Friday, February 24, 2017

Spider Sketching

Last week I reviewed books about predators and prey, so this week we're taking a break from books to study local predators. One predator that you might find - even in the winter - is a spider.

Spiders aren't very active this time of year - at least in the northern part of the US where the weather is cold and snowy. Nope. Most of 'em are snugly ensconced beneath layers of leaves, or hanging out in the northeast corner of my bathroom (because it's warm and humid and there's usually an errant fungus gnat cruising about).

If you can't find any spiders around your house, you can always look online. Check out spiders with Bill Nye.

In the next town over, six-year-old Zuri has been busy drawing bugs. Some are imaginative multi-legged mini-monsters, and others resemble sketches you might find in any field journal. But the other day he emailed me a spider - OK, a drawing of a spider, complete with annotations.

Zuri likes drawing spiders because there are so many species and he likes to learn about them. The drawing he sent me isn't any particular spider; it's a "generic" spider. 
Even so, he paid attention to small details, like the hairs on the legs. They act as sensors, he notes on the drawing.

If you like spiders and you're stuck inside on a snowy day, why not draw a bunch? You can copy from photos in a field guide or from online sources (there's gorgeous photos at Spiders rule). Spend time closely observing the photos, and check out details: Can you see their eyes? What do their legs look like? Are there spikes or stripes or dots or zig-zags? What do their feet look like? Their fangs? Are they smooth or hairy?

Want to learn more about spider anatomy? Here's a great resource. Then go on a spider hunt around your house. You might find some dried-up spider remains in the windowsills, or live spiders lurking behind the stove. Draw pictures of those, too. But above all - have fun!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Predators, Prey, and Conservation

Rise of the Lioness: restoring a habitat and its pride on the Liuwa Plains
by Bradley Hague
56 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Children's Books, 2016

The Liuwa Plains are in Western Zambia - a perfect habitat for zebras, wildebeests, and lions. Back in 1972, the plains were declared a national park. But as the 20th century drew to a close, the plains were radically changed:
  • cultural traditions that protected the environment were stripped away.
  • the food chain was devastates.
  • years of war led to increased poaching.

In less than a single human generation, Liuwa's ecosystem collapsed and by 2003, when peace finally settled, there was only one lion left: a lioness called Lady.

The thing about animals is that they don't just live in their environments; they shape them, too. And the Liuwa Plains without its top predators was "the environmental equivalent of tearing down a dam or blowing up a road," writes Hague. The loss of the lions created a trophic cascade, affecting the behavior of almost every animal in the habitat.

This book follows the scientists who studied Lady and figured out how to rebuild the local ecosystem. That meant reintroducing animals, including lions - easier said than done. But after many years, the Liuwa ecosystem was restored. This is a story of perseverance, patience, and pride.

If you're interested in learning more about predator and prey interactions check out:

Explore Predators and Prey! with 25 great projects
by Cindy Blobaum
96 pages; ages 7-10
Nomad Press, 2016

After introducing what predators are, and their prey, this book jumps right into strategies for hunting  and hiding. If you don't want to be eaten you might try camouflaging yourself, or disguising yourself with odors.

If you're a predator you might adopt certain strategies, such as stalking, or use tactics like echolocation. Or you might wait in ambush to attack some unwary snack walking by.

Every chapter is loaded with hands-on activities to try, and lots of fun facts, new words, and even a few jokes.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies provided by publishers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Scavenger Hunt

The season is tilting away from winter, but there's plenty of "winter" stuff to see outside. So head out on a scavenger hunt - but instead of collecting things, you'll be observing them, taking photos or drawing them, looking closer.... getting to know the winter-ish plants and animals around you.

Things to take on your hike:
a hand lens
a sketchbook and pencils

Scavenger hunt list of things to look for and observe:
  • icicle or frozen puddle
  • cluster of needles
  • a pine cone
  • winter weeds
  • animal tracks (what are they and where do they lead?) 
  • clouds
  • birds flying
  • berries
  • a nest (don't touch)
  • dead leaves clinging to a tree
  • snowfleas at the base of trees
  • a cocoon on a twig or side of house, or beneath leaves