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Sunday, March 19, 2017

RESEARCH GREAT LEOPARD SEARCH


I'm often asked  how I do the research for my books. So let me walk you through the research that led to THE GREAT LEOPARD RESCUE.

First, I have to tell you I LOVE what a detective job this is. You see, for me, it's all about tracking down and interviewing the key suspects--I mean people whose experiences or scientific studies are critical to the story. 

First, a news story caught my attention. Basically, it reported that there are only about 50 Amur leopards still living wild and free. I thought--OMG--that's like two classrooms of school kids--PERIOD! 



And, the story reported that because of this extremely small wild population, there was an effort underway to start a new wild population in Russia where these cats live. It would be a way to make sure, if anything happened to the existing population, there would still be wild Amur leopards.



That launched me into doing a lot of reading about Amur leopards: news stories on-line, scientific journals, pretty much anything I could find to dip my toe into the information sea to figure out what I didn't know. 

I'm sure that sounds crazy but I go into a book with just the seed of an idea. Then by beginning to dig into the topic I start to figure out what I don't know about it so I can map out what I need to find out. That's how I get to the heart of the story in order to share it. I feel like when I write I'm reading the book aloud to my reader--the two of us are brain-to-brain sharing the journey of the story. And that story primarily grows out of my interviewing a lot of different people each of whom contribute a piece of the puzzle that is the story.



The first interview for THE GREAT LEOPARD RESCUE was with Barbara Meyer in October 17, 2014. I'd discovered the Colchester Zoo in the UK had Amur leopards. When I talked to the zoo's public relation's person, she told me about Barbara, a photographer who had spent years at the zoo with special access to these big cats photographing them. Barbara offered my first "close-up" insights into the behavior of Amur leopards. 



And that led me to be sure of three things: 
1) these were amazing cats who deserved to exist wild and free.

2) I needed to talk to researchers who knew wild Amur leopards. I mean people who had actually spent time with them in the wild. They were the only ones who  could tell me about the Amur leopards roaming their native habitat in far northeastern Russia.

3) I wanted to know all the details of the plan to start a new wild Amur leopard population in Russia. 
CAN YOU SPOT THE LEOPARD?




Next up was an interview with Dale Miquelle who lives in Russia. 




No I didn't go there for real, although I would have loved this opportunity. But more and more mentally I travelled into Russia as I dug into the research for this book. And I did side research to learn about the trees, climate, terrain, seasons of the Amur leopard's home habitat. 

Back to Dale Miquelle--he first went to Russia in 1992 with the Hornocker Wildlife Institute to study Amur tigers (also called Siberian tigers). He moved on to a project on Amur leopards in 1994. Then he stayed and became director of the Russian Wildlife Society. In fact, he settled and married and made his home in Russia. As we talked, he flowed in and out of speaking English to me and Russian to others in his office. 

Dale was a wealth of information about Amur leopards, the Land of the Leopard (a national park created to protect the remaining leopard population), the Lazovsky Nature Reserve (site chosen for the introduced population), the politics of protecting wildlife in Russia, and he became my first gatekeeper.  By that I mean my research journey always really gets going when someone says to me, "You also need to talk to... And here's their contact information." 

I always finish my interviews by asking my key experts, like Dale, if they'll be an expert reader for my book to check what I'm sharing is absolutely accurate. I also ask if they have any photos to help bring the story to life. And I ask if can I contact them again, if I have more questions. Of course, as I go deeper into my research I always have more questions.

One of the people Dale connected me to was Darron Collins. He had worked with the World Wildlife Fund for a decade focusing on the Amur leopards. He was very tuned in and involved in the effort to found this new wild population. And he brought the place as well as the cats to life for me. I remember him saying, "I'll never forget standing on an exposed peak in Russia with my guide pointing out China in one direction and Korea in another. So this big cat lives in all three countries, making it the most diplomatically challenging wild animal on the planet."



WHOA!


Darron also talked to me about what it looked like and felt like to walk through the forests where the Amur leopards live--"on the Russian side it's much like being in the Appalachian forest in North Carolina." I'd lived in Asheville, North Carolina and hiked in those forests in all seasons. So I could see it, smell it, feel it.


And Darron talked about the Russian Zapovedniks which are big areas like national parks but totally set aside for wildlife. The only people allowed in are scientists and guards watching out for wildfires and for poachers (illegal hunters). 

Darron shared about studying Amur leopards using camera traps to "capture" them. He shared what he'd learned about the wild leopard's behavior, use of the forest, even their rare social interactions as males and females come together to mate, females raise young, and adults have chance encounters in the forest with other adult leopards. That mainly happens because the forests where these big cats live are fragmented due to logging and people building roads and even towns. Then Darron shared this chance sighting of a wild Amur leopard. 

"It was amazing. I was setting up camera traps and the guy I was with tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and saw the cat. It's more like you've seen a ghost because it's so on the brink of extinction."

Another expert Dale Miquelle referred me to was John Lewis. He's the Director of Wildlife Vets International and he opened a key door into this story. That's partly because he was the person most in touch with those in Russia who were choosing the reintroduction site--the forested area where the new Amur leopard population would be launched. And he was closely involved in helping to make decisions about how Amur leopards would be introduced to live wild and free in this new location.

Over the better part of the next two years, John and I talked on a number of occasions about the reintroduction project. He also shared fascinating stories about the times he had the opportunity to be literally hands-on studying wild Amur leopards. 

That happened because people patrolling to protect those rare 50 Amur leopards noted where they saw tracks and scat (droppings). Then they put up camera traps in those areas to "capture" the cats on film. Where the photos recorded frequent Amur leopard traffic, they set leg snares--traps that would catch a cat without harming it. And John stood by with his team ready for action. As soon as and Amur leopard was caught, it was darted with a tranquilizer gun. 


Next, John and his team took over. They weighed the cat, measured it, took blood and tissue samples--checked everything possible about the cat's health. 




In addition to lots of  scientific information, John shared something more. He talked about actually getting to touch some of these rarest wild animals on the planet. 

John said, "Of course, there's usually a little moment during the whole procedure when I pinch myself and say, 'this is really cool.' Then I snap back into professional mode." 

Jo Cook was fascinating to talk to for another reason. Based in the U.K., her job is to keep track of all the Amur leopards in zoos anywhere in the world. She knows all about their health and their family history. Her job for this project was to choose which of the zoo leopards would travel to Russia to become the founding parents for the new population. The parents would go back to their zoo homes; their cubs would live wild and free.



This is a VERY IMPORTANT JOB. By the time I finished the book, the founding pairs had not yet been chosen. But how they would be chosen and how bearing and raising cubs to become the pioneers for the reintroduction program had been set. Be sure and check out how that program will work in my book THE GREAT LEOPARD RESCUE. It's fascinating!

There were more expert interviews--but I'll share just one more--Linda Kerley. She's the Amur Tiger and Leopard Project Manager for the Zoological Society of London. She had moved to Russia to study the tigers. 


Then she stayed to study Amur leopards. She married and worked with her Russian husband Michael Borisenko to continue those studies, using a creative approach. They trained dogs to track Amur leopard scat (droppings) in order to send it to scientists. Scat was easy to find during the winter when the ground was snow-covered. However, it was nearly impossible to spot in other seasons on the leaf-covered forest floor. But scientists needed to analyze this resource. They needed to learn what prey Amur leopards needed to be able to catch to eat in all seasons. That would help scientists and politicians work together to choose the site for the new wild population. 


Linda's story of training dogs for this unique job was fascinating. But the "WHOA!" moment was when one of her dogs actually met a big cat. 

"Our dog went up on a ridge, reached the top of this rock as I was climbing. I stopped and turned to talk to my husband when the leopard jumped our dog. My husband and I charged, yelling and--luckily--chased the leopard off. But that dog wouldn't track scat anymore. We were getting such valuable information from this project, though, that we couldn't stop. So we started working with another dog."

Now you have a little behind-the-book insight into the research journey I traveled for THE GREAT LEOPARD RESCUE. Every book is a new journey of discovery--a fresh opportunity to connect with amazing on the front line of discovery researchers.



I do LOVE researching my books--love sharing what I discover with young readers. 


Thursday, February 23, 2017

ARE YOU READY TO MARCH THROUGH MARCH?!






March Fourth is National March Forth And Do Something Day

I LOVE it because March is a "capitonym"--a word whose meaning changes depending on if it's capitalized or not. So capitalized it's this month and otherwise it means a way to walk. So, while you march on this March day, have fun with WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL FEET!? 


LET’S STOMP


Have each child choose his or her favorite animal feet. 

Choose some foot stomping music and have the children spread out at least an arm’s length apart. Then turn on the music and have kids dance where they’re standing. 

Remind them to dance as if they had their favorite animal feet. 



Afterwards, ask the children to tell how it was different to dance with that animal’s feet. Next, have them tell how they think it would be different to do each of these things if they had that animal’s feet.
  • Take a bath
  • Pick up their room
  • Make their bed

Now, let them pick another animal’s feet, start the music, and dance some more!


BEASTIE SHOE SHOP

Start by having children list all the kinds of shoes they can think of. That list will include: boots, sneakers, loafers, high heels, waders, sandals, high tops—and more.

This animal's shoes will need to be big and tough!


As a class, vote on one animal from WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL FEET!? to treat to their very first pair of shoes. 

Share building a list of ideas to answer these questions:
  • What should those shoes do for the animal’s feet?
  • What material will the shoes need to be made out of to fit the animal’s habitat and behavior?
  • What special features could be added to the animal’s shoes to make them extra special?  


Have the children work alone or in small groups to draw and color pictures or make models of their special animal’s new shoes.

MY NEAT FEET

The Rest of the Story


Have children look through WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL FEET!? and pick their favorite picture of a boy or girl with animal feet. Now have them tell the rest of the story.

Each of those pictures shows only one moment in a story. Challenge children to imagine--and tell--the rest.
  • What led up to the moment shown in the picture?
  • What is really happening in the picture?
  • How is this story likely to end?



For example, look on page 19 at the boy digging for treasure with aardvark feet. How did he get the treasure map and find the right spot to dig? 
How does he feel about finding the treasure? And what kind of treasure did he find?
What will he do now that he’s found the treasure? How will it change his life?

NEW FEET





I'm sure everyone will agree that the animals in the book  have totally cool feet. For this activity ask children to pick an animal that isn’t in the book. 

Have them dig into books and work with older students or adults to search on-line and find out about that animal. 


Most important, encourage them to find the answers to these two questions:
1. What are that animal's feet like?
2. How does the animal use its feet to move and stay alive?


Next, like WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL FEET!? have children make two-pages (a left hand/right hand spread) for their animal. On one page, they should answer the two questions. On the second page, they should share at least one super fun way it would be cool to have that animal’s feet for a day.

FOOT SWAP
















Ask children to imagine what it would be like if one day an animal woke up with different feet. What if....
A Mountain Goat had White Rhinoceros feet?
A Cheetah had Eastern Gray Kangaroo feet?
A Barn Owl had Cheetah feet?
A Giant African Millipede had Green Basilisk feet?
A Wolf had Duck-Billed Platypus feet?

Or make up another foot swap.  

Challenge children to think of something totally cool that animal could do with its new feet. Be sure they also consider how that swap might cause serious problems.


Okay, these activities got you started. Now, MARCH FORTH and come up with even more. 
smile emoticon

Sunday, January 1, 2017

THE NOSE KNOWS




It's the perfect time to launch the new year with activities focusing on the one and only NOSE.

That's because it's finally here! WHAT IF YOU HAD AN ANIMAL NOSE?! has been published. So don't wait another minute. Take a deep breath and get started.

More Than A Sniffer





Dig into the book to find out some of the cool things these animals can do with their nose besides sniff. 
Elephant
Wart Hog
Star Nosed Mole
Giant Anteater



What your favorite animal nose in the book? What would you like about having that kind of animal nose?

Is there an animal's nose that's not in the book but you think should be?


Love That Smell!




Smells are an important part of our memories. 
Invite children to share some of their favorite smell memories, such as eating popcorn with friends, your family getting a brand new car, your pet being wet from the rain or eating a favorite fruit.

Perhaps there is also a scent that reminds them of their home or a place they love to go, such as the park or the movies.

Make a list together of words that can be used to describe smells. You'll think of more but here are a few to get you started:
sweet
spicy
stinky
sweaty
piney
flowery
sour
lemony
rotten


Smells Like Me

Many animals use their sense of smell to know who belongs to their pack, flock, pride or other kind of group. This fun activity will let children use their noses to find their group. 

You'll need one self-sealing plastic bag for each child. Put a cotton ball into each. Next, drip a couple of drops of one of the following liquid flavorings on each cotton ball: 

  • peppermint
  • lemon
  • vanilla

Be sure there are at least two bags that have the same scent. If lots of children are sharing this activity, use additional flavorings. 

To play, have the children move around without talking. And tap each other gently on the shoulder to ask permission to sniff the flavoring in each bag.  Once two children find they share a scent have them team up to search out other members of their scent group. 

Finish by having the children guess their group scent. 


Trick Your Nose



Our tongues can easily taste sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Other flavors are partly what we taste and partly what we smell. It's the reason foods don't taste the same when we have a cold.

Check out how much smell effects taste by giving  children an apple or apple slices to eat. Have them describe the taste after one bite. Next, drip drops of liquid cooking vanilla on one cotton ball for each child. Have them hold this close enough to their nose to pick up the scent and take a second bite of their apple slice.

The flavor will seem different. Ask children to describe how changing what they can smell has changed the apple's taste.

Have a great time investigating the sense of smell while you enjoy my new book. 

TEACHERS--Would love to hear from you about how you're finding ways to tie this book into classroom activities.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

THEY'RE BACK!!! THE TWELVE ARACHNIDS OF CHRISTMAS!



For all of you that have been asking for it--the waiting is over. They're back!! THE TWELVE ARACHNIDS OF CHRISTMAS! It's just a little discovery fun inspired by my 12 book series: Arachnid World published by Lerner Publishing. ENJOY!






On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a black widow in a fir tree.






As I watched, that black widow spider dangled upside down from a silk thread. Next, its exoskeleton (armor-like covering) split open along the back. Then the spider pushed and pulled and crawled out of its exoskeleton.

Oh my, that spider has a new bigger body for Christmas.

By the way, are you wondering: "What's an ARACHNID?"
It's an animal that always has an exoskeleton and usually has two main body parts: a cephalothoras (like a head/chest) and an abdomen. It also usually has 8 legs.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two striped bark scorpions.




As I watched, the smaller one--the male--grabbed the female's pedipalps (body parts near the mouth). They did a kind of dance, moving forward and backward. Then they went and around and around in circle. They did this over and over for hours.

Did you guess it's a mating dance? There will be new baby scorpions in the new year. 





On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three wolf spiders.





As I watched, a round ball stuck to one spider's spinnerets (the part that gives out silk) split open. Hundreds of tiny spiders crawled out and onto the big spider.

She's a new mother for Christmas.






On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four wind scorpions.




Almost at once, one of the wind scorpions ran straight up a nearly vertical rock. How did it keep from falling off? This arachnid has sticky tips on its pedipalps, those long parts you can see at the front of this arachnid.

Wind scorpions have special body parts to stay safe on Christmas and all year long.





On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five tarantulas.



One goliath bird-eater tarantula was holding a gecko. As I watched it sank in its fangs and brought up digestive juices.

Why in the world did it do that? This tarantula was preparing its meal by breaking it down first. Even big spiders, like tarantulas have very small mouths. Next, the spider will suck the juice in. It's having its Christmas dinner. Of course, it eats every meal this way.





On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love to me six female cross spiders spinning.


Whatever were they doing?  As I watched, a fly landed on one spider's web. That female ran to the fly and shots strands of silk over it.

Why did she do that? She was wrapping up presents--well, sort of. She was storing food for later.









I kept on watching and saw a fly zip into another spider's web. I expected the web to break. Spider silk isn't stronger than steal but it's super strong. That spider wrapped up its meal too.



On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven fishing spiders.





At just that moment, a bat flew past and all the fishing spiders dived underwater. They stayed down for nearly thirty minutes.

How were they able to stay underwater for so long? When a fishing spider dives a layer of air coats its body. The spider is able to draw oxygen from the air-filled coat into its book lungs. Those are thin, flat folds of tissue with slits that open through its armor-like exoskeleton.




On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight crab spiders lurking 
inside flowers.


Some goldenrod crab spiders were inside yellow flowers and they were yellow. Other goldenrod crab spiders were inside white flowers and they were white.

How were these spiders able to be either yellow or white? When the spider's eyes detect it's on yellow, its body makes that coloring matter and it flows into the outer cell layer of its body. 



It takes about a week to become completely yellow. That's because to turn white, it doesn't make coloring matter. The yellow just flows down to lower layers and passes out with its wastes.




On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine bobbing  harvestmen.



Why were these spiders bobbing? They do this in a group when a predator, like a bird, is nearby. That way they look like a bigger animal--hopefully. By the way, harvestmen don't eat like spiders. Their mouths are big enough to bite off chunks and swallow.


On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten ticks-a-sucking blood 
from their host.






As I watched these female dog ticks over several days, their bodies swelled up until they were nearly six hundred times bigger.

How in the world can they swell so big? It's because the hard part covering their body is made up of layers. They spread, fanning apart, as the tick sucks in blood.








On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven jumping spiders jumping.



As I watched, one leapt from one leaf to another to catch an insect.

How could it possibly jump so far? To leap muscles inside the spider's body contract, instantly forcing blood into its four hind legs. This makes them suddenly stretch. And that launches the spider forward.  As it jumps, the spider continually produces silk. It attached that to the surface just before it leapt. So if the spider falls, it dangles instead of crashing.

What's the record for how far a jumping spider can leap? Some have been recorded leaping 40 times their own body length. 

How far can you jump? Can you jump farther than your body length (your height)?



On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a plant with twelve mites-a-multiplying.



On the first day of Christmas I didn't even notice the twelve, tiny two-spotted mites on one of my plant's leaves. After all, each was only 0.02 inch long. However, on the twelfth day of Christmas, the plant was nearly covered with web strands dotted with tiny mites. 

How did there get to be so many mites so quickly? It's because each female laid about 10 eggs a day. Soon the young hatched, became adults, and the new females started laying eggs. There were soon lots of mites. Worse, each and everyone was feeding by sucking the plant's juices. I couldn't get rid of them. I finally just threw away my plant. 

So my arachnid Christmas this year is one I'll always remember. After all, it's the year I received:

12 mites-a-multiplying
11 jumping spiders jumping
10 ticks sucking
harvestmen bobbing
crab spiders lurking
fishing spiders fishing
orb weavers spinning
5  TARANTULAS
4 wind scorpions
3 wolf spiders
2 scorpions
And a black widow in a fir tree

And as he drove out of sight, Spider Claus spun a silk web with a message, "Merry Christmas to all and have Even MORE fun exploriing Arachnids in the 

New Year!"


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

HAVE A BLIZZARD OF FUN!





I grew up in northern Ohio and I've been to Antarctica so I KNOW  SNOW!

If you live where winter is snowy, here are some ways to explore and have fun.


Collect Snowflakes


While no two snowflakes are ever exactly alike (as far as anyone knows), they are all hexagone--six-sided crystals. Snowflakes take several main shapes.

If you want to catch some snowflakes, chill a clean glass slide or a small mirror in the refrigerator. Take the cold glass outside and allow a few flakes to collect on it. You may need a magnifying glass to see the snowflakes if they are very small.

To preserve snowflakes so you can even take them inside with you you'll need a can of plastic spray--the kind artists use on chalk drawings.



Chill the spray along with the clean glass slide. Carry the glass slide outside on a piece of cardboard. This keeps your body heat from warming the glass. Spray the glass lightly with the plastic coating. Let snowflakes collect on the glass. Take the preserved snowflakes inside and let the plastic coating completely dry (about fifteen minutes).


Check out this book about Wilson Bentley.
His photos of snowflakes became world famous.

Now you can examine the snowflakes with a magnifying glass or a microscope if you have one. No need to rush. These snowflakes will stay crystal-clear forever.


What is it?!

Look at the bottom of the blog to find out....

Treat The Birds




You can get a good look at birds that spend the winter in your neighborhood, if you invite them to dinner. An easy treat to make is a peanut butter pinecone. Loop a string around the top of a pine cone and tie a knot. Next, smear peanut butter on the cone and roll the cone in birdseed. Then have an adult partner hang the pinecone where birds will be able to perch and eat. 

Now, keep watch. Use bird books and search on-line to help you identify the birds visiting your bird diner. Also, answer these questions:
1. What time of day do the birds come to eat? 
2. Do the birds come more on stormy or sunny days?
3. Do the birds take turns and feed one at a time? Or do they compete to eat?
4. Which birds usually chase other birds away?

Create a colorful bar graph to share the data you collect about your dinner guests.

Remember, to replace your pinecone with a fresh treat from time-to-time to keep the dinners coming back for more.

And when you're ready to warm up inside, curl up with one of my newest books.

















Do you know what this is?




It's a photo taken in the Arctic of a cup of hot tea tossed into the air. The liquid was boiling hot but instantly froze into tiny crystals.