Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
Do your feet sometimes smell rotten? Do you wish you could toss out your shoes and start with a new pair? We make jokes about smelly feet, but smell and feet have a very different relationship among some insects.
Take butterflies. Have you ever watched a butterfly flit over a plant, gently touch its feet to a leaf, and then fly on to the next leaf? That butterfly isn’t being picky about where to land. It’s hunting for the right kind of leaf for laying its eggs. It’s “smelling” the leaf with its feet!
Actually, we need to qualify that statement a bit. Some writers will say the insect is “smelling” the leaf while others may write that it’s “tasting” the leaf. Smelling and tasting are forms of “chemoreception,” or sensing of chemicals. Smell usually refers to sensing from a distance while tasting generally means actually touching the nerve cells that sense a chemical.
We humans have cells in our noses that send messages to our brains about chemicals in the air. We call that our sense of smell. We have cells on our tongues that sense chemicals dissolved in liquid in our mouths. That’s taste.
That butterfly doesn’t have a nose, and its mouth is a long tube for sucking up nectar from flowers. Its chemoreceptors are elsewhere, like on its feet, around its mouth, and on its antennae. Most butterflies lay their eggs on the plants that the hatched caterpillars will eat. Some species are very specific about what plants their young can feed on. Take the postman butterfly, which lives in Central and South America. Its caterpillars can only survive on certain species of passionflower vines. Other species are poisonous to their offspring.
The female postman butterfly has dozens of special nerve cells on her feet called “gustatory sensilla.” Scientists think that when she touches gently down on a leaf, these cells can sense chemicals there that would be poisonous to her caterpillars. She avoids laying eggs on those leaves. But when she finds a plant that will nourish her young, she’ll alight and lay her eggs.
Now take your shoes off and move your feet around on the floor. The only nerve endings on your feet are ones that sense touch. But then, you don’t need to be able to smell the ground you walk on. Imagine how gross it would be if your feet could smell the insides of your socks and shoes—yuck!
A dog’s nose is 300 times more powerful than a human nose, so it’s no wonder that dogs use their incredibly advanced sense of smell to do some very important jobs. In Super Sniffers, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent explores the various ways specific dogs have put their super sniffing ability to use: from bedbug sniffers to explosive detectors to life-saving allergy detectors . . . and more. This dynamic photo-essay includes first-hand accounts from the people who work closely with these amazing dogs. For more information, click here.
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. "Smelling Feet or Smelly Feet?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 23 Jan. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
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
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