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.
Are skunks aggressive, dangerous animals? Or are they peaceful animals that try to avoid trouble? Well, biologists who study skunks think of them this way: if life were a sport, skunks would be known for their strong defense and for playing fair.
Skunk stinkiness comes from a chemical weapon called musk. Foxes, weasels, and some other mammals also produce musk, but skunk musk is especially strong and long-lasting. And only skunks use musk to defend themselves from attack.
Picture a skunk ambling along in the night, looking for food. It digs in the soil to get tasty earthworms and beetle grubs. The black and white fur that comes with just being a skunk sends a warning. This color pattern is unusual among mammals. It signals: "Beware, don't mess with me!"
Suppose a coyote or other predator ignores this first warning. It steps toward the skunk. When a skunk feels threatened, it faces the danger. It raises its tail and tries to look as big as possible. It stamps its feet and clicks its teeth together. It may growl or hiss.
Oh, oh! Despite all of these warnings, the coyote growls and comes closer. Now the skunk gets really serious. It twists its body into a U-shape, so it can see the coyote and also aim its rear end toward it. The skunk's tail arches over its back, away from its rear—the final warning. This gives the skunk a clear shot, and also protects its own fur from the stinky musk. Skunks try to avoid smelling bad!
From two grape-sized glands, a skunk can spray musk as a fine mist, or squirt a stream. It can squirt accurately for about 12 feet (3.7m), and hit an attacking animal right in the face. The musk stings the predator's eyes, and can blur its vision for a while. And it stinks! Animals hit with this musk learn to never bother a skunk again.
A skunk's glands store enough musk to fire a half dozen shots but then need a week or so to produce more. This is seldom a problem, since a skunk sprays only when its life seems to be in danger. Some skunks can go for months or even years without spraying musk. That's fine with them. Skunks want to avoid trouble, and "play fair" with their many warnings.
A skunks’s stripes point to where the spray comes out. A 2011 study found that animal species that choose fight over flight when faced with a predator often have markings that draw attention to their best weapon. So while a badger has stripes on his face to highlight his sharp teeth, skunks’ stripes are perfectly positioned to highlight their ability to spray potential threats. By http://www.birdphotos.com via Wikimedia Commons
Skunks are so nice that some people want to keep them as pets. The striped skunk is the most social skunk and the one most commonly domesticated. The legality of keeping skunks as pets in the US varies by state, with it being illegal in a majority of them. By Matt MacGillivray via Wikimedia Commons
Larry Pringle has written many animal books, among them The Secret Life of the Red Fox. His The Secret Life of the Skunk was published by Boyds Mills Press in 2019. It is about spring and summer in the lives of a mother striped skunk and her kits.
ML 8 Citation
Pringle, Laurence. "How Skunks Play Fair." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/how-skinks-play-fair.
The Explainer General
In 1961 the United States was losing the Space Race with the USSR. Our best rockets were blowing up on the launch pads.
But on January 31, 1961, we were ready to send our first astronaut into space on a long, high arc. He was only three feet tall. His name was Number 65. (If the rocket blew up, a “named” animal would sound bad in the news . . ) When asked by radio, 65 would press sequences of buttons on the flight control panel, then receive a banana pellet reward.
The blast off from Cape Canaveral (now Cape Kennedy) wasn’t perfect. The Redstone rocket didn’t blow up, but the launch damaged the passenger pod’s hull. Also, the controls didn’t shut off on time and pushed the rocket much higher, much faster than planned. Ham traveled at 5,800 miles an hour, and reached a then-record high of 155 miles! This put his reentry landing far beyond the U.S. Navy ships sent to retrieve him. The pod splashed into the ocean, but water poured into the damaged pod. 65 was sinking! Two hours later a helicopter picked up the passenger pod just in time.
65 was a hero, so he was given a proper name: Ham. He appeared on the cover of magazines and newspapers as our first man—er, chimp— in space!
In only a few months human astronauts followed Ham’s lead. Alan Shepard and John Glenn rocketed into space and Ham was forgotten. He was given to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, where he lived for 17 years, alone. He was trained as an astronaut and didn’t get along with jungle animals. His keepers noticed that he often lay on his back and punched in imaginary button sequences, as if he were still flying the capsule. The old chimponaut became lonely and depressed.
Ham was sent to a special “show animal” camp where he could reconnect with his wild brothers and sisters. He was taken to Andrews Air Force Base for the trip. As he was walked across the concrete something wonderful happened. He passed between two lines of Air National Guard pilots, saluting Ham. Ham the brave Chimponaut finally got his honor parade.
Ham lived 3 happy years at the camp and died peacefully in 1983. You can see a plaque for Ham at the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico. It says:
He proved that mankind could live and work in space.
Adkins new book is about the first drive in an automobile. The wife of the inventor took her kids to see their grandparents.
ML 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "Chimponaut: A Hero Forgotten and Remembered." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 9 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/chimponaut:-a-hero-forgotten-and-remembered.
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.
Weaving Tales from the Web of Life
Today is World Migratory Bird Day—a holiday designed to celebrate the many birds that travel our globe. Why do birds migrate? Why don’t they just stay in the same place all year long? There are many reasons…warmer weather, better nesting sites, and more plentiful food are just a few.
Some birds travel very short distances. One example is North America's dusky grouse. This bird spends its winter in mountainous pine forests. In the spring, it “migrates” a mere 1,000 feet in elevation to deciduous woodlands. Here it feeds on seeds and fresh leaves.
And then there are birds that travel very long distances. One world traveler is the Arctic tern. This bird migrates an astonishing 44,000 miles annually from the Arctic to Antarctica and back again. And finally there are birds that travel distances in between those two extremes, like the turtle dove. This bird migrates about 8,000 miles a year.
You might wonder how scientists know where birds go, and how they get such accurate data about the birds’ migrations. They do this by tracking birds using satellite telemetry. Birds are fitted with small satellite tags. These tags transmit information about their journeys to scientists via orbiting satellites. You can sometimes see these satellites on dark nights. They look like tiny stars moving very slowly across the sky.
An environmental organization called the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) fitted a turtle dove named Titan with a satellite tag. Titan’s tag had a tiny satellite transmitter, a battery, and a solar panel to keep the battery charged.
Using this technology, scientists were able to track three of Titan’s migrations. The first was in the fall. Titan flew from a nesting site in Suffolk, England down to his wintering site in Mali, in West Africa. The second was in the spring when Titan migrated back to Suffolk, England, to the very site where he was originally found! The third was in the fall when he migrated back to Mali again. After that trip, the scientists lost track of Titan.
Let’s celebrate World Migratory Bird Day by learning more about migratory birds and what we can do to help protect them. Click here to view some actual turtle dove migrations.
Madeleine Dunphy has written a book based on the migration of a real turtle dove that traveled 4,000 miles from England to Mali, in West Africa. To find out more about The Turtle Dove’s Journey: A Story of Migration click here.
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