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.
Curiosity queen; writing science, history,
and everything in between
Writing a recipe is harder than it looks. I found this out when a children’s magazine editor asked me to add a recipe to my article about eating insects.
First, I thumbed through my recipe file mentally substituting bugs for a vital ingredient. Mushrooms stuffed with millipedes was out. (Most kids don’t like mushrooms.) I nixed beetle sausage, also. (Too much chopping and frying in a hot skillet.) Flipping to desserts, I chose toffee. I could substitute bugs for nuts.
After my trip to the grocery store for butter, sugar and chocolate chips, I visited the pet shop, and asked for a cup of mealworms, which are fly larvae (also known as maggots, but that’s not very appetizing). The man handed me a little carton that looked like a Skippy cup of ice cream. I wrote that down because I would need to pass that information on to readers who, like me, had no clue how to purchase creepy-crawlies.
With all the ingredients on the counter I recorded each step:
After that, I was on familiar ground blending butter and sugar, and sprinkling chocolate chips.
I called my concoction Toffee Surprise, and taste-tested it in a large group setting where peer pressure encouraged full participation -- my mother’s birthday party! The verdict: The toffee was yummy, crunchy, and sweet with a subtle earthy aftertaste.
Although I don’t plan on cooking more edible vermin, I did learn some important rules for writing a recipe: Choose a food that is reader-friendly; be aware of your readers’ abilities and safety issues; record every step in order; pay attention to even the smallest details; and prepare it yourself so you can work out the bugs (no pun intended).
Peggy Thomas is the co-author of Anatomy of Nonfiction, the only writer's guide for children's nonfiction. To find out more about Peggy, visit her website. She also has a blog for writers, based on the book.
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. “How to Take an Elephant’s Temperature.” Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 7 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/baking-with-bugs;-how-to-write-a-recipe.
Have you ever heard the proverbial saying, “every cloud has a silver lining”? Well, this was certainly the case for the accidental paleontologist, Mary Anning.
Mary Anning was born May 21,1799 to a working-class family living on the southern coast of England. Life was tough for the Annings. Short of food and creature comforts, they also suffered through frequent storms so severe they sometimes had to climb out the second-floor windows of their home to escape flooding.
The Annings weren’t the only things displaced by the angry sea. Over the centuries, rain and wind had washed away layers of earth on the cliffs near their home, exposing petrified bones as well as animal skeletons imprinted in stone. At just 12 years old, Mary found a four-foot skull. Within months, she’d uncovered the entire creature. It turned out to be the fossilized remains of an Ichthyosaur and when a London collector bought it for 23 pounds (more than $2K today!), she was hooked.
Mary even prospected for fossils in winter, when storms raged. It was dangerous work. She narrowly missed being crushed by landslides many times. (Sadly, her trusty terrier Tray was not so lucky.) She found fossils of ammonite and belemnite, which she sold to summer tourists, possibly inspiring the tongue twister, “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”
But it was Mary’s keen eye for the unique and remarkable that caused her reputation to grow. She constructed the first complete Plesiosaurus as well as a flying reptile called Pterosaur. Despite her limited education, she kept up with all the scientific journals and often wrote to them, challenging findings she did not agree with. Famous archaeologists and paleontologists from Britain and Europe flocked to her Dorset doorstep. But being a woman and working class, Mary never gained acceptance within the all-male, upper-class scientific circles of her day.
Though she did not receive the recognition due her in life, Mary Anning is regarded today as one of the most influential women in the history of science. Her contributions to the field of paleontology remain unsurpassed.
It is said that every cloud brings a silver lining. And, indeed, the wind and rain brought fortune and fame to this accidental female scientist and fossil hunter of the Victorian era.
This YouTube will share some of the interesting information Mary Anning was able to learn by the study of dinosaur poop!
Sarah Towle is an award-winning digital storyteller of immersive tales for educational tourism. With her latest project for secondary school students—the History Hero BLAST—she puts the Story back in History, bringing a fictional flair to factual tales of inspirational figures from around the world and throughout time. A blog and future podcast, the HHBLAST welcomes the participation of published and aspiring authors, including young writers. Click here to find out more about how to bring the HHBLAST—and Sarah—to your school!
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.
Have you ever wanted to tell your life's story? It's not as easy as you think. Here are some tips that can make it easier.
First, realize that you can't tell your whole story. Not only will you bore your readers, you'll probably give up before you write a quarter of it. Instead, choose a theme—something that's been important to you and that interests you about your life. Here are a few examples:
* The story of you and your favorite hobby.
* Your experiences with your favorite—or least favorite—pet.
* Fun times you've had with your dad, mom, or best friend.
* The three scariest things you ever did.
* Your best/worst school year.
In my memoir, Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts—Journeys of a Biologist's Son, I decided to focus mostly on my relationship and adventures with my dad. Narrowing down my story not only led to a better story, it made the writing process much less overwhelming. This kind of "slice" of a life is called a memoir. In contrast, when someone tries to tell their complete story, it's called an autobiography. Usually, the only people who write autobiographies have invented electricity or landed on the moon—or they are running for president!
A second tip for telling your story is to pick out certain characters and let the reader get to know them. When writing my memoir, I could have said a little bit about a lot of different people in my life. Instead, I chose just a few and tried to tell more about them. This lets readers get to know the people in your story—and care about your story more.
One last tip is to leave out the boring stuff. When you start writing, it's tempting to include every detail. Instead, start your story where it really gets interesting. For instance, don't begin with, "On my first day of school, I walked to class." Instead, you might start with, "When I looked in the cage, I realized that our twelve-foot long boa constrictor had escaped!" Just because it's your story doesn't mean it shouldn't have a good plot and plenty of action. Focus on topics you'd like to read about—even if you didn't know you!
After reading these tips, you might be asking yourself, "Can I write more than one memoir?" The answer: absolutely! So dig in, have fun, and tell your story. You, your friends, and family will be glad you did.
To help your story be more interesting, focus on one thing. For my memoir, I focused on my relationship and adventures with my dad. Here, he is graduating with his doctorate degree from U.C. Santa Barbara
Both my dad and I loved reptiles, so I told a lot of stories about them in my memoir.
During the long summers with my dad, I often hung out at his laboratory. One summer I helped him build this giant plankton net that he used to sample animals in the Gulf of Mexico.
My dog, Puppy, helped get me through the difficulty of my parents’ divorce, so Puppy became a primary character in my book. Man, I wish I still had that shirt!
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.
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