Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel, created fantastic creatures which encouraged children to read, and tickled adults who often found deeper meaning in the silly rhymes. Happy adults read these stories aloud with greater frequency, making Dr. Seuss stories popular with young and old. His Lorax, a pudgy tree-hugger, made his case for environmental responsibility. The naïve Horton followed his conscience and saved Whoville, despite taunts from the popular “kids” of the forest. In his 1957 The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss used only 236 different words, but broke the mold of how educators tackled literacy for early readers. Geisel noted, “It is the book I’m proudest of because it had something to do with the death of the Dick and Jane primers.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cat_in_the_Hat).
Dr. Seuss’ colorful and curious creatures do boast extraordinary abilities, but real animals in our own backyards exhibit even more impressive talents! Whereas the vain Yertle the Turtle abused other turtles to literally raise himself on the backs of others, native painted turtles climb atop each other for a very different reason. Survival! Painted turtles are often seen in area lakes basking in the sun on a log atop one another. The top painted turtle will quickly dive in the water at the first sign of an approaching animal, alerting all of its fellow sun-worshippers, which scamper and dive to safer depths. Another local turtle, the musk, is the opposite of vain. This species emits a powerful smelly scent to convince potential predators, or people who harass them, to avoid this easily riled turtle.
Horton, the elephant with a strong paternal instinct, suffered through the winter freeze with icicles hanging off him to keep the mysterious egg warm and safe. How much better is our painted turtle which hatches out in the fall and knows to stay in its soil nest through the winter? Scientists now question if these hatchlings have a natural antifreeze which enables up to 50% of their body’s water between the cells to freeze, or if they have skin lipids which protect them from the ice in the surrounding dirt. (http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/content/51/1/100.full). Young painted turtles emerge in the spring ready to find their way in the world without the help of anyone needing to keep them warm.
Other native turtle species survive the winter by burying themselves in the mud at the bottom of lakes and ponds. They obtain oxygen through special cells in their neck and anal area. Never saw a Dr. Seuss character with those abilities!
Mother Nature has bountifully provided her creatures with defense strategies. Some appear as vain as Gertrude McFuzz with garish colors and patterns. The indigo buntings, goldfinches and bluebirds sport colorful plumage. Behavioral adaptations flow from physical adaptations, which enable animals to find their niche. Dr. Seuss’ delightful creations make us smile, think and even read. Our furry, feathered and scaly neighbors can achieve that, and so much more. They can inspire, educate and motivate us to protect our natural environment.
Celebrate Dr. Seuss’ Birthday Extravaganza at Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Sunday, February 28 at 2 p.m.
Author Suzanne Holland is the Assistant Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.