Some scientists let their curiosity make them do truly weird experiments. Meet Ken Catania. He studies strange-looking creatures, such as the star-nosed mole and its unusual way to smell underwater. More recently, Catania has been focusing on electric eels, and their ‘shocking’ abilities.

He discovered that eels can control how much electricity they put out. They use low voltage pulses to sense for prey, and they can turn up the power to make prey (think of fish) twitch or go numb. That was fascinating, but then Catania came across an 1800s illustration and an odd South American story from famous explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt wrote of eels attacking a group of horses that had stepped into a pool where the eels lived.

“The aggressive behavior of the eels, taking the offensive against the horses, seems the most fantastic and questionable part of the story,” he said.

Just when scientists thought they knew all there was to know about electric eels, here comes an old tale that makes them wonder. Can eels really jump out of the water? Catania had to solve the mystery and so he did using props shaped like alligator heads and human arms, and electric connections to see with his own eyes whether eels in his lab could jump as Humboldt’s allegedly did.

The Shocking Secret of the Electric Eel book also includes four more secrets: how parrot fish don’t let the sea bugs bite, the jumping spider’s amazing ‘hairy’ hearing, the mystery of European eels and their heads (these are much smaller that the electric eel and won’t shock you), and the secret of the underwater night hummers.

May I entice you with more animal secrets? I invite you to visit my website to explore the other titles of this series.

Coming up soon: Teacher’s Guides for Animal Secrets books!

Follow me on Twitter @RodriguezAMaria

Facebook at Ana Maria Rodriguez Writer

My website: Ana Maria Rodriguez 

Contact me! I am available for school visits, conferences and science talks at your event!

Meet the scuba diving spider! A one-of-a-kind, air-breathing animal that spends most of its life underwater. How does it do it?

Spider low res 9780766086296

No bigger that your thumbnail, the scuba diving spider triggered the curiosity of scientist Roger Seymour since he was a young boy. At 10 years old, he read Erna Pinner’s book, Curious Creatures. He told me, “One of the chapters described the diving bell spider that lived in ponds in Europe. I imagined what it would be like to live inside an underwater bubble.” That image remained in Seymour’s mind until he became a scientist and studied the spider’s secret.

Seymour teamed with scientist Stefan Hetz and together they made a home for the spiders in aquariums in the lab, and observed and measured their activities. They discovered how the spiders achieve this unique and quiet lifestyle. It has worked well for the spiders; it allows them to remain out of sight from predators, trap food, and create an underwater home for them to grow and have a family.

The spider, too, has an amazing name, Argyroneta aquatica, which means “aquatic spinner of silver.”

TheSecret of the Scuba Diving Spider book also includes four more secrets: the secret of the not-so-quiet caterpillar, why bats jam with each other, zombie beetles, really?, and the secret of the unstoppable cockroach.

If this book appeals to you, may I entice you with more animal secrets? I invite you to visit my website to explore the other titles of this series.


Coming up soon: Teacher’s Guides for Animal Secrets books!

Follow me on Twitter @RodriguezAMaria

Facebook at Ana Maria Rodriguez Writer

My website: Ana Maria Rodriguez 

Contact me! I am available for school visits, conferences and science talks at your event!

August 15 is a date to celebrate. New Animal Secrets Revealed! books will be available both in library binding and paperback formats. Here is one of the covers hinting at the topic of one of the five chapters; birds are smart.


We have heard of Alex the parrot, and some of you probably read Stephanie Spinner’s book. We have all heard of crows’ amazing abilities to solve problems. Animal Secrets books dig on recent scientists’ investigations to discover what is so special in some birds’ brains that helps them solve problems or learn skills we thought they could not.

I have also updated my website, and I hope you will visit to peek at the book covers of the other books in the series. They all include a hands-on activity connected to the topic of one of the chapters. I had a lot of fun researching and writing these books. I hope children enjoy reading them!


In one of my previous post I promised to tell you why The Iron Butterfly’s subtitle is “The True Story of a Mermaid’s Daughter.” Obviously, her mother was a “mermaid,” which in the South Korean island where Choon-Ok was born was another name for “sea woman.” Choon-Ok’s mother was called a “mermaid” because she was free-diver who, like many other women living in the island, spent between 4-6 hours every day diving, searching for and collecting octopus, abalone, seaweed, sea urchin and other foods to sell and for their families to eat. Sea women supported their families in this way, and quite often they were the breadwinners. Sea women—haenyo in Korean—have existed for about 1,500 years.

Being a haenyo is a dangerous profession, so they dive in groups to watch for each other. Being a haenyo defines these amazing women’s lifestyle, who their friends are, and sometimes their fate. There is a strong bond among the women in the group. They know that staying alive in the water depends on them supporting each other.

Choon-Ok’s mother, as many other Korean haenyo, began her training as a young girl. Her mother taught her as her grandmother had taught her mother. Mothers have taught their daughters for many generations of Korean women hoping to pass on a useful trade that would allow these strong women to have economic independence and support their families. This is unconventional, to say the least, in a society in which men are traditionally the breadwinners and a woman’s role is to stay home and care for the family. But in Korea and Japan, haenyo are a symbol of the islands and a living representation of the strong body and character of these women.

For all of you interested in what happens to your body when you dive daily for hours in very cold water holding your breath for minutes at a time, here is what I have found out. In the beginning, before diving suits were invented, haenyo dove wearing cotton shirts and trunks. Choon-Ok’s mother dove year long wearing cotton clothes. Yes, even during the freezing Korean winters. The water is so cold in winter that her hair was covered in icicles when she surfaced. Scientists have been able to study how haenyo’s bodies adapted to continuous immersion in almost freezing water. They have found out that their bodies learned to trigger compensatory mechanisms that did not allow their bodies’ core temperature to drop to dangerous levels. When a haenyo began her training, her core temperature dropped significantly after an hour or less in the water. She needed to take a break on land and warm up–usually by a fire on the beach–before going back to another round of diving. But as training continued for weeks and months, their bodies triggered internal mechanisms that did not allow their core temperature to reach dangerous low levels. In this way, they were able to dive longer. Haenyo have lived long years, and have kept diving even after their sixties. Choon-Ok’s mother lived till she was 84 years old, although she had stopped diving many years before.

When diving suits became available, haenyo used them if they could afford them, and their ability to self-sustain a warm core has been reduced in time. Diving suits insulate the body, so the core temperature does not drop as much as when wearing cotton clothes, and the body does not have to compensate as much on its own. Choon-Ok’s mother never used a diving suit. They were expensive. An amazing woman on her own, Choon-Ok’s mother had many more strengths as you will discover in The Iron Butterfly.

Did the tradition continue in Choon-Ok’s family? Is Choon-Ok a haenyo like her mother? I’ll keep you in suspense until my next blog. Stay tuned! Check out this link for information about the Haenyo Museum in Korea. Find a direct link to the museum at the end of the article. The text is in Korean, but click on “Photo Gallery” to see haenyo photos.

Hot from the press! Read the first review of THE IRON BUTTERFLY.  Are you looking for a book that will glue your attention from the very beginning? A book that will make you laugh, sigh, and maybe cry? Are you ready to find so much common ground with THE IRON BUTTERFLY you would like to meet her in person? Check it out and cuddle in your favorite chair with your favorite drink and get ready to enjoy an unusual, uplifting story.

Would you help me spread the word? Pass this post to friends and family! Thank you!

Check this out! Mary Ann Hellinghausen of THE CITIZEN, interview THE IRON BUTTERFLY. Learn what the book is about and meet the authors at the martial arts studio.

I was delighted to accept Melissa Buron’s invitation to chat about how I became a writer and about my book THE IRON BUTTERFLY. Check the interview here for insights on what drives a writer’s inspiration and what it takes to turn it into an actual book.

Must Know Women: The Iron Butterfly.



In the male-dominated world of martial arts, Choon-Ok Jade Harmon has risen to the top. She is the highest ranking woman in the Korean martial art of Kuk Sool Won.

The Iron Butterfly: The True Story of a Mermaid’s Daughter

Very few stories are about women who quietly achieve great things. These women believe their story is not important to others than her and maybe her immediate family and friends. They do not believe that they have achieved outstanding goals. They believe their patience and perseverance was simply blessed with luck. Sometimes, these women are ashamed of what they had to go through in life and do not want others to know. But when an outsider learns about what they have done, how they have done it, and the immense dedication and resolution these women must have within to achieve a better life, then outsiders are in awe and wonder, what would I have done if I had been in her shoes? When the outsider is a writer who wants to share with the world the good things its inhabitants have to offer, then the writer must write these women’s stories.

Lucky I was one day when I met one of these outstanding women. She is the martial arts instructor of my sons. She did not want her personal story to become public. She did not want anybody to know about the endless obstacles she had to overcome and her most traumatic personal secrets. Finally, she agreed to place her concerns aside and tell me her story and we have written a book together. She told me her story, and I wrote it. On March 2011 we will celebrate the 6th anniversary of the beginning of our project with the release of her book. We are thrilled!

Her name is Choon-Ok Harmon and she was born in a time and place where a woman’s destiny was determined by tradition. She did not want that destiny to be hers. Her dramatic childhood experiences had convinced her the hard way that life had to be better than being hungry, extremely cold, and worrying for her personal safety all the time. She did not know how, but she would find a way to live better when she grew up. And she did. But she did it in a way so unusual, so against tradition that it proves that real life stories are many times better than fiction. She is living proof that ‘when there is a will, there is a way.’ I have been changed by her story; by the experience of knowing her deeply inside. My problems seem tiny compared to hers. I feel inspired to find a solution to the obstacles life presents along my journey. As she says, “Just do what you have to do!” I have invested a lot of me in this project, and now that the book is almost out, I know the journey will continue ahead. I think this is one of those stories that deserves to be heard, even better, it deserves to be listened to. We have set up a website for the book, (http://womanironbutterfly.com ) or you can click on my own website link: http://www.anamariarodriguez.com ) And we have a lovely book cover! Thank you and I hope to receive your feedback! AMR
PS. Yes, she is a ‘mermaid’s daughter’, but I will leave you wondering, what kind of mermaid was her mother? More in my next post

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