasion! As a young chief, he led fierce raids on white settlements, earning a reputation as a brilliant commander. As a charismatic leader, he traveled up to Canada and down to the Gulf of Mexico, urging the tribes to UNITE, fight, and sign no treaties at the cost of losing their land.
“Let us form one body, one heart,” Tecumseh cried, “and defend to the last warrior our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers.”
As Tecumseh’s message spread among the tribes, along with word of his younger brother’s strong spiritual visions, a religious, political movement surged through Native America. Warriors gathered at the brothers’ settlement by Indiana’s Tippecanoe River. And then, when Tecumseh was away, in November 1811, U.S. soldiers surrounded it. They defeated the Indians in the fateful “Battle of Tippecanoe.”
Tecumseh did not give up. He and warriors from 32 tribes fought on. The British weren’t grabbing tribal lands so the Natives sided with them against the United States in the War of 1812. Valiant Tecumseh led armies and flotillas of canoes against U.S. forces up until an enemy bullet ended his life on October 5, 1813. It marked the end of Tecumseh’s alliance, but the legendary Shooting Star still burns brightly in the skies of memory.
Daniel Boone's story is every young adventurer's fantasy: A childhood in Pennsylvania spent hunting on lands shared with Native Americans; a coming-of-age fighting in the French and Indian War; and the fulfillment of a life's dream with the blazing of the Wilderness Road across the Appalachian Mountains and the settling of Boonesborough in Kentucky. Add to this the rescue of his daughter from Shawnee warriors, and readers are quickly in the thick of another irresistible Cheryl Harness History. For more information on The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Tecumseh, the 'Shooting Star.'" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 7 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Picture this: It’s cold gray October 1918 in France, in the Argonne Forest. World War I has been going on for four hideous, deadly years. You and about 500 of your fellow Americans are smack in the middle of a MASSIVE battle. You’re running out of food and ammo. Shells are EXPLODING all around you and some of them are American! Those guys don’t know where you and your buddies are, trapped in a hillside valley, surrounded by enemy Germans!
How can Major Charles Whittlesey, the commander of this lost battalion, let those other Americans know where his unit is? They’re cut off from the telegraph wires; so what, wave a flag? That’ll just draw more enemy fire! The messengers he’d sent had been shot or captured. How about homing pigeons? In this awful war, more than a 100,000 of them were used to carry battlefield messages. The major had sent all but one of his pigeons only to see them shot out of the sky. Finally, the desperate officer calls for his last one, named Cher Ami, the French words for Dear Friend.
Major Whittlesey scribbles out a message: “We are along the road parallel to 276.4.Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.” He rolls the scrap of paper, stuffs it into the tiny silver canister attached to Cher Ami’s leg, and sends him up and away. This pigeon has flown 11 successful missions— will he make it now? He must!
The Germans fire.
Cher Ami falls! He’s hit!
But he beats and flaps his wings, gains altitude, and flies 25 miles. Despite being blinded in one eye and shot in his bloodied breast, Cher Ami delivers the critical message, still attached to his leg, dangling by a bloody tendon. And 194 American soldiers are saved by their brave dear, feathered friend. For his heroic service, Cher Ami was awarded France’s highest medal, le Croix de Guerre (the Cross of War).
In the months after the war ended, on November 11, 1918, ocean liners carried Cher Ami and many thousands of other veterans to America. He continued to be treated, but in the end, his injuries were too serious. Cher Ami died on June 13, 1919.
Back in the USA, Major Charles Whittlesey gave speeches about the war. He said nothing about any sorrow or awful memories, so no one knows just why he jumped off a ship to his death in the sea, late one night in November 1921. But the memory of soldiers’ heroism and of one bird’s stubborn courage will never die.
Cheryl's Latest book is Flags Over America. Click here to find out more about the book or click here to find out more about the author.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Dear Friend." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 01 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/dear-friend.
Monarchs of the West
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
You may know that monarch butterfly populations east of the Rocky Mountains fly to sites in Mexico for the winter. But monarchs live in the west, too, and most of them overwinter in central and southern California.
One of the largest western overwintering sites is California’s Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove. From late October through February, visitors can watch monarch butterflies clinging to the leaves and branches of giant eucalyptus trees. The butterflies are in hibernation, feeding little if at all and with their internal systems slowed down. The warmth of the sun wakes them partially, and some flutter from one spot to another. When storms threaten, the monarchs cluster on branches inside the grove where the trees help break up the heavy rain and the power of high winds.
Some may have left Canada in early September, arriving at the grove in October. They may have traveled 2,000 miles at a rate of 100 miles a day, flying as high as 10,000 feet above sea level. But it’s worth the journey. In this grove are conditions that suit them well—relative warmth, humidity, light and shade, and moderate temperatures as well as protection from stormy weather.
As weather warms and days grow longer, the winter monarchs will mate, then begin the journey northward. But these individuals don’t make it back home. The females lay their eggs on milkweed plants, then die. The eggs hatch into tiny caterpillars that grow so fast on their leafy diet that, as one website states, it’s like a human baby growing to the size of an adult gray whale in two weeks! The caterpillar pupates and emerges later as a new butterfly which mates and travels further north. This process continues for four or five generations, until summer fades with shortening days. Then the next generation of winter monarchs hatches, repeating the cycle. How does the information for this amazing cycle pass through the generations? No one knows.
Unfortunately, the western population of monarchs has declined drastically in recent years. Luckily, wherever you live, you can do things to help monarchs survive and thrive. Visit this site for more information.
The butterflies don't always stay in one place but flutter around now and then as you can see in this video.
Dorothy's new book has had rave reviews including one by Vicki Cobb. She went to Tasmania and saw what was happening. Now you can read the story.
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
African American History
Anderson Marian 1897-1993
April Fool's Day
Brill Marlene Targ
Carson Mary Kay
Cartoons & Comics
Carving (Decorative Arts)
Cinco De Mayo
Civil Rights Movements
Civil War - US
Clocks And Watches
COBOL (Computer Language)
Code And Cipher Stories
Collard III Sneed B.
Collectors And Collecting
Congressional Gold Medal
Declaration Of Independence
De Medici Catherine
Douglass Frederick 1818-1895
Edison Thomas A
Forensic Science And Medicine
Hollihan Kerrie Logan
Hot Air Balloons
Lafayette Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier Marquis De 17571834
Lewis And Clark Expedition (1804-1806)
Louis XIV King Of France
Oaths Of Office
Patent Dorothy Hinshaw
Schwartz David M
Swinburne Stephen R.
Thompson Laurie Ann
Trung Sisters Rebellion
Us History Revolution
Weatherford Carole Boston
Woman In History
Women Airforce Service Pilots
Women In History
World War Ii
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