Monday, December 31, 2012

Shelling (and Learning) with Kids

I have channeled my inner "snow bird" and flown south to Florida for a family vacation.  One of the first things we did - stopped at the beach!  Even a couple of sick kids can't keep us from the beach on New Years Eve Day.  While sitting there and digging in the sand, we found so many different shells that all had holes in them.  I channeled my inner Dayna (Baumeister, my illustrious biomimicry instructor) and explained to my daughter that the holes in the shells were not put there in order to make necklace creation easier (as she thought), but there because another type of mollusk (shelled invertebrate) drilled down into the shell with its tongue (!) and sucked out the poor clam through the hole and ate it!  The predator in this area - most likely a whelk.
Cross Barred Venus (Chione cancellata)
Lightening Whelk
"Sea snails use a radula, their ribbon-shaped tongue, to drill a hole in the shell of the clam. While drilling, the snails soften the shells by secreting carbonic acid and inserting the siphon. The clam is then digested inside its shell as the snail gulps down the remains of what Gulf Islands National Seashore park rangers call a 'clam milkshake.'" (Credit 6)

Thinking about Migration

I have emulated the fair weather birds and temporarily migrated to warmer climates – Florida!  My family has temporarily become a “snow bird” and escaped the Chicago winter in favor of the beach and the pool, if only for a week.  And it got me thinking about migration.

The energy it takes to move a body hundreds if not thousands of miles to find food and stay warm is immense.  Migratory birds have physical as well as behavioral adaptations that allow them to complete this momentous feat twice every year.  Some birds lose over 50% of their body weight burning fat to make an uninterrupted trip.  Other species fly the same route seasonally, and certain plants even time their flowering to coincide with the journeying pollinators.  Birds that migrate during the day take advantage of thermal currents over land.  Those that migrate at night avoid predators and overheating.

Human bodies have adapted to almost every climate on this planet through fat and our brain’s ability to manufacture clothing and artificial heating, but those with the means still find a way to migrate to warmer climates, if only for a short winter break.  While our bodies are fed and warmed through the long winters, it seems it heals the spirit to visit the sun.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Teaching Biomimicry to Young Kids

I have young kids preschool and kindergarten age, and one of my favorite things to do is to show them what I do by going outside.  On a recent day in late fall, we went into our backyard and went on a critter search.  Squirrels are abundant in my backyard because of the leftover food in the garden as well as the large maple tree which dominates our small lot.  So we set about investigating and learning about the squirrels.
Squirrels and their Amazing Tails
Children learn by doing, so at first we acted like squirrels.  We brought our hands up into claws and pretended to eat an acorn.  We hopped around on two feet simultaneously.  We wiggled our rear ends.  We talked about what they ate – acorns, ideally.  In our yard, birdseed, strawberries, pumpkins, the bulbs I had planted for spring (grrr) and really anything left in the garden that we didn’t harvest.  Then we talked about what eats them – dogs and coyotes came to mind, although our dog is much too old to do more than bark at them.  Then we pretended to be a squirrel and a coyote, a glorified game of tag, which they loved!  After all that exertion and thinking, we went back inside to do a little research and drawing.  I researched, my oldest drew a squirrel from a picture, and my youngest drank hot cocoa (Chicago is cold in November!).