KC's Blog
KC's Wild Facts

(Kool Cat)

(Kool Cat)
KC's Wild Facts 

KC's Blog

Mourningcloaks, The First Butterflies of Spring

by Kool Cat KC on 04/15/13

Who says science writing is just, well, scientific? My human, Terry, found this paragraph in The Washington Post, it’s in a section called “Urban Jungle” by writer Patterson Clark.

“Flitting and sailing between bleak, bare branches, the mourning cloak drifts by in somber attire, its wings draped in dark, mahogany velvet. But hinting at brighter days to come, the edge of its robe is hemmed with a bold and undulating yellow-white border — the petticoat of spring.”

Do you get the picture? Science is not only cool, but it’s beautiful. Don't facts become more interesting when they paint a perfect picture? Maybe you should try painting perfect pictures in your writing. Terry liked what she learned from Mr. Clark, and she did more research on her own.

Mourningcloak butterflies (this spelling is the one that scientists use even though it looks wrong) are between two and four inches wide, and, like Mr. Clark said, they are a very dark purplish, brownish with a yellow border. They have turquoise dots along the border. Their underside is splotchy dark. It looks just like tree bark. When the butterflies close their wings, they blend right in with the tree where they are. They live all over North America from the far north, south to Mexico. They also live in Europe. In England, mourningcloaks are called Camberwell Beauty. They are the state butterfly of Montana. Look at the picture. Do you think the yellow part looks like a petticoat? If you don’t know what a petticoat is, check it out in your dictionary.

Male mourningcloaks are territorial. They perch on high branches or other places to wait for females. If something disturbs them, they return to their perch. Mourningcloaks mate in very early spring, when they stop hibernating. The female lays between 30 and 50 eggs around small branches of trees and bushes like willow, elms, and aspens. When the eggs hatch, they are small white caterpillars with two black spots on the back end that look like eyes. Scientists think these spots are on the back to fool predators. The caterpillars become ferocious-looking as they grow; they become dark, with red spots and black spines all over their body. They molt four times to get from the small white stage to the dark ferocious stage and then they weave a chrysalis. By the middle of June or July, the butterflies emerge. These butterflies can live as long as ten months. They become inactive during the warm months, eat a lot in the fall so they can live through the winter and mate in the spring. Some butterflies don’t follow this pattern, though. Some stay active through the summer and mate. They create a second brood of butterflies. In warm areas, there might even be three broods. And butterflies that live in the far north migrate south for the winter like monarch butterflies.

Mourningcloaks like to eat tree sap, especially the sap of oak trees.They eat the sap by walking down the tree upside down. They also like rotting fruit and they even like poop, ugh! They get nutrients and salts from other animals’ poop. A favorite place for them to be is in muddy puddles.

Next time you see a butterfly in the very early spring, before the leaves have sprouted on the trees, maybe even while snow is still on the ground, you can bet it’s a mourningcloak and you’d probably win the bet.

A fun thing for you to do might be to read my post on monarch butterflies and compare and contrast monarchs and mourningcloaks. Look at my post on gophers and read about an animal that saves its poop and eats it when there’s no other food. Write a story about how these two animals use poop in a different way. Have you ever seen a mourning cloak? How about its caterpillar? You could write a story about how it would feel to be the first butterfly of spring.

My human, Terry, found her information about mourningcloaks in The Washington Post,
Wildlife Notes (Conservation Section of New Mexico Game and Fish),
http://www.psu.edu/dept/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/mourningcloak.htm and http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/lepidopt/nymph/mcloak.htm.
http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/Montana/butterfly_mourningcloak.html

Can You Feel the Bonobo Love? Can You Pass it On?

by Kool Cat KC on 03/18/13

On our last post, we wrote about how scientists studying western lowland gorillas found the gorillas seem to express emotions like sadness and happiness. They even seem to have fun.
    Now my human, Terry, wants to let you know about bonobos, another species of great ape.  Bonobos look like chimpanzees. Up to about 70 years ago, scientists thought that bonobos were just small chimpanzees; but now scientists know that bonobos are a totally different species. They are smaller and thinner. Their heads and ears are smaller, and the hair on their head is longer and parts in the middle. Bonobos behave differently from other great apes. In bonobo societies, it’s the females that are in charge, not the males. They’re more peaceful than other great apes and they live only in a remote area of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. Can you find that country on a map? Before it was the Democratic Republic of Congo, this country was known as Zaire.
    Dr. Zanna Clay and Dr. Frans de Waal are scientists who study bonobos near the country’s capital, Kinshasa. What they have seen is that when bonobos fight or when one bonobo bullies another, a friend often reaches out to comfort the victim. The friend tries to make the victim feel better by hugging, or grooming. Have you ever had a friend or your parents hug you or talk to you after someone has hurt your feelings or pushed you around? Did it make you feel better when they did? That’s exactly what happens to bonobos. When bonobos are excited, or under stress, they scratch themselves, and groom themselves more than they normally would. Dr. Clay and Dr. de Waal found that when another bonobo comforts or consoles a hurt or bullied friend, that friend shows less signs of stress—less scratching, less grooming.     
    Look at the pictures. Do they remind you of you and your friends? Do you think it’s a good idea to comfort or console a friend? Maybe that’s something you might want to do next time you see that a friend needs a hug or a kind word. Or maybe someday you’ll want to be a scientist and study animals and how they behave.
    Terry found out about Dr. Clay’s and Dr. De Waal’s research on this blog: http://news.emory.edu/stories/2013/01/yerkes_bonobos_consolation/campus.html.  She found out more about bonobos from the Zoological Society of Milwaukee.

Gorillas, Do Animals have feelings?

by Kool Cat KC on 02/03/13

What kind of things make you happy? Or sad? Have you ever thought your pet had feelings? Two photographers, Anup Shah and Fiona Rogers followed a group of gorillas for about a month. They caught the gorillas behaving in ways that show that gorillas have feelings too.
    Groups of gorillas are called troops, like Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops. The troop of gorillas that Anup and Fiona followed are western lowland gorillas. They live in the rain forests of the central part of Africa. They eat fruit, roots, twigs and tree bark and they have become “habituated,” or used to having humans around. It took more than two years for the troop to get used to humans observing them and photographing them, but by the time Anup and Fiona took their pictures, the gorillas were happy to ignore the humans and behaved as if the humans weren’t around.  
    What kinds of behaviors made Anup and Fiona believe that gorillas have feelings? One female, her name is Malui, had a still-born baby. The photographers saw Malui trying to revive the baby. She carried the dead baby around for two days and groomed it. They were able to take pictures of gorilla babies and young gorillas playing and having fun and the photographers even caught an adult gorilla who seemed to be enjoying herself in the middle of a swarm of butterflies.
    My human, Terry, thinks that it’s great that humans can observe gorillas and photograph them. It helps humans learn about gorillas so that gorillas can be protected. So lowland gorillas will not become extinct. But it’s also not so good. For instance, she’s found out that male gorillas that are habituated, that allow humans to observe them, seem to have a harder time finding females to mate.
    Terry found out her information about Fiona Rogers and Anup Shah and their photographs of western lowland gorillas in an article by Abigail Tucker in Smithsonian Magazine of November, 2012. You can find other information on western lowland gorillas at the World Wildlife Fund (www.wwf.org.uk/wwf_articles.cfm?unewsid=5880) and at National Geographic, (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/lowland-gorilla/).
I think it’s kind of crazy that she went to all this trouble to read this stuff. All she had to do was ask me if cats have feelings. 

Monarch Butterflies, Amazing Travelers

by Kool Cat KC on 01/10/13

Did you know that monarch butterflies migrate from as far north as the southern part of Canada to spend the winter in California and Mexico? Did you also know that Monarch butterflies only live two to six weeks? Impossible? It’s a difficult idea to understand; hang with me and we’ll learn all about it.
    Monarch butterflies that live east of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in Mexico; monarchs that live west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in California. My human, Terry, took the pictures you see in late November in Pismo Beach, California.
    So how do they travel thousands of miles, spend the whole winter, and only live two to six weeks? Dr. Karen Oberhauser, who studies monarch butterflies says it’s actually different butterflies. Same species, but different individuals. Every year, several generations (groups of individuals born about the same time) of monarchs are born. Starting with the generation born in the spring, right after the parents overwinter in California and Mexico, monarchs only live two to six weeks. Most spend their lives flying north and a couple of generations spend their lives—as pupa, chrysalis and adult—in the most northern point of their range.
    Then when the amount of nectar available for them to eat is decreasing, temperatures begin to cool and the days become shorter the last generation of butterflies is born. This is the tricky one, the different one. Because of the lack of nectar, and the other factors, the monarchs of this last generation do not mature to the point that they can mate and have babies. They fly south, searching for more plentiful nectar. Not mating and cool temperatures give these monarchs more energy and allow them to live longer. They live 8-9 months. They fatten up on the nectar they eat on their way south, and then they cluster together on trees on the California coast and in Mexico to spend the winter. When spring comes, last year’s last generation matures and has babies; those babies will be the monarchs that start the cycle again for the new year.
    And how do butterflies know which way to go? Scientists at the University of Massachusetts proved they use their antennae to sense the position of the sun.  In an experiment, the scientists removed or painted the monarchs’ antennae to block the sun. Can you figure out what happened? I bet you can; the Monarchs got lost.
    Many other species of butterflies do not migrate. They can survive the cold where they live. Why do you think monarchs need to have this sort of migration pattern? Monarch butterfly larvae only eat milkweed, can you find out other animals that only eat one kind of food? Can you think of other animals that migrate? Monarchs fatten up on their journey south and then they don’t eat during the winter, there’s no nectar. Do you know any other animals that don’t eat all winter long? Maybe there are some animals that don’t eat during their migration! Can you think of some?
    Get to know more about monarch butterflies and their life cycle; check out these websites: http://www.monarchbutterfly.org/faqs; http://www.cfans.umn.edu/About/NewsEvents/SpeakingofScience/KarenOberhauser/index.htm.
See other great pictures of monarchs here: http://www.monarch-butterfly.com.
    My human, Terry, researched this information with Dr. Karen Oberhauser of the University of Minnesotta, information from the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, and Smithsonian Magazine, December, 2009.
    If you want to grow your own butterflies in your classroom, have your teacher look into Dr. Oberhauser’s “Monarchs in the Clasroom” Program.

Nefertiti, The Spidernaut

by Kool Cat KC on 12/06/12

Nefertiti, a “Jumping Johnson” spider rocketed into outer space and visited the International Space Station as part of an experiment. According to an article in The Washington Post by Brian Vastag, and the Smithsonian Magazine blog, the designer of the experiment wanted to see if a Jumping Johnson spider, spiders that jump from a distance and land on their prey, would be able to adapt to life in space, where they would be in a weightless state and jumping would be totally different. What was the result? Neffi adapted. While at the International Space Station, she changed the way she approached her prey. When her food, live fruit flies, was released into her enclosure, instead of jumping, Neffi stalked. She got very close to her prey and then pounced. Neffi spent 99 days and traveled 41.5 million miles in space. Then, after splashdown, she flew from Japan, to California and then to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Sadly, Neffi only lived four days at the museum. Was it because of the time she spent in space? Was she unable to adapt to life on earth again? Or was it just because it was her time? Neffi was ten months old, a ripe old age for a Jumping Johnson spider.
Can you find out how other spiders catch their prey? Do you think they could catch their prey in the same way if they were in space, in a weightless state? How do you think they could adapt if not? Find out how astronauts train to adapt to being weightless in space. What do they do while in space so their muscles don’t atrophy (become smaller) while they’re in space? I wonder if I could survive in space. How many mice do you think would stand still so I could approach them? What do you think?

Gopher to the Rescue named Outstanding Science Tradebook!

by Kool Cat KC on 11/29/12

The National Science Teachers' Association and the Children's Book Council have named Gopher to the Rescue, A Volcano Recovery Story, an Outstanding Science Tradebook for Students.  Science tradebooks are books about science which are not text books. They normally tell a fun story while teaching science. This is exactly what Gopher does, he tells the story of how nature recovers after a volcanic eruption. Terry is VERY proud of this award. You can read all about it by visiting http://www.nsta.org/publications/ostb/ostb2013.aspx.

Presidential Essay Contest: Win a copy of Gopher to the Rescue!

by Kool Cat KC on 10/28/12

This is your chance to win a free copy of Terry's book, "Gopher To The Rescue: A Volcano Recovery Story."  Since the presidential elections are coming up, Terry would like to know your ideas on what makes a good president and if you could choose any animal (other than man) to be president, which animal would that be and why? Make sure you look at Terry's tips on writing the five paragraph essay, and Terry will also be impressed if you do some research.  Don't forget to attribute (let her know where you got the info).
The contest will run until November 15, 2012. The winner will be announced the following week in this very blog, receive a copy of "Gopher To The Rescue," and have his or her essay printed right here.  Tell us your school.
The school with the most entries will receive a copy of Terry's new book,
"Women's Liberation: 1960-1990" for the library. We can't wait to hear from you. Please submit your entries to ltjennings@verizon.net.
 

Lonesome George Dies

by Kool Cat KC on 09/11/12

I hope everyone had a great summer vacation and is happy to be back at school. My summer was pretty lame. I spent a lot of time outside this summer, chasing birds and chipmunks in our back yard. I had to go visit the neighbor kids next door a lot, because my human, Terry, was working on a new book. All summer long she got up early in the morning and wrote till late at night. Whoa! I’ve never seen a human work so hard. When she’s working hard like that, every once in a while, she says, “I’m cooking with gas now, baby!” For a while I was worried about her; but then I realized it actually makes Terry happy to write. The book is about her childhood in Cuba. She’s also writing a picture book about solving word problems. So far she’s not cooking with gas on that one. Sometimes she goes for long walks or ride her bike to work things out in her head.

This summer we had some very sad news. One of Terry’s favorite animals, Lonesome George, a Giant Galápagos Island Tortoise(GGIT), died.  In the last post last year we said, more to come on GGITs! And we were planning on writing about Lonesome George, but we were counting on Lonesome George to be alive. GGITs can live for 150 years and more; George was just 100 years old when he died.  It was soooo sad!

What was saddest about George is that he was the last of his subspecies. Now that he is dead, there won’t ever be any more GGITs that look like him. There used to be fourteen different subspecies of GGITs in the galapagos islands, now, with George gone, there are only ten subspecies left.

What made these gentle giants disappear? In our last post we told you about whalers and pirates that kidnapped them and stored them in the holds of ships to use them as food in their long voyages. One ship might take three hundred tortoises at a time. But that wasn’t the only reason GGIT’s got in trouble. The ships that landed on the islands brought rats that ate the tortoises eggs. And humans brought goats to the islands. The goats stepped on the tortoises’ nests and broke the eggs. George was found in the island of Pinta, one of the Galápagos Islands, in 1971. No other giant tortoise had been seen on that island since 1906.

Next time we post, we’ll let you know what scientists in the Galápagos Islands are doing to make sure that what happened to George’s subspecies doesn’t happen to others. Meanwhile, why don’t you find out how a tortoise becomes a male or a female tortoise. If you can figure it out, write me. We’ll let you know if you’re right on our next post.

Giant Galápagos Island Tortoises

by Kool Cat KC on 05/17/12

How long can you go without eating? How about without water? Giant Galápagos Island Tortoises can give up food and drink for more than a year! It's not that they want to, but if they need to—if it hasn't rained for a long time and the water in their island homes has dried up and there are no more juicy leaves or cactus pads left to eat—they find a shady spot, or dig a nice cool hole, go into their shell, slow down their heart and their breathing, and wait for the rains to return. They live off the fat in their body while they wait.
I don't think I could do that, even if my body was made so that I could, I like eating too much? How about you?
Giant Galápagos Island Tortoises live in the Galápagos Islands, in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador.  Can you find the islands on the maps?  They can grow to five feet long (1.5 meters) and can weigh as much as 550 pounds, (250 kilograms). They can live a long, long time.  Scientists know that one tortoise lived for 152 years.
Being able to go without food for so long is good for the tortoises. They can survive in droughts.  But it wasn't so good back in the 1800s.  Back then, pirates and whalers knew about how well tortoises could survive without being fed. When they were on long trips in the southern Pacific, they would stop in the Galápagos Islands and load up their boats with tortoises. They would sometimes stack them, upside down, one on top of the other, in the bottom of the ship. Then, when they were ready for delicious tortoise stew, they wouldgive the tortoise water and then boil it for supper. It was a great way to have fresh meat on long voyages, but I would hate to be one of those poor tortoises, in a damp, smelly bottom of a boat, with nothing to eat, no blue sky, unable to move...and then at the end of that you get killed? Ughh! There are records that a ship took as many as three hundred tortoises on one trip. 
There are different tortoise species, on the different Galápagos Islands.  The tortoises have developed adaptations that allow them to live in each island.  Some have long necks, and arches in their shell to allow them to reach the food on high branches because that's the only food available on those islands. Others have pretty normal shells. They graze on grass and low shrubs.
The dang pirates and whalers took so many tortoises that some islands that used to have tortoises have no more, and that species died off.  Wish they had been less greedy!
Terry visited the Galápagos Islands. She and her husband took these pictures. She found the facts about the size of the tortoises at animals.nationalgeographic.com.
More to come on Giant Tortoises! Stay Tuned.


Bees Communicate!

by Kool Cat KC on 05/02/12

My human, Terry, read a wild fact about honey bees in Smithsonian Magazine.

Honey bees decide, as a group, on where they will live. Biologist, Thomas  Seeley, has figured out how bee colonies make their decisions. They dance, and then they butt each other on the head.  

Here’s how he says they do it:

In the spring, if a colony of bees has grown too big for where they live, they send out scouts to look for a new place.  They look for a hollow place that’s about fifteen feet off the ground, can hold about 10 gallons and has a small entrance. The way I look at it, they like a hole in tree that I can barely get my nose in, get to by jumping up on at least two branches and holds a little more than 100 cans of cat food. Do you get the picture?

A bee that finds a great, tremendous, stupendous place (it’s always a she, they’re the ones that look for new hives) flies back to the hive and starts running in circles and waggling her behind all the time she’s circling.  A bee that’s really excited about a new home site makes as many as 200 circles, trying to get other bees to come see the new place.  When other bees come with her, they all come back circling and dancing excitedly. Then more bees visit and more bees dance.

A bee that finds a just okay place, will come back and dance and circle, but she won’t do it so much. She may not get as many bees to come see the just okay place. And when they all come back, they won’t be as enthusiastic as the ones coming back from the stupendous place.

The bees that like the stupendous place will travel to it many, many times, bringing other bees.  The bees that like the just okay place, don’t return as many times.

Now comes the head-butting.  The bees that like the stupendous place head-butt the ones that like the just okay place, to get them to be quiet and stop dancing.  When they hit each other, they beep. When only one group is still excited about their new place, the decision is made.

Isn’t that the wildest fact? How does your family make decisions? How do you and your friends make decisions? Whatever you do, it's okay to waggle your behind, but I hope you don’t do any head-butting.

Later,
KC

These are pictures of the scientists in the cave where a new species, Homo Nadeli, was discovered by two cavers. So many bones! The scientific work is being led by Dr. Lee Berger of the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. Terry's thanks to National Geographic for providing these pictures. This was a cover story in the October Nat Geo Magazine.
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