The ABCs of High School Electives: Translating Passions on Transcripts

As the academic year comes to a close, you may be thinking of nothing more than your summer bucket list. Many students however, like my daughter, have their eyes set on pursuing opportunities that can better prepare them for their career choice or expand their extracurricular experiences.

image of teen girl giving an oral presentation or speech

This past summer my daughter attended a week-long engineering camp at the university. This opportunity not only provided her with insight into her field of interest but also connected her to key personnel in the department. She emerged with a greater understanding of the skills she will need to succeed in her field. She also collaborated with another teen on an engineering project and gave a presentation at the conclusion of the course.

Summer camps like the one I described and short courses in art or sailing provide youth with hours that can be used for elective credits. Unlike required courses, electives are classes the student chooses based on her interests. It is the perfect way to customize a child’s education.

ABCs of High School Electives

While most high schools offer electives that cover a wide variety of topics, homeschoolers have the opportunity to craft a transcript that is unique and the most reflective of a student’s interests and future career goals.

This past year for example, my daughter has been actively involved in the Debate Club at the local community college. While it is an informal group (they haven’t competed against other schools), they are engaged in forensic experiences. The hours she attends and the research she invests in preparing her speeches can be applied to her transcript.

The possibilities are endless. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

A – Art & Graphic Design, Aeronautics, or Architecture

B – Birding (Ornithology) 

C – Culinary Arts

D – Drama, Drones (Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems)

E – Electronics 

F – Forensic Science

G – Game Design (Coding)

H – Homemaking

I – Interior Design

J – Journalism

K – Kinesiology (Sports Science)

L – Languages

M – Music (Performance & Theory)

N – Naturopathy, Nursing, or Nature Studies

O – Oceanography (Marine Science)

P – Psychology

Q – Quilting (Fiber Arts)

R – Robotics

S – Sociology

T – Toastmasters (Public Speaking and/or Debate)

U – Urban Studies

V – Venturing (Scouting)

W – Web Design 

X – Xeriscaping 

Y – Yearbook 

Z – Zoology

It would be impossible for any single school – public or private – to offer every elective on this list; there are simply too many. Schools are forced to choose which electives to offer based on a number of factors including location, student population, resources available, teacher expertise, and student interest. Homeschools, on the other hand, are not restricted by these factors.

Translating Elective Hours on the Transcript

Translating the hours a child has invested in a particular area can be done with ease. Simply keep an activity log as documentation of the hours invested. Click on the image below to download a FREE copy for yourself.image of an activity log used to track hours of instruction

In Oregon, 1 high school trimester is equal to 1 high school credit hour. This translates to approximately 55 hours of seat time/instruction. Thus, the 61 hours my daughter volunteered at the art museum last summer earned her 1 trimester credit.

These hours can be accumulated by watching instructional videos, TED talks, attending local seminars, reading informative texts, taking a specialized course (either in person or online), or any myriad of things related to the field of interest.

Use the course descriptions provided by local schools as a guide as you write your own. Keep in mind that electives can have different names depending on the school offering them, even if they cover essentially the same topic (for example, a culinary arts class could also be called cooking, foods, or something similar).

On a related note, forensics has long meant the art of speechmaking and oral presentation. Debate clubs, on the other hand, involve students in researching a pre-selected topic and then trying to convince people of their position. It’s a cousin of forensics but not the same thing.

To add to the confusion, Forensics Clubs and courses in Forensic Science are popping up in many modern schools, inspired by popular television shows. Using an optional course description can help to alleviate any confusion.

A Guided Tide Pool Hike with a Master Naturalist

Having grown up on the Oregon coast, I have been fascinated by marine animals since I was a young girl. I spent many long summer days exploring the tide pool and estuarine habitats in my neighborhood.

A naturalist at heart, I have inundated myself in ecology and natural sciences ever since, completing the coursework to become an Oregon Coast Master Naturalist a few years ago. Today, I am delighted to take you on a guided tide pool “hike” to one of the hidden gems of the Oregon seashore.

Cape Arago State Park

The tide pools at Cape Arago are incomparable. Here, you’ll find easy access to both the North and South Coves of Cape Arago. Tucked away below the cliffs, a short walk along the steep trails will take you to a secluded cove where tide pools and fossils can be found.

The south trail leads to tide pools teaming with diverse sea life. The north trail lets visitors view offshore colonies of seals and sea lions (however, the trail is closed from March – June to protect the seal pups during birthing season). Visitors to the area can also enjoy whale watching, crabbing, fishing, and scuba diving.

Nearby, there are two additional state parks: Sunset Bay (a sandy beach protected by towering sea cliffs – perfect for sunbathing and swimming) and Shore Acres (a lushly planted garden perched on rugged sandstone cliffs high above the ocean – once the famed estate of Louis Simpson).

Let’s now begin our guided hike of the south cove at Cape Arago.

Guided Tide Pool Hike

Upon hiking down the south trail you will first come to a small sandy beach. There is often driftwood and marine debris along the high tide line, pushed up against the base of the cliff atop the rocks and small boulders.

Purple Olive Snails

image of purple olive snails buried in the sand. Text overlay reads A Guided Tide Pool Hike with a Master Naturalist @EvaVarga.netAs you walk nearer the shoreline to the waters edge, you may see tiny little bumps in the sand. Olivella biplicata, commonly known as purple dwarf olive snails, burrow themselves in sand, leaving a plowed trail behind it. The foot is wedge shaped to facilitate plowing.

While burrowing it raises its long siphon up through the sand as a snorkel. They can be found nearshore on fairly quiet, protected beaches and farther offshore on more exposed beaches. Their predators include the seastarsoctopus, moon snails, and gulls. Most active at night, often move up and down the beach with the tide. Omnivorous, they eat kelp blades and both live and dead animal material.

Take a closer look, however. Some of these snails are not like the other.

Hermit Crabs

The snail shell at the top is inhabited by a hermit crab. There are more than 1000 species of hermit crabs -decapod crustaceans that possess an asymmetrical abdomen that is concealed in a scavenged mollusc shell which it carries around. As the hermit crab grows, it will seek out a larger shell.

Young boy holding a purple shore crab with text A Guided Tide Pool Hike with a Master Naturalist @EvaVarga.netShore Crabs

Hermits are not the only crabs you’ll observe in the tide pools. Crawling about between rock crevices and amongst the blades of kelp and marine algae are a diverse number of small crabs, each with its own distinguishing characteristics.

  • Purple shore crabs – Hemigrapsis nudus (pictured above) reaches sizes of approximately 4.0–5.6 cm and is generally dark purple in color, although it may be olive green or red, with white or cream markings. The color of the legs matches the color of the carapace but the white-tipped claws are a lighter color with purple or red spots. These markings distinguish it from the similar…
  • Lined shore crabs – Pachygrapsus crassipes, whose chelipeds lack spots.
  • Oregon shore crab – Hemigrapsis oregonensis is a similar species with setae or small hairs on its legs, a distinguishing characteristic the other two lack
  • Porcelain crabs – a flat, round body (perfectly adapted to life between rocks) with two large front claws, these delicate crabs readily lose limbs when attacked, and use their large claws for maintaining territories.

Blood star - a red, five armed sea star common on the Oregon coastSea Stars

No matter the depth or the substrate, these spiny skinned invertebrates are among the most successful marine creatures inhabiting the coast. The abundance and number of stars found along the west coast of North America is without equal in the world. I highlight just one in my post today.

Henricia leviuscula, the Pacific blood star, feeds mainly on sponges. It is fairly stiff with only small papulae (skin gills) and tube feet. It seems to rely much more on seawater uptake through the madreporite (a series of seawater-filled ducts that function in locomotion, feeding, and respiration) than do other sea stars of comparable size.

Ventral view of a Gumboot Chiton Chitons

The gumboot chiton, Cryptochiton stelleri, can be found clinging to rocks, moving slowly in search of its diet of algae which it scrapes off of rocks with its rasp-like retractable radula, covered with rows of magnetite-tipped teeth.

Unlike some other chiton species, C. stelleri has well-developed ctenidia (gills) in the groove beside the foot (pictured above). A commensal polychaete worm can sometimes be found here, as can the pea crab, Opisthopus transversus.

green sea anemone with embedded image of an aggregating anemone Sea Anemones

There are many anemones in the tide pools of the Pacific Northwest. One of the most common is the green anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica. Anthopleura is not just one species, however. Hidden within its tissues is an algae.

In this symbiotic relationship, the algae gain protection from snails and other grazers and don’t have to compete for living space, while the anemones gain extra nourishment from the algae in their guts. Contrary to popular opinion, this anemone’s green color is produced by the animal itself, not the algae that it eats.

Another fascinating anemone is the aggregating anemone (pictured in the embedded photo above), Anthopleura elegantissima, the most abundant anemone species found on rocky shores along the Pacific coast.

Aggregating anemones can rapidly clone themselves. If buried by shifting sands, they can survive for more than three months.

Tide Pool Guidebook 

You may not have the opportunity to explore a tide pool with a naturalist when you visit the Pacific Northwest Coast. In this case, you will want to find a guidebook or two to help you identify the diverse wildlife you will encounter.

One of the books we have at the marine life center that our visitors enjoy perusing when they have questions is The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest by J. Duane Sept. It was revised in 2009, it is beautifully illustrated and is a great guide to identifying the most common intertidal animals and plants of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.

The size is perfect to toss into your day pack if you wish to look up a specimen on your trek. It is written with the beachcomber in mind so while it does not feature every species, it is an excellent starting point for the more general specimens you may encounter.

While here, you may also be interested in Oregon Coast Quests – fun, educational, and clue directed hunts specific to the Oregon Coast.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book ClubWelcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in June

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

5 Senses at Sunset Walk from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study
Discovering Nature in the Garden Scavenger Hunt from Jenny at Faith & Good Works
Nature Walk Alphabet Hunt from Emily at Table Life Blog
Guided Tide Pool Hike from Eva at Eva Varga
Foraging & Feasting Unit Study & Lapbook from Tina at Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
Fairy Gardens and Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide The Chocolate
Decoupage Art with Nature Walk Findings from Katrina at Rule This Roost
Summer Nature Hike from Thaleia from Something 2 Offer
Leaf Shape Hunt from Karyn at Teach Beside Me

image of a stack of books in the grass with text overlay listing monthly theme

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.

Let’s party!

Outdoor Pond Studies: Getting Started with Aquatic Sciences

Aquatic sciences include the study of wetlands, freshwater and marine aquatic systems, and their boundaries. Though we had a particularly dry winter, March has brought the rains – Yippee!  We took advantage of the blue skies one morning to do a little aquatic science of our own and explore the vernal ponds.

Vernal ponds or ephemeral pools, are temporary pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. They are considered to be a distinctive type of wetland usually devoid of fish, which thereby allow the safe development of juvenile amphibian and insect species.

pond studies

Pond Studies – Let’s Get Wet

The kids were very excited to explore this ecosystem.  Upon arrival, they dropped their journals and immediately waded into the water in search of critters.  The dominant organism observed was without a doubt the tadpole.  All the kids exclaimed that they wanted to bring home a few tadpoles and fortunately I brought along containers for each family.

The kids enjoyed the freedom to explore for about an hour.  We then gathered our collection tubs together to take a closer look at what we found.  I had hand lenses and a microscope on hand for those who wanted to observe the critters in more detail.  I loved that my kiddos pulled out their journals and began to illustrate what most interested them.

In addition to the tadpoles, we also observed several aquatic insects:  backswimmer larvae, mosquito larvae, water striders, and water boatman. We are looking forward to observing our catch more closely at home when there are fewer distractions.  Setting up an aquarium at home provides us with the opportunity to observe the critters more closely and thereby further our pond studies at home.

Looking for aquatic critters has always been one of our favorite activities when the weather warms.  Take a peak at one of our earlier excursions, Aquatic Critters: Summer Nature Study, and download a free dichotomous key to aquatic insects.

pond study printablesTake it Further – Inquiry Science

Upon visiting a pond, collect critter samples to bring home for an aquarium for closer observations over time. Use pond water to fill your aquarium, not tap water, because it contains the microorganisms plankton eat.  Any tap water added to account for evaporation should be first left uncovered overnight to allow the chlorine to vaporize.

I’ve created a free printable you may wish to use to record your observations: Download the Pond Studies Printable here.

** Remember that backswimmers and giant water bugs bite with a stinging effect and large dragonfly nymphs may also bite.

How would you set up an experiment to answer these experimental questions? Make a list of needed materials and write down a hypothesis before you begin.

  • If given a choice between open water and water filled with submerged plants, which animals choose the open water?
  • Do more prey survive when plants are present?
  • Will predators eat less of one particular type of prey if other prey are present as well?
  • Do pond animals have any preference between light and dark?
  • Does darkness affect the ability of the predators to catch the prey?
  • Where will algae and snails survive best, in the dark or in the light?

More Outdoor Learning Ideas

Ecology Explorations Curriculum For more ideas for ecology studies, Ecology Explorations is a wonderful collection of hands-on lessons and inquiry projects designed with the middle school student in mind.

Though it is a 10-week unit, you can pick and choose activities to according to interest or to tie into another curriculum study.

While exploring the pond, the kids will undoubtedly enjoy the squishing mud between their fingers and toes – I know I do! Combine playing in mud, and nature study with another hands-on science activity – making seed bombs with this tutorial from Dachelle.

Looking for more outdoor learning activities to inspire your children this season? Check out Rachel’s compilation of 24 Outdoor Learning Ideas.

College Credit by Examination: Getting a Jump Start on College

It has become very common amongst high school graduates to earn college credit prior to official enrollment – getting a jump start on college. Many college bound students are taking advantage of opportunities through their high school to earn credit through dual enrollment courses or through examination.

What is College Credit by Examination?

Earning college credit through examination is more popular than ever. It provides students a shorter path to graduation while earning a degree from a reputable and accredited college or university.

The two most popular options are Advanced Placement® and the College Level Exam Program® – both of which are subject-specific credit-by-exam programs offered by The College Board. Exam content for both exam programs is developed by a panel of college professors, many who sit on both test development committees.

Advanced Placement (AP)

Advanced Placement courses and the corresponding exams were developed in the 1950’s to provide a way for high-achieving high school students to get a head start on college work. In recent decades, it has turned into a mass program that reaches more than a million students each year.

Offered and promoted through public schools, Advanced Placement receives more publicity and is more well-known than other testing programs. Advanced Placement courses help high schools raise their reputation and are suggested to high-achieving students as a way for them to demonstrate their academic ability.  –> I’ll be sharing details of our experience with the AP exam in a subsequent post soon.

If you are a home-schooled student, you are preparing on your own, or you attend a school that does not offer AP, you can still take the exams by arranging to test at a participating school or authorized test center.

Possible AP Exams to Consider

  • English Literature
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Computer Science
  • Art History
  • Music Theory
  • Macro and Microeconomics
  • US History
  • World History
  • World Languages (Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish)

With qualifying AP Exam scores, students can earn college credit, advanced placement, or both at the majority of colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. You decide which colleges (if any) receive your AP Exam scores.

College Level Exam Program (CLEP)

College Level Exam Program exams are viewed as a method to demonstrate mastery of material often taught in introductory college-level courses. Since they are not associated with a high school course or curriculum, these exams are not as well marketed or as well-known.

As independent learners, adults and homeschooled students are taking these exams at an ever increasing rate. As they continue to grow in popularity, the test providers have taken notice and are actively reaching out to the homeschool market.

Possible CLEP Exams to Consider

  • American and English Literature
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Natural Sciences
  • Calculus
  • College Algebra
  • Macro and Microeconomics
  • US History
  • World Languages (French, German, Spanish)

Which Test Should I Take? 

The most pronounced difference between the two is their availability: AP is offered only once each year in May whereas CLEP is offered year-round. The difference in cost is near negligible; the AP exam costs $93 whereas the CLEP is $80.

While some colleges will exclusively accept AP exams, it has become common for colleges to award credit for CLEP as well. What tests are accepted and the qualifying score required may also differ so it is important to inquire with your intended university well in advance.

Individual colleges and universities, not the College Board or the AP Program, grant course credit and placement. Inquire with your school(s) of choice and obtain their AP policy in writing. You may find that what is considered a passing score to differ between institutions.

Advantages to Placement Exams

While affordability, availability, and advancement are just a few reasons to consider earning college credit in your high school years. Obtaining credit through exam also benefits students in other ways.

►  Preparing for for these exams helps students develop the study skills and critical reasoning that prepare them for the transition to college.

►  They give students the confidence that they can successfully handle college-level work.

►  Successfully passing gives students a jump-start towards the completion of their degree.

Students entering college in the near future are encouraged to check the transfer policy of their desired institution to see which type and how many credits can be earned with credit-by-exam options.

Oregon Nature Quiz #4: Wildflowers Edition

What could be more beguiling — or more intrinsically American — than trails lined with wildflowers … trillium, foxgloves stretching to touch the sun, and tiger lily carpeting the woodland floor in early spring? The season for wildflowers is gloriously long in Oregon, typically starting in late March at lower elevations, lasting through to late July and into August in the higher reaches of the Cascade Mountains.

Oregon Nature Quiz #4: Wildflowers Edition

Our Venturing Crew recently completed our first 3-day backpacking outing on the North Umpqua Trail. Along the hike, we observed a variety of native wildflowers – some we were familiar with and others had us stumped until we returned home and were able to pull out our wildflower identification books.

Pictured below are five Oregon wildflowers that we observed. Can you identify each?

wild purple orchid

wetland flower with large single yellow petal and large green leaves

Hiking in spring and early summer is a treasure hunt of color as wildflowers bloom in the meadows and mountains of Oregon. Look for blossoms on these trails and others around the state.

flower with three green leaves and three white petals

blue flowers with five petals and stamens in distinct ring at centerpink flowers with five clustered petals one with dark pink streaks


1. Deer Orchid (Calypso bulbosa) Also known as Calypso Fairyslipper or Hider-of-the-North

One of the most elusive flowers we observed was the Deer Orchid. This beautiful little native orchid is my favorite. Though the orchid is widespread in the western temperate forests of Oregon, it is rather illusive and often hard to find.

It is highly susceptible to even slight disturbances in its environment. Trampling and picking are the primary reasons for its rapid decline in some locations. Picking the flower inevitably kills the plant, because the delicate roots break at even the lightest pull on the stem.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has listed it as a species vulnerable to extinction on a global scale. Transplanting or cultivating the plant is rarely successful because of its need for specific soil fungi that are not usually present on transplant sites or in controlled environments.

2. Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) – Sometimes referred to as Swamp Lantern

This distinctive plant is found in swamps and wetlands, along streams and in other wet areas of the Pacific Northwest, where it is one of the few native species in the arum family. It emits a “skunky” odor that when it blooms.

Surprisingly, the stench is quite beneficial to the plant’s survival. It discourages animals from nipping at its leaves and disturbing the soft, muddy wetland habitat it prefers. The smell (most often described as rotting flesh) also attracts bees and flies that act as its pollinators by moving pollen from males to the waiting stigmata of females.

3. Trillium (Trillium albidum) – Also called Giant Wake Robin or White Toad Shade

The three leaves and three-petal flowers of Trillium are so distinctive, even children can tell them from other plants. This is a blessing as well as a curse because it seems few can refrain from picking the flowers which retards their bloom because it prevents the corm (storage area within the stem) from receiving the nutrients they require for next year’s bloom.

Trillium flowers are stalkless, being borne directly on the ruff of leaves that extend under them. There is no pedicel between the base of the leaves and the base of the flower and it is hence a sessile species.

Test your skill with previous editions of the Oregon Nature Quiz here: Winter Wonderland Edition, Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition, and the First Summer Edition.

4. Forget Me Not (Myosotis sp.)

There are both native and non-native species in the Pacific Northwest. Those that are non-native most likely escaped from gardens and found suitable habitat. Unfortunately, I do not know the specific species of the one pictured here.

The genus name, Myosotis, means mouse ear, which eludes to the size and shape of the petal.  Perennial M. scorpiodes generally remains under a foot high but reaches 2 feet or more across, spreading by creeping roots. The blue springtime flowers typically have a yellow eye, though white-and pink-eyed forms exist.

5. Rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum)

In springtime large clumps of pink and purple flowers begin showing off in yards and woodlands throughout the Pacific Northwest.With a native habitat ranging from 19,000′ alpine meadows in Nepal to tropical regions in Northern Australia and the wind-swept coast of Scotland, the rhododendron exhibits a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.

Rhododendron thrives in disturbed habitats such as roadside embankments and recently deforested wild lands. They can also live up in the mountains. Oregon’s mix of moisture, mild weather, and acidic soil, make it a Rhododendron paradise.

Wildflowers in the PNW

This is an excellent field guide featuring more than 1240 stunning color photographs. It describes and illustrates thousands of commonly encountered species, both native and nonnative, including perennials, annuals, and shrubs. Written by Mark Turner and Phyllis Gustafson, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, is a must for your nature center.

Encompassing the Pacific Northwest from southern British Columbia to northern California, from the coast to the mountains and high desert, this handy book is perfect for hikers, naturalists, native plant enthusiasts, and anyone wishing to learn about the amazingly diverse wildflowers of the region. Organized by flower color and shape, and including a range map for each flower described, it is as user-friendly as it is informative.

Journaling Reflections

Years ago when we first started homeschooling, nature study was a major part of our science curriculum. Our weekly nature walks prompted a wealth of questions from the kids with which I incorporated short, mindful lessons that I sprinkled throughout the following week.

Often, we would use Barb’s Outdoor Hour Challenges as a focal point to get us started. Here’s a post I wrote following our wildflower hike in the summer of 2010. What a joy to reflect back on their early nature studies and journaling experiences.

simple graphic image of tree with text The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.

We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details and for a giveaway!

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in May:

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Miss Rumphius Mixed Media Art from Emily at Table Life Blog

Wildflower Walk and Pressing Flowers from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study

Wildflowers Nature Study from Jenny at Faith and Good Works

Oregon Nature Study Quiz: Wildflower Edition from Eva at Eva Varga

Wildflower Fairy Poetry & Art Activity from Melanie at Wind in a Letterbox

Flower Fairy Peg Dolls from Cassidy at Freshly Planted

Fletcher and the Springtime Blossoms Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

Wildflowers Unit Study & Lapbook from Tina at Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus

Fingerprint Painting on Canvas Activity from Katrina at Rule This Roost

DIY Flower Press from Thaleia at Something 2 Offer

Dandelion Life Cycle Learning Activities from Karyn at Teach Beside Me

image of a stack of books in the grass with text overlay listing monthly themeParty Rules

  • Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
  • The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
  • You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
  • By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it!
  • Let’s party.

A Mermaid’s Purse: A Surprise Discovery Within

Recently, as I was volunteering at a local marine life center, a pair of fishermen brought in a large mermaid’s purse as they called it – offering it to the center for educational purposes. Of course, the staff and volunteers jumped at the chance to showcase this animal in our aquaria.

I’m delighted that this recent discovery aligns with the current Nature Book Club theme – learn more about this monthly link-up below.

image of a mermaid's purse or egg case from a big skate

A mermaid’s purse is an egg case or capsule of oviparous (egg laying) sharks, skates, and chimaeras. The egg cases are purse-shaped with long tendrils at the corners that serve to anchor them to structures on the sea floor.

The size of egg cases vary, depending on species. Most contain a single embryo but egg cases of larger species, like the big skate, can contain seven. As it happens, the mermaid’s purse that was brought to us was that of the big skate, Raja binoculata.

Though I had previously observed skates and rays at larger aquaria (most notable Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Aquarium of the Pacific – both in California), I had yet to observe them in the wild. The director was eager to provide the students, volunteers, and many visitors the opportunity to observe the development of the embryos up close.

Skates & Rays

This recent experience has inspired me to learn more about the skates and rays. I immediately went to our local library and checked out a couple books to get me started – even as an adult, I often go to the children’s section to find non-fiction books on topics of interest. I love the way authors bring it down to their level and the two highlighted here do just that.

Raja binoculata photo by Scott Stevenson – visit his site for more amazing photographs

There are over 500 species of skates and rays in the world and are easily distinguished from other fish by their disc-shaped, dorso-ventrally (i.e. from top to bottom) flattened bodies and expanded pectoral fins which attach to the sides of the head.

Their basic body shape allows them to live on or very close to the bottom of the ocean, where they bury themselves in mud or sand to ambush prey and avoid predators. Along with their basic body shape, they are characterized by ventral gill openings, eyes and spiracles located on the top of the head, pavement-like teeth, and lack of an anal fin.

Skates and Rays is a great book for children to introduce them to the subject. Any beachcomber who finds a “mermaid’s purse,” an egg case from a skate, must wonder what sort of creature can emerge from such a curiously shaped item. This book, part of the “Living Ocean” series, explores the world of rays and skates, of which there are more than 150 species.

Closely related to sharks, these animals make up a subclass of cartilaginous fish. Instead of having skeletons made of bone, elasmobranchs have skeletons made of soft, pliable cartilage. Like rays, skates are usually flat, with a long tail.

This book examines the behavior, habitats, and anatomy of these intriguing swimmers, describing how they catch prey, why they are important to oceans, and why many are in danger.

Another good choice is The Nature Company Guide to Sharks & Rays. This book has real photographs of sharks on every page, and rays are featured more prevalently than in most other books on the same topic. The species is clearly identified and portrayed in the field guide chapters, and following that are details about choice diving locales around the world.

It will be especially useful to the teen reader or marine naturalist/hobbyist. The information is well organized, detailed, and scientifically accurate. For someone less familiar with scientific terms, it could be a bit heavier, as it tends to use many terms, such as pelagic and elasmobranch, with only a brief definition provided.

A Mermaid’s Purse

Egg cases are made of collagen protein strands and most would describe the exterior texture as rough and leathery. Some egg cases have a fibrous material covering the outside of the egg case, thought to aid in attachment to substrate.

Egg cases without a fibrous outer layer can be striated, bumpy, or smooth and glossy. Egg cases are typically rectangular in shape with projections, called horns, at each corner. Depending on the species, egg cases may have one or more tendrils.

The mermaid’s purse that was brought into the learning center was prepared by one of the graduate student volunteers from the university. He carefully cut a hole into the flat side of the egg case and adhered a clear plastic covering. This provided a window by which we can watch the development of the embryos within as you can see from the video above.

Raja binoculata

The big skate is the largest species of skate (family Rajidae) in the waters off North America. They are found all along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja California, typically from the intertidal zone to a depth of 120 m (390 ft).

These impressive animals feed on benthic invertebrates and small fishes. As I stated previously, they are unusual among skates in that their egg cases may contain up to seven eggs each. This species is one of the most commercially important skates off California and is sold for food, though compared to other commercial fisheries, it is of only minor importance.

Typically caught as a by-catch of trawlers, fisheries have begun to market it more as a result of higher market value. Unfortunately, the big skates’ slow reproductive rate gives cause for some concern but population data is limited.

simple graphic image of tree with text The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.

We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details and for a giveaway!

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in April:

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Bird Nest/Eggs nature study pages from Barb at Handbook of Nature Study

Eggs: Nature’s Perfect Package from Erin Dean at the Usual Mayhem

Getting Started with Citizen Science – Nest Watch from Eva Varga

From Egg to Sea Turtle Unit Study & Lapbook from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus

Eggs Nature Study Free Printable Word Search from Faith and Good Works

Egg Scavenger Hunt with Egg Carton from Katrina at Rule This Roost

Felt Bag Handicraft from Melanie at Wind in a Letterbox

Clay Eggs Project from Emily at Table Life Blog

Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

Egg Identification Nature Bingo {Free Printable} from Cassidy at Freshly Planted

image of a stack of books in the grass with text overlay listing monthly themeParty Rules

  • Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
  • The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
  • You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
  • By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it!
  • Let’s party.