From Xplor for Kids
February 2013 Issue

Transformers

Publish Date

Feb 01, 2013

Whether the change happens slowly or suddenly, there’s more to nature than meets the eye. Just take a peek at these wild transformers.

Nature is full of transformers. Frogs, for example, turn from clear, squishy eggs to fish-like tadpoles to hoppy, bug-eyed frogs. This series of changes is called metamorphosis (met-uhmore- foe-sis), and lots of animals do it. Most even grow body parts they never had before. Tadpoles trade gills and tails for lungs and legs. Caterpillars grow wings to change into butterflies. For other creatures, change doesn’t happen so suddenly. Instead, their appearance, size, or behavior changes little by little, until the adult isn’t anything like the baby. A tiny acorn, for example, doesn’t look anything like a towering oak, but it takes years to make the change.

Mighty Mouth (Bullfrog)

  • The bullfrog is North America’s largest frog and can weigh as much as eight quarter-pound cheeseburgers.
  • A male bullfrog’s call can be heard more than half a mile away.
  • Adult bullfrogs will eat any animal they can cram into their cavernous mouths.

Spike (Hickory Horned Devil or Regal Moth Caterpillar)

  • Regal moth caterpillars, called hickory horned devils, can grow nearly as big as a hot dog.
  • Although they look ferocious, a hickory horned devil’s spines can’t sting.
  • Adult regal moths don’t have mouths and cannot eat. Their only goal is to mate and lay eggs.

battle buck (White-Tailed
Deer)

  • Male deer grow new antlers every year. Antlers start growing in spring, are ready for combat by fall, and drop off in late winter.
  • Antlers are among the fastest growing body parts in the animal kingdom. At times, antlers grow an inch each day.
  • Whitetails can run 30 miles per hour, leap 10 feet high, and jump nearly 30 feet in a single bound.

turbo tiger (Tiger Beetle)

  • If a tiger beetle were human-sized, it could run more than 200 miles per hour!
  • Tiger beetles are equipped with nightmarish jaws that they use to capture prey and tear it to shreds.
  • Tiger beetles spit on their prey. The saliva begins to turn the prey to goo before it even reaches the beetle’s mouth.

Flicker (Firefly)

  • A firefly’s blood contains chemicals that make it distasteful or even toxic to many predators.
  • A firefly’s flashing fanny produces virtually no heat. In contrast, a light bulb emits 90 percent of its energy as heat.
  • There are many kinds of fireflies. Each uses a specific pattern of flashes to attract a mate of the same species.

O.A.K. (Old Awesome Kreature)

  • Some oaks can live to be more than 400 years old.
  • Oaks, like all plants, turn sunlight, water, and air into roots, stems, and leaves.
  • Missouri’s most massive oak grows near Columbia and is 90 feet tall with a trunk nearly 8 feet wide.

Big Squeeze (Black Rat Snake)

  • A rat snake tightens its coils around prey until its victim can no longer breathe. The snake doesn’t stop squeezing until it feels its prey’s heart stop beating.
  • When threatened, rat snakes vibrate their tails in dead leaves, making a buzz similar to a rattlesnake.
  • Rat snakes are arboreal (are-bore-ee-uhl), which means they can slither up trees.

Night Ninja (Great Horned Owl)

  • Owls use super-sharp hearing to pinpoint prey. Their ears are so keen, they can hear a mouse squeak from 900 feet away.
  • An owl’s feathers are soft and fringed, allowing for eerily silent flight. Prey doesn’t hear a thing until it’s too late.
  • Great horned owls are armed with dagger-sharp talons that can crush the spine of animals as large as skunks.
  1. Regal moths lay tiny yellow eggs that hatch into caterpillars in about a week. As the caterpillars grow, they shed their skin five times and turn from bird-poop brown to Frankenstein green. Instead of spinning a cocoon, the caterpillars burrow underground in the fall. They emerge the next summer as regal moths.
  2. Each female bullfrog lays nearly 20,000 clear, jellylike eggs. The eggs hatch in four or five days, but it takes more than a year for the tadpoles to turn into frogs. Tadpoles have gills and breathe water; adult frogs have lungs and can breathe air.
  3. Female fireflies lay eggs in damp soil. The eggs hatch into larvae, called glowworms. Glowworms follow slime trails left by earthworms, slugs, and snails then eat them. The larvae spend winter underground and emerge in spring to change into adult fireflies. Adults live only a few weeks.
  4. A large oak can produce more than 10,000 acorns in a year. Most acorns get eaten by animals, but a few are buried by squirrels and blue jays then forgotten. These sprout into seedlings. With plenty of sunlight, rain, and nutrients, oak seedlings can grow more than 2 feet in a year.
  5. Female rat snakes lay eggs in rotten logs or under rocks. The eggs hatch in about 70 days, but the footlong baby snakes don’t look like adults. They’re grayish brown with dark blotches. It takes a year or two for the blotchy babies to turn jet black.
  6. Newborn deer are as timid as lambs. When predators approach, fawns lie quietly, hoping to stay hidden. Once they grow antlers, however, their shyness disappears. Adult bucks fight other males, locking antlers and pushing each other to see who is stronger.
  7. Baby tiger beetles, called grubs, live in tunnels. They wait just below the surface for insects to wander by, then pop up, sink their jaws into the unlucky bug, and drag it underground to devour it. It takes one to four years for earthbound grubs to turn into flying adults.
  8. Adult owls are fearsome predators, but baby owls are helpless balls of fluff. At hatching, newborn owls are naked and can’t open their eyes. It takes eight days for the babies to grow fluffy gray feathers and nearly seven weeks before they can fly.

Also in this issue

You Discover

With winter almost gone and spring just around the corner, there’s plenty for you to discover outside in February and March. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Predator vs. Prey: Green Heron vs. Bluegill

The struggle to survive isn't always a fair fight. Here's what separates nature's winners from its losers.

How To: Make a Bug-Out Bag

Keep a bug-out bag always packed, and you’ll be able to get your hide outside with a moment’s notice.

Awesome Opossums

Take a closer look at this curious critter, and you’ll find opossums are actually awesome.

Wild Jobs: Biologist Jeff Beringer

Biologist Jeff Beringer uses space satellites to track Missouri’s black bears.

Strange But True

Your guide to all the unusual, unique, and unbelievable stuff that goes on in nature.

This Issue's Staff:

David Besenger
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
Tim Smith
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White

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