Review: The Wave

This book may be one of those unknown gems.  I found this in the nearby Little Library.  I’m going to put it back there for someone else to find and read.

Margaret Hodges is the author.

The plot of the book is about how Ojisan, who lives in a small fishing village, notices something is wrong and saves everyone’s lives by extreme personal sacrifice.

Great storytelling and great use of language.  Appropriate for ages six and up and adults will enjoy it as well.

Review: The Light at Tern Rock

This is a Newberry Honor Book I have never heard of.  It is appropriate for ages 7 and up.

The plot summary is that Ronnie and Aunt Martha are asked by the lighthouse keeper at Tern Rock to take care of the lighthouse while he goes to visit family.  Ronnie hesitates because it is near Christmas and he is afraid of missing Christmas with his family.

Older readers may be able to guess the outcome.  However, I understand why this book received the Newberry Honor.  The plot is very tight, characters well-described, and the language is middle to high school level.  There is a great lesson taught as well.

Find a copy and read it especially if you have older children.

Radiate

via Daily Prompt: Radiate

To radiate.  This word has its’ positive and negative meanings and connotations.  The positive have to do with warmth and beauty the negative have to do with health and pollution and environment.  Or do they cross over in some way?

Right now my computer and cell phone are giving off radiation.  Why are we told not to worry about this?  A lot of people disagree.  Radiation from nuclear fallout, atoms hitting each other.  Yes, there is natural radiation from the sun that we can’t live without. Radiation provides us with so much that we may not be able to comprehend it all in one sitting.  However, I don’t understand why radiation is used in medicine and for cancer patients.

I love sunflowers and they radiate happiness.  Big, strong, tall, and bright.

When someone is smiling from ear to ear, people say they are radiating happiness.

People who are empaths know that others radiate emotions, like a radio tower, and they tune into them.

How many things, good and bad, radiate in our lives?

Diamondback Terrapin

One of the students who came to the marsh today found a baby diamondback terrapin. The excitement among the students was quickly contagious.   Some of them had never held a turtle or turtle species before. The baby terrapin was quick to try and get away but everyone held on.

It was tucked in the peat along with the ribbed mussels, fiddler crab burrows, melampus snails, and spartina grass.  We put it back in the water after photos were taken.  The water is the safest place for it as they are easy pickings for seagulls and other birds looking for a quick snack.  We hope it makes it to maturity and adulthood.

Diamondback terrapins can only live in the brackish, mixture of salt and fresh water, that is found in a salt or tidal marsh.  The females make long journeys to lay their eggs.

The marsh where I docent the tours for local school-aged children and their parents and guardians is about 1/3 left of the original size that it once was.  Most of the marsh was taken for a nearby small airport.  The airport has it’s own politics involved.

Most people don’t realize that the females are the larger species of terrapins because they need the larger body to hold their eggs.  They breed with males near the airport and then must undertake a treacherous journey across to very busy roads and what is left of the marsh to lay their eggs in the sandy barrier beach that is next to the marsh.

Many are killed trying to cross one of the roads.  I found a smashed female with her eggs last year on one of them.  If the female makes it across, her eggs and the newborn hatchlings can be eaten by any number of predators including deer, fixes, birds and raccoons while incubating in the nest. Or they bake in the hot sun and pavement.

Their shells need to stay constantly moist.

If you see one, their best bet is to get into the water as quickly as possible.  They are great swimmers and swim long distances.

 

Mommy and Daddy Crabs

Talking about male/ female crabs and how the horseshoe eggs come to be can be interesting and sometimes awkward depending on the audience.

Unlike the male fiddler crabs that have the large claw to attract females, male horseshoe crabs mate a completely different way.

As mentioned briefly before, females are usually larger and males smaller.  This is the first clue in identification.  If this is not clear, the next best way to identify the crab, if at all possible, is through their legs.

Horseshoe crabs have six sets of legs.  Only the back five are used for them to walk and to eat.  The front set, closest to the top of the shell or carapace, are called pedipalps, palps, or palpi. Pedi comes from the Latin for “foot” and palp from the Latin for “touching”.  On the females, these look like their walking legs.  On the males, they can be described as looking like mittens, boxing gloves, large claws, or large pincers.

Females give off pheromones to attract the males when they, the females, arrive on shore.  The males are usually waiting for the females to come up.

The males use these pedipalps to hold onto the back of the female crab on an area known as the opisthosoma.  This is the back part of the crab right before the telson.  They hang on very tightly.  Waiting.

If you, the reader, ever have the chance to observe the horseshoe crabs mating, watch carefully.  They are silent and strong and follow along with the currents one may or may not be aware of.

More than one male horseshoe crab can follow and fertilize just one female’s eggs.  One female can lay an estimated 9,000 to 90,000 eggs.  She may lay them in one hole or may create more than one hole.  The male or males follow along, attached or not, to fertilize the eggs.

Once the female lays her eggs, the eggs will be on their own.  The female leaves.

Most people find it shocking that the horseshoe crabs would go through all of this trouble and then leave their eggs. Yet if one thinks about it, they are not the only species that do this.  The animals humans look to like frogs, turtles, and fish do this as well.

CaCO3

CaCo3 + chitin help make up the horseshoe crab’s shell.

(See earlier post for information on chitin.)

People complain that it is tough and hard if they step on one.  These two elements are the reason why.

One question I always ask the students who come is: what are your bones made out of? The sad fact is that the majority do not know.  They  know about the TV commercials telling them to drink milk for strong bones but they don’t know WHAT makes their bones strong.

Calcium is the link between all living creatures that have bones and shells.  Calcium is the fifth most abundant element on earth and has many variations (I’m not getting into more than basic chemistry here).  One of the variations that link us to the horseshoe crabs and all of the other shelled animals like oysters and lobsters is CaCO3, or calcium carbonate.

Calcium carbonate is a calcium compound.  We use it all the time and use products that contain it all the time like toothpaste, vitamins, almond milk, as a calcium supplement, and when we eat dark green vegetables like kale.

Calcium carbonate may have the ability to neutralize acid rain in river water and river ecosystems even though it is not soluble, or dissolves, in water.

CaCO3 is the reason we have fossils of horseshoe crabs going back 450 million years.  It is also the reason their shells are so strong and tough.  It is their home, their refuge, their protection.  CaCO3 is the reason they can travel hundreds of miles through the water and then make it to the shores to lay their eggs.

Calcium carbonate is the reason we get to see them now.

 

Chitin

One component of the horseshoe crab’s shell is chitin (pronounced ki-tin).  Another is calcium carbonate (more on that later).

Chitin is all around us and is related to keratin which we as humans have in our hair and nails.  Our hair and nails shed and grow and crack thanks to keratin.  And thanks to chitin, the exoskeleton shells of horseshoe crabs molt (break off and regenerate) as they grow from infancy to adulthood.  The exoskeletons also protect the horseshoe crabs in three major ways: defense from being eaten, protection of their inner organs, and protection from dehydration.

Chitin is also related to glucose (sugar).

Exoskeletons are outer shells and we humans have endoskeletons, our bones are inside.

Exoskeletons are present throughout nature.  Think of all the animals you know and how many have exoskeletons.  How many can you think of and how many can you name?  (Some may surprise you.)

The more one learns about chitin, the more fascinating it is.  Besides helping test the cleanliness of medical equipment (see earlier post “Blue Bloods”), chitin is used in surgical thread that decomposes as the wound heals, whipped dessert toppings, it may help to reduce and help cure certain illnesses, it helps clean the water supply, is used as a fertilizer, and is used in paper.  There are many other uses in the medical, food industry, and biotechnology fields.

Basically without chitin, we wouldn’t have a lot of the materials and products we do now.

A sad side note: many horseshoe crabs are killed by fisherman as an easy source of bait and also killed by other people and used as a source of fertilizer.  There are alternatives to this, including composting food scraps and alternatives have been developed in the fishing industry to catch fish the fishermen use horseshoe crab bait for.

One of my first experiences seeing and teaching about this was finding horseshoe crab shells scattered in the local marsh.  They were all females, females are preferred, and all of them had had their insides scooped out by hand.  It was obvious because all of the insides were gone unlike with the birds the insides are pecked out.

It takes a a decade for horseshoe crabs to mature and sad they were killed for momentary pleasure.

They may be another animal that holds the key for a cure for a disease like cancer.