Science & Technology Archives - Page 3 of 61 - Eva Varga


August 20, 2018

Aquatic science – the study of wetlands, freshwater and marine systems – can be a little intimidating. With adult supervision and clear boundaries and expectations outlined in advance, taking time to explore these diverse habitats can be very rewarding. The focus of my post today is on aquatic systems – estuaries, ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers.

image of the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California with text overlay Aquatic Science Studies: 10 Activities for Teens @EvaVarga.net

Physical Factors of Aquatic Systems

Abiotic factors are components of a natural environment that are not alive. In other words, abiotic factors are the physical or chemical parts of the environment that affect the organisms in that environment. For aquatic ecosystems, these factors include light levelswater flow ratetemperaturedissolved oxygenacidity (pH), salinity, and depth.

Upper elementary and middle school students are capable of exploring how each of these abiotic factors affect the environment. If you are just getting started, I encourage you to begin with a small pond. Here, children can enjoy the freedom to explore safely while also focusing their attention on specific learning goals – observations and data collection.

The most distinctive area of an aquatic system is likely the riparian zone. Acting as buffers between upland areas and open water, riparian zones help filter pollutants such as nutrients and sediment. Healthy riparian vegetation helps to reduce stream bank erosion and maintain a stable stream channel. Vegetation also provides shade, which works to lower water temperatures.

Conduct a riparian area survey with your students with my guide, The Many Parts of a Stream Bank. This half-day field excursion is a wonderful outdoor science experience for teens.

A few years ago, my STEM Club was immersed in a three part ecology unit, Field, Forest, & Stream. One of their favorite activities in this unit study was the stream survey – after all, we spent much of our time in the stream – the perfect way to cool off in the stifling heat of a Redding summer. Some of the physical factors we investigated were bottom substrate, channel shape, and the velocity of the current.

image of teen setting a crab trap at low tide

Flora & Fauna of Aquatic Systems

Move beyond the physical factors to explore the impact these abiotic factors have on the animals and plants that make their home in freshwater streams and rivers. Expand on your stream survey to include the flora (plants) and fauna (animals) of the riparian zone. Take it further by investing how biotic factors such as invasive species affect the native organisms.

Reach out to your local fish and wildlife agency or watershed associations to inquire about their outreach classes and internships. Many provide opportunities for youth to get involved in long-term projects.

For example, my daughter and I recently collaborated with an undergraduate looking at the effects of the invasive European green crab on our local estuaries. We spent the day collecting traps that had been set out the day before and in turn setting them out in new locations. We also collected data related to the abiotic and biotic factors:

  • What crab species are present?
  • What is the water temperature? air temperature?
  • What is the time of day and location?
  • Of the non-natives collected, what is the size and sex distribution?

Design a simple lab experiment to explore how environmental changes affect aquatic organisms. I’ve outlined the procedure in my post, Environmental Science: How Species Respond to Environmental Changes.

Inquiry based science projects like these allow students the opportunity to become the scientist themselves – using the tools and resources of real scientists. For more ideas, here are 100 Science Fair Projects.

Beavers are the largest rodents in North America, and they spend most of their time in the water. Nature’s engineer, the industrious beaver is often cited as an example of a keystone species because through its dam-building behaviors it has major influences on both the vegetation of an area and the water table.

Initiated by the fur trade, the consequences of losing beavers has had a profound impact on our ecology: streams eroded, wetlands dried up, and species from salmon to swans have lost vital habitat. A fabulous non-fiction book for adults and advanced students is Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They MatterThe author outlines the strategies undertaken by scientists, ranchers, and passionate citizens who recognize that ecosystems with beavers are far healthier, for humans and non-humans alike, than those without them.

Do you have beavers in your local area? What about the past? How has the range of beavers (or another animal) changed over the years? What impact does its absence or presence have on the ecosystem?

For younger readers, consider Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones. The illustrations and text blend well together to give a great sense of the ecosystem and watershed. Written in cumulative verse, the author has created a book that is enjoyable for students and a valuable teaching resource. Awarded the CBC/NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, it provides an accurate description of the life cycle of salmon – from their form as eggs in a stream to the wide ocean, eventually making a hazardous journey home to their stream of origin. At the back is a section on salmon facts and what makes a good habitat for them, teaching the basics of ecology and why clean streams and waters are so important.

To accompany this book, I created a printable you can download FREE to illustrate the life-cycle of salmon.

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 August

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.

Seasonal Pond Study and Printables from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study
Sensory Bin and Observation Notebooking Page from Jenny at Faith & Good Works
Pond Life Printable Pack from Emily at Table Life Blog
Aquatic Science Studies: 10 Activities for Teens from Eva at Eva Varga
Above and Below a Pond Unit Study and Lapbook from Tina at Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
Online Book Study about water cycle from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate
STEAM Challenge – Does Water Ever Flow Up? from Erika at The Playful Scholar
Who Was?® What Was?® Where Is?® Book Series: Where is the Mississippi River? from Sharla at Minnesota Country Girl
River Exploration and Frog Catching from Thaleia at Something 2 Offer

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!




August 7, 2018

Imagine for a moment, it is the year 1844 and you’re walking down Broad Street in the small coastal town of Lyme Regis on the southern shore of England. Your eyes are drawn to a window of a cottage. Treasures lay on the other side of the glass: coiled ammonite shells long since turned to stone, sea shells carefully arranged in a pattern, and in the center sits the petrified skull of a long-snouted sea reptile with pointed teeth and huge eyes. A sign above the door reads Anning’s Fossil Depot.

This small shop of curiosities was owned by a remarkable woman of her time, Mary Anning. She spent her life collecting the Jurassic-era fossils displayed throughout the small shop, simultaneously providing for her family and unlocking the secrets of Lyme Regis’s ancient past. Today, her shop is a museum.

image of Mary Anning's Plesiosaurus fossil discovery

Born into poverty in a society famed for its class consciousness, the savvy businesswoman defied the odds to become one of the world’s most important scientific figures.

Paleontologist Mary Anning was an impressive fossil hunter who discovered the first articulated plesiosaur and was among the first to identify fossilized poop or coprolite. However, like many females scientists, her male contemporaries had a frustrating way of swiping credit from her.

Short Biography of Mary Anning

Born on the 21st of May 1799, Mary Anning was an English fossil collector and paleontologist. She became known around the world for important finds she made in the fossil beds along the seaside cliffs of the English Channel at Lyme Regis in Southwest England. Her findings contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.

By the late 18th century, Lyme Regis had become a popular seaside resort and many locals supplemented their income by selling what were called “curios” to visitors. These were fossils with colorful local names such as “snake-stones” (ammonites), “devil’s fingers” (belemnites), and “verteberries” (vertebrae). Fossil collecting was a hobby shared by many and it gradually transformed into a science as the importance of fossils to geology and biology was understood.

Mary Anning painting
Painting credited to ‘Mr. Grey’ in Crispin Tickell’s book ‘Mary Anning of Lyme Regis’ (1996) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Her father was a cabinetmaker who supplemented his income by mining the coastal cliff-side fossil beds near the town, and selling his finds to tourists. He married Mary “Molly” Moore in 1793 and together had ten children, though only Mary and one brother, Joseph, survived to adulthood. Their father, Richard, often took Mary and Joseph on fossil-hunting expeditions. Mary continued to support herself through fossil hunting as she grew older. 

While scouring the beach in early December 1823, she came upon a fossilized skull that was like nothing she’d seen before. The majority of the skulls she had previously found belonged to Icthyosaurs; they were long and narrow, a bit like the heads of dolphins or crocodiles.

This skull, on the other hand, was small, beady-eyed, and had a mouthful of strange, needle-shaped teeth. Calling upon nearby villagers for assistance, Anning carefully unearthed the rest of the mystery creature’s body. Attached to a stout torso and broad pelvis were four flippers and a diminutive tail. The long neck was the most peculiar feature, however, accounting for nearly half of the 9-foot creature’s length.

She wrote to a colleague describing her discovery (see a page from her letter below) and her place in the scientific community was sealed, though many of her peers were initially skeptical. In fact, at a Geological Society of London meeting the following year, Reverend William Conybeare (a fellow paleontologist) stole the show with a well-received presentation on the nearly complete Plesiosaurus from Lyme Regis. He also published a paper featuring detailed original illustrations of the specimen. However, neither his presentation nor his paper mentioned Anning and he initially stole credit for the discovery.

Over time, Anning’s discoveries became key pieces of evidence for extinction. Her work also became well known in literary circles as well; Charles Dickens wrote of his admiration of her 18 years after her passing. Legend has it the children’s rhyme, “She Sells Seashells”, is also a tribute to her work:

She sells seashells on the sea shore.
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.
And if she sells seashells on the sea shore,
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.

Anning died from breast cancer at the age of 47 on the 9th of March 1847. Admirably, when the Geologic Society learned of her diagnosis, its members began raising money to cover her medical expenses. Later, her funeral was paid for by the society which also financed a stained-glass window dedicated to her memory that now sits at St. Michael’s Parish Church in Lyme Regis.

Bring it Home – Lessons from Mary Anning

Nature journals are as valuable a learning tool today as they were in earlier centuries. The image below comes from a letter written in 1823 by Mary Anning describing her discovery of what would be identified as a Plesiosaurus. Mary Anning Plesiosaurus

Visit a local natural history museum and create a nature journal entry on one of the specimens on display. Inquire with the staff about the process and care involved in curating skeletal specimens.

Participate in a fossil walk.

Begin your own collection of fossils.

If possible, visit the Natural History Museum in London or the museum in Lyme Regis.  We recently had this opportunity when we traveled to England in 2017. Here you can learn more about the pioneering work of Mary Anning and see some of the most complete fossils of prehistoric sea animals, including ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. Plus, look out for the skeleton cast of the giant ground sloth, a land mammal often mistaken for a dinosaur.

Novelist Tracy Chevalier (author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring) has made a career of bringing history to life. Chevalier’s newest novel is called Remarkable Creatures centers around the life of Mary Anning. The novel introduces readers to Mary’s unlikely champion, Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class woman who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset. Based on real characters, I found the story interesting. I was moved to realize just how difficult it must have been to persevere with the social obstacles she encountered in her time.

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.



July 20, 2018

The sandy shore dominates much of the open coastline of the Pacific Northwest, stretching uninterrupted for miles in many regions. These dynamic habitats represent the most physically controlled of all the nearshore marine habitats and are considered one of the hardest places to live. As such, understanding the nature of the habitat and the animals that live there is important.image of a teen walking on a sandy beach with text overlay "Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore: 10 Activities for Teens" @EvaVarga.net

Sandy beaches are in a constant state of change and motion. Animals on exposed sandy beaches must protect themselves from shifting, abrasive sand and heavy surf.

Hands-on Activities to Explore the Sandy Shore

My family and I have spent much time exploring the ecology of the sandy shore and immersing ourselves in nature discoveries. There are many opportunities to learn more about this environment. Here are few ideas to help you get started:

Collect samples of beach sand from different beaches and classify each into coarse, medium, and fine sand. Can you see evidence of animal life in the samples?

Send the kids on an scavenger hunt of the intertidal invertebrates – note that many of these are not residents of the shifting sands of the sandy shore but are found clinging to the rocks and along the margins shoreline.

Be ready for the unexpected; you never know what you might discover while walking along the sandy beach like these Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep. Finding an animal or plant that is unfamiliar to you is a great opportunity to seek out the answer. Can you find it in a guidebook? Do others know? Consider reaching out to local experts (remember to bring a photo) for help. Resource specialists at Fish & Wildlife offices are eager to answer questions and share their knowledge with the public.

getting started in 5 exercisesBegin a nature journal and showcase your discoveries. Here’s a peak at one of my son’s earliest entries, The Elusive Brittle Star: An Hawai’ian Nature Study. Need help to get started? Check out my tutorial, Keeping a Nature Journal: Getting Started in 5 Exercises.

You may also be interested in a college level course, Nature Journaling in the Classroom. The course is offered through the Heritage Institute and optional, university credit is available.

Do a little research to learn more about the animals that live in the surf-swept coastline. How are they adapted to life in this physically demanding habitat? Compare and contrast the means of mobility of two animals commonly seen on California’s Central Coast: Ventura Beach: the Pacific Mole Crab and By-the-Wind Sailor. Make a list of the adaptations you have observed.

image of two marine invertebrates: By the Wind Sailor (jellyfish) and Pacific Mole CrabChallenge your kids to design their own plant or animal specially equipped to survive on the sandy shore. Draw a picture of the organism or build a 3D model. Tell how it is adapted to life here.

Take Action to Protect the Sandy Shore

As a life long resident of the Oregon coast, the condition of our local beaches and ecosystems is very important to me. The idea of citizen science or “public participation in scientific research,” has also always been a passion of mine. Here are a few ideas in hopes of inspiring your family to get involved:

Take part in aBioBlitz –  an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. We took part in 2014 but they happen annually.

image collage of a young girl upcycling plastics to create artOrganize a family beach clean-up and do your part to spread the word about the dangers of single-use plastics like Washed Ashore

Feeling inspired? Collect plastic bottle caps to create a colorful mural and donate it to a local non-profit.

Just for fun, create a Labyrinth on the Beach and invite others to join you. Encourage participants to make a pledge to do their part to make a difference.

Guidebooks to the Sandy Shore & Other Habitats

The Beachcomber’s Guide to Marine Life in the Pacific Northwest by Thomas M. Niesen is one of my favorite marine ecology guides.  Each page is features incredible hand illustrations (by artist David Wood) that really capture the organism with a detailed simplicity.  Additionally, black and white images (though some are a little dark) and 16 pages of color photographs in the center of the book provide  excellent coverage.

Though this is not a pocket guide, Dr. Niesen writes in very clear language to help you identify what you are looking at, learn about its life habits, as well as its habitat. Organized with an emphasis on habitats and arrangement by type of organism within each habitat (sandy beach, estuaries, rocky intertidal, open ocean, etc.) is extremely helpful. Niesen also goes into great detail about the different tidal zones and the particular creatures you will find in each zone.

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 July

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.

Seashore Observations Printable Activity from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study

Seashells by the Seashore | Notebooking Pages from Jenny at Faith & Good Works

Beach Scavenger Hunt from Emily at Table Life Blog

10 Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore from Eva at Eva Varga

Turtle in the Sea Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

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!




June 7, 20184

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.



May 20, 20183

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

Answers:

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.




April 20, 20183

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.