Desert Baths

October 3, 2012

Darcy Pattison is a guest blogger for today’s book, Desert Baths. Read on to to discover the fascinating way this fun nonfiction book about ways desert animals stay cleam came about.

Desert Baths started when I read an article about anting. Anting is when birds walk onto an ant mound and spread their wings, allowing the ants to crawl over their wings and clean off parasites. Alternately, some birds will pick up an ant in their beaks, crush the ant and then use the ant like a washcloth to brush parasites off their wings. Scientists believe the formic acid from the ant functions as an antiseptic.

After reading about this remarkable method of hygiene, I started searching for other ways that animals take a bath, however odd: spit, rolling in something like dirt or grass, and using dew or mud wallows. The Western Gecko, with its long tongue darting out to lick its eyeball, was just the sort of odd fact that turned up. Slowly, I started to focus on desert animals because the contrast between deserts with no water and the expectation of a water bath was funny.

One problem I faced in writing this was balancing the types of animals. Mammals and birds used a variety of ways to bathe, but reptiles, amphibians and arachnids rarely do what we would call a bath because their skin doesn’t need the same sort of regular hygiene. I wanted to include a tarantula in the book, but they just molt their exoskeleton—not exactly a bath. Instead, the illustrator Kathleen Rietz  kindly included this desert dweller in the illustrations. I squeezed in a diamondback rattler shedding his skin and a desert tortoise looking at a sky empty of cloud. But mostly, the animals had to be mammals and birds.

I also needed to find a variety of animals, from nocturnal to diurnal, or those awake at night and those awake during the day. That would allow me to use a 24-hour day to structure the story.

After I decided to balance nocturnal – diurnal and mammal/bird/reptile/amphibian, it was simply a matter of research, looking for the best possible combination of desert animals. I talked to scientists and studied scientific journals. Finally, I wrote, this time, paying attention to the sounds of the words, to the literary aspects of the story. I always work hard to create stories that are easy to read-aloud.

Desert Baths is a companion book to last year’s Prairie Storms, a book about how prairie animals survive a year of storms. Sylvan Dell Publishing has 50+ page teacher/parent guides available as an pdf download on its site for Desert Baths and Prairie Storms. Desert Baths is also available in Spanish, Las duchas en el desierto.

See all Darcy Pattison’s books here.

Activity 1

Do one of the activities in the book. Compare your answers with a friend.

Activity 2

Do the “Food For Thought” activity. Write a paragraph to demonstrate your knowledge.

National Science Standard: organisms and their environment

Book provided by author.


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