Friday, November 17, 2023

Animal Discoveries and Inspiration

Today I’m sharing two new books about mysterious and inspiring animals written for the 8-12 year old crowd. The first is about animals that glow in the dark; the second about animal-inspired inventions. Both were published by Millbrook Press this fall.

Mysterious Glowing Mammals: An Unexpected Discovery Sparks a Scientific Investigation
by Maria Parrott-Ryan

Some of the coolest discoveries come about by accident. Take this one: forest ecologist Jonathan Martin was looking for tree frogs that glowed when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. So he got a UV flashlight and went outside to look for some clinging to trees in his northern Wisconsin backyard. And guess what? He didn’t find any.

So he went out again, to see what he could find. Night after night. If he couldn't find frogs, could he find lichens that glow under UV light? Then one night he heard a chirp coming from his bird feeder. His flashlight revealed … a flying squirrel – which, by itself isn’t unusual. Flying squirrels are common. But this one glowed bright pink!

And that set off a chain reaction. Martin texted a biologist friend who shared the observation with another colleague and they began wondering: had any scientists documented biofluorescence in other mammals? One study did, in opossums. So they did what any other curious folks would do – they began an investigation.

This book dives into the how, and a bit of the why, of biofluorescent animals – but mostly it raises questions. The study is far from complete, and the last chapter outlines what directions the scientists hope to explore.

What I really like about this book (aside from the fact that it’s an amazing story) is that the author, Maria, shares her own explorations with a UV flashlight. She also clearly explains the difference between bioluminescence (when organisms make their own light using chemicals, like fireflies and fungi) and biofluorescence (when organisms absorb UV light and release it as a glow). Now I want my own UV flashlight! (Fortunately, you can find them in stores and online)
Wild Inventions: Ideas Inspired by Animals (Sandra Markle's Science Discoveries)
by Sandra Markle

Since ancient times, humans have observed animal adaptations and modified them for their own use. “When animals give people ideas for inventions, it’s called bioinspiration,” says Sandra Markle. People have used their animal-inspired ideas to build homes, armor boats, design safety helmets, and more.

Take architecture. If you’re looking for a way to keep a home cool when the temperature outside goes up, up, up, check out how termites build their mounds. Termites construct their home around a central chimney and a series of passageways that act as airducts. The bees use a combination of water and fanning their wings to cool their nest – much like draping a wet bandana over a fan.

Engineers have studied echolocation used by bats and dolphins to create ultrasound and sonar – and now, LIDAR, which uses light instead of sound to help self-driving cars navigate. Gecko toepads have generated ideas for adhesives, as has the glue of certain worms. Markle highlights many inventions based on animal adaptation, and encourages readers to observe the animals around them. Maybe you’ll come up with some ideas for your own “wild inventions” she poses.
Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copies provided by the publisher.


  1. Both these books have intriguing titles that I can see would make kids want to pick up the books. They sound really interesting, especially the one about glowing animals. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Both of these books sound absolutely fascinating. I had no idea that flying squirrels could glow bright pink. Wow! Thanks for sharing.

  3. This is fascinating! Amazing the books that are available to kids right now! Thanks for featuring these two. Carol Baldwin

  4. These books both sound fascinating - I want to read them! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Wow. These both sound so interesting. I will definitely check them out. Thanks for telling me about them.