Label: Animals Nobody Loves

February 24, 2012

On a recent blog post about Snakes, I received this very smart comment from one of our readers:

Dear Seymour Simon,

I read your SNAKES book and I found a mistake! Snakes are venomous, not poisonous. Venomous means to inject venom and poisonous means to touch or absorb it. I learned this at Lake Pleasant in Arizona. It was my field trip. My name is Jack R. I’m a student at Wildfire Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona. I still love snakes and reptiles.

Thank you, Jack, for taking the time to write. You clearly learned a lot on your field trip!

In fact, I have received several letters lately because one of my old favorites, a book called POISONOUS SNAKES, has just been re-published. Since it is a book for kids and almost all kids (as well as adults) refer to snakes as ‘poisonous’ or ‘non-poisonous’, we decided to use that term in the title of the book when I wrote it years ago. These are also the words used in searches by kids. So, my intention was not to deceive anyone or use incorrect words, only to make the book easier for kids to fine, and to plainly label what the book is about if they were to look it up.

Jack is correct, though. Venom is injected by snakes and other animals, and poison is ingested (eaten), like when birds eat some kinds of butterflies. So technically, snakes are not poisonous or non-poisonous….they are either venomous or non-venomous.

Here are two examples, to help you understand the difference.




This is such a beautiful photograph of a lionfish, but you can’t always trust your eyes. This lionfish is venomous and dangerous to humans as well as other marine animals, because it uses those sharp spines to inject paralyzing venom.



A monarch butterfly, on the other hand, is poisonous because its larva eats milkweed, which contains a poisonous chemical. If a bird or other predator eats a monarch, it eats the poison. But you can touch a monarch without any danger - you’re safe as long as you don’t swallow it!




Notice that both the lionfish and the monarch have bright colors and patterns on their bodies. These are known as "warning colors," which keep predators away.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: New Books, Animals Nobody Loves, Kids Write, snakes   •  Permalink (link to this article)

December 7, 2011

Yesterday, as my wife Liz and I were out putting holiday lights on the bushes in front of our house, we came upon this garter snake sunning itself in a bed of dry leaves that were caught in the branches. He was so quiet that I reached forward to see if it was alive. Sure enough, it slithered away, out of sight. I spotted it there again this morning, though. This must feel like a cozy spot!

What is surprising is that normally, in December, this snake would already be down in a den below ground, sleeping together with hundreds of other snakes for the winter. Once the weather cools down to normal winter temperatures, that is what it will do.

OK - WRITERS, ARE YOU READY? Write a few sentences describing the snake on the bush. If you like, you can put yourself (the writer) in my place and describe finding the snake. Use comparisons to describe how the snake looks in amidst the branches. Maybe ask a question that the reader will be thinking about as he or she looks at this photograph of a snake in a tree. Use as many descriptive details as you can to describe what the snake looks like, how it felt to find it in such an unexpected place, or even how you think it was feeling when humans showed up!

Post your writing by clicking on "comments" at the bottom of this blog. I am looking forward to reading what you write!  

          Note to Teachers and Library Media Specialists: 

I have created a Guide called “Writing Exciting Nonfiction,” which you can download by clicking on this link. It outlines different techniques that I use in my writing, and includes many examples from my books. I have posted it so that you can use it with your students. Please let me know if it is helpful, and share any other feedback about how we can make this blog a productive tool for you to use in exploring and encouraging nonfiction writing with your students.



Posted by: Seymour Simon

(5) Comments  •   Labels: Common Core, Writing Wednesday, Animals Nobody Loves, Seymour Photographs, snakes, Writing   •  Permalink (link to this article)

December 4, 2011

Entomologist (bug scientist) Mark Moffett, who works at the Smithsonian institution, traveled all the way to New Zealand to try to find a Giant Weta (Deinacrida heteracantha).


He found one, all right - what he claims is the largest insect ever found…..or at least, the heaviest. Moffett says: "I did not measure anything but the weight. I’ve seen a walking stick nearly 19 inches long in Sarawak, Malaysia, but it weighed next to nothing." The giant weta weighed in at 2.5 ounces (71 grams) - that is as much as three mice!

These huge insects are members of the cricket family; their genus name, Deinacrida, is Greek for terrible grasshopper. They are vegetarians, which is why Moffett offered her a carrot. "She enjoyed the carrot so much she seemed to ignore the fact she was resting on our hands and carried on munching away. She would have finished the carrot very quickly, but this is an extremely endangered species, and we didn’t want to risk indigestion."


Photo: Mark Moffett / Minden / Solent

I have always been fascinated by big bugs. If you are, too, you can read more here!


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Animals Nobody Loves, Insects   •  Permalink (link to this article)

November 21, 2011

What is that creature in this beautiful photograph? This animal is known as a "glass squid" (scientific name Leachia).  Sunlight filtering down through the ocean water passes right through the glass squid - it is practically invisible in the light. There are both squid and octopus like this, and they can "hide in plain sight" in sunny water.

However, they do not do so well down in the ocean deep, where there is no sunlight. Down in the deep, there are dangerous predator fish whose bodies produce a bright light that they shine directly on the transparent animals, which become visible in the predator’s "headlight."  The ability of these marine animals to produce their own light is called bioluminescence (BY-oh-loom-i-NESS-ens).

Somehow, their prey - the transparent squid and octopus -  need to have a way to camouflage themselves down in the deep. Researchers at Duke University decided to find out how they do it. They captured some of the squid and put them into a dish full of cold ocean water and shone bright lights on them. They were amazed to discover that the squid switched on their camouflage instantly, changing themselves from clear to a spotted, reddish brown. With that coloring, they can hide more easily in their dark, deep-sea environment. The researchers were amazed to see how quickly they make the change. 

If you are interested in seeing video of their experiment, click on the play button (at left) to see more.



Posted by: Seymour Simon

(7) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Animals Nobody Loves, Animals, Oceans   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 24, 2011

I’ve been writing all summer about all the magnificent wild animals that I’ve seen simply by getting outdoors and exploring - spotting a red fox leaping across a road, a shy lynx slipping into the shadows, a bald eagle soaring over the lake, a very grouchy (and big!) snapping turtle, and a delicate tiger moth.

Here is what some of you shared this week about your interesting summer encounters with nature and its wild creatures:

Marissa, who is a regular reader and commenter on this blog, wrote that she really loves pythons, which are the longest snakes in the world.

"I went to a zoo and found a 20 foot long, 250 pound Burmese Python! They feed it 10 pound rabbits and when they feed it they use police shields! It’s that big!" 

On a completely different note, Jennifer, a teacher in Johnson City, NY, wrote about a summer adventure that she had with her twins, Ben and Anna.


"So cool that you released your BUTTERFLIES book yesterday…That’s when the Monarch caterpillar that we found at the Rail Trail in Vestal came out of its chrysalis and turned into a butterfly on the same day! We were so excited! We let it go this morning and it flew away… so beautiful and graceful!" 


What did YOU see as you explored the outdoors this summer? Press the "Ask Seymour Simon" button to send me a note, or click on "Send us Photos/Video" link at the very top of the homepage to send me a picture. We will publish stories about your summer vacation science adventures for the next few weeks, so write in now!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: Animals Nobody Loves, Animals, Animal Books, Butterflies, Summer Vacation Science, Insects   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 23, 2011

Many photographers like to shoot macro (very close up) photographs of insects because the macro camera lens reveals details of alien-looking creatures that we can’t see with our own eyes. A Polish photographer named Miroslaw Swietek goes even further. He goes into the forest in the early morning and photographs the insects when they are covered with dew. Through the camera lens, the drops of water make the insects look as though they are covered with diamonds.


This is a photograph of a dragonfly. Look at how the water drops magnify the lenses in its compound eyes! (click here to read another one of my posts if you want to understand how compound eyes work).


LiveScience interviewed Swietek about how he takes these amazing photographs, and he said that the time of day makes it easier. "That early in the morning, insects are very sleepy so the camera doesn’t disturb them."


If you would like to see more of these amazing images, click here to go to the LiveScience website , where they have a slideshow of Miroslaw Swietek’s  "jeweled" insect photographs.



Posted by: Seymour Simon

(4) Comments  •   Labels: Animals Nobody Loves, Cool Photo, Summer Vacation Science, Insects   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 21, 2011

Being a sea slug may not sound like a very glamorous station in life, but they are among the most colorful animals on Earth. This beauty is known as a Spanish Shawl (Flabellina iodinea).

Actually, sea slug is the casual name we often use, but this is technically a nudibranch, which means "naked gills." They come in many different shapes and colors, live in huge numbers in shallow waters near the shore, and they are invertebrates, which means that they do not have a spine.


Nudibranchs lost their shells through the course of evolution, which required them to develop a whole range of other kinds of protection. Most species have poisonous appendages sticking out from their bodies, as you see in this photo. They also tend to have very intense, bright coloring - "warning coloration" - which alerts other animals to the fact that they either taste bad, or may even be poisonous if eaten. Others are camouflaged because they look very similar to the plants around them. And if that weren’t enough, their skin releases a slimy, sour liquid when they are touched by another creature. Sea slugs are definitely a "look but don’t touch" kind of animal!


Here is another beauty, a black-spotted nudibranch (Phyllidiopsis papilligera). This one was photographed in shallow waters off the coast of Haiti.


Readers often ask me which is my favorite book of all the ones I have written. I can never say which I like the best (that’s like choosing among your children!), but my favorite at any given moment tends to be whatever animal I am writing about. These days I am working on a new book called CORAL REEFS. So, I am fascinated by all these marine animals who live in the vast "cities under the sea" that we know as the coral reefs. They are some of the most diverse, and certainly among the most magnificent, ecosystems on Earth. 



Spanish Shawl photo: Magnus Kiaergaard

Black-Spotted Nudibranch photo: Nick Hobgood



Posted by: Seymour Simon

(7) Comments  •   Labels: Animals Nobody Loves, Animals, Coral Reefs, Cool Photo   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 17, 2011

I took a walk today in Great Falls National Park, along the Potomac River in Virginia. The falls are really beautiful, and the trails are wooded and shady, but the best part, for me anyway, was spotting all the wild animals.



This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) feeds at the water’s edge, using its long legs to wade through the water, spearing small fish and frogs with its long, sharp bill. 



You can clearly see the compound eye of this beautiful Dragonfly (an insect belonging to the order Odonata), which was perched in the foliage high above the falls. You usually find dragonflies near the water, because their larvae, called "nymphs" live in the water. These insects are valuable predators (valuable to humans, at least) because they eat mosquitoes.


My grandson Ben Simon took this great photograph of a wolf spider, which was hiding inside a crack of an old stump. Wolf spiders are members of the family Lycosidae, from the Ancient Greek word "λύκος" meaning "wolf". The blue and white mass, which almost looks like a piece of jewelry, are actually all her babies - dozens of tiny wolf spiders, riding on her back!


Have you taken a walk in the outdoors this week? If not, get outside and keep your eyes peeled. There are fascinating wild creatures all around you.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: Animals Nobody Loves, Animals, birds, Summer Vacation Science, Seymour Photographs, Insects   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 24, 2011

I received a letter this week from Hickory Hill Elementary School in Papillion, Nebraska.  The third graders are asking a very good question, and I thought other readers might be interested in this, too. 

Dear Mr. Simon,

My third graders just finished reading the book Giant Snakes in a guided reading group and they had a question regarding the book. On page 16 it states, "Anacondas are the largest snakes on the world" and then on page 19 it says, "The Reticulated Pythons of Southeast Asia are the longest snake in the world." They are curious as to which one really is the biggest snake?  


We really appreciate your books and love the pictures! Thanks in advance for your help with our question!

Hello, Third Graders! Good question. Anacondas are generally the largest (meaning heavier and wider, foot for foot) than pythons. But the Reticulated Pythons are the generally the longest (but not the biggest or largest) snakes in the world. So it all depends upon what you mean by big.

To give you an idea of just how long these snakes are, look at this photograph of kindergartner Faith Hackett holding the head of a Burmese python at Wildwood Park and Zoo in Marshfield, Wis., during a presentation on rescued exotic animals.

Thanks for writing, and happy reading!  


Photo: Dan Young / Marshfield News-Herald via AP   

READERS: Are you wondering how to add your own "comment" to this blog? Click here for exact directions on how to add a comment so you can become one of our Seymour Science writers! We also want you to be safe and not share too much information when you write on this blog, so please take a minute to read about how to stay safe on the Internet. We love to hear from you, so give "comments" a try! 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Animals Nobody Loves, Animals, Animal Books, Teachers and Librarians, Kids Write, snakes   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 16, 2011

I visited my friend Max and his family this weekend. Max is a first grader who loves to know everything he can about arachnids…..that is the scientific word for spiders. I thought he (and probably lots of my other readers!) would like this science news story about Tarantulas and how they climb safely.

Tarantulas are quite heavy, at least for spiders. They can weigh up to 1.75 ounces (50 grams), and their bodies are very delicate. So, climbing is possibly one of the riskiest things an adult tarantula can do. "They wouldn’t survive a fall from any height," explains Claire Rind, an arachnologist from the University of Newcastle, England. Rind ran a series of experiments, putting tarantulas into an aquarium, tilting it straight up, and then using slow motion microphotography to film the spiders’ feet as they held on. She also used a microscope to look at the moulted exoskeletons from her Mexican flame knee tarantula, Fluffy (yes, she saved them all!), and discovered tiny, silk-producing openings all over the spider’s feet.

She discovered that when a tarantula slips, it saves itself by shooting silk threads out of its feet to grasp the surface it is climbing. Sound like anybody you’ve ever heard of?


Photo: International Society of Arachnology

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Animals Nobody Loves, Animals, Spiders   •  Permalink (link to this article)

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