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Research: Flora and Fauna

Hello friends!

Today is the 15th day of NaNoWriMo (halfway!), current wordcount is 22,323.  Yes, I'm a bit behind.

I'm doing another research post today to let you in on some of the cool ways I've been thinking about my world.  My Neif are placed (rather poorly) in a swamp somewhere in the southeastern portion of the US.
While this creates obvious water/temperature problems for them, as people made out of sugar, it also means they come into contact with an amazing array of plant and animal life.  (If the sugar thing is throwing you, you can check out my earlier research post about some of the science behind the magic of the Neif here.)

I found a really great site, http://www.wild-lab.com/, which was developed by the Audubon Nature Institute and is used as an educational tool for fifth through seventh graders about Louisiana wetlands.  If you click "Go Through Curriculum As Guest" you can still access all the information without having a login.  Very educational, and there are mini-games at the end of each level. Nice.

If you just search "wetlands" on your favorite search engine, you will get lots of information about how wetlands are a vital part of flood prevention and filter runoff so that fertilizer and other chemicals don't get shunted directly to rivers and, by extension, oceans, causing algal blooms.  While this is fascinating, it doesn't have a lot of impact on my plot.
NASA EOSDIS
One key plot element is a bird.  One of my MC's comes into contact with a bird, and the bird ends up being a big help later on in the story.  *SPOILER ALERT* I need the bird to be able to carry two Neif.  A Neif is approximately eight inches tall, so you can think roughly the size of a Barbie/GI Joe.  Initially I wanted a cardinal, because they are my favorite birds, but a cardinal is far too small for the task I would give her.  So, I pulled out my trusty Field Guide to the Birds of North America (mine is an old library copy, circa mid eighties), which is awesome.  If you have even a mild interest in the animals living outside your house, I recommend getting some sort of bird guide.  Anyway, I looked for a bird that lived in the correct area that was large enough to carry the weight, and I found a quite beautiful and formidable bird.

Meet the American Swallow-tailed Kite.
Sunnys Wildlife Sounds
They are approximately 23" long from head to tail, and have a four foot wingspan.  They are raptors that will snatch insects in the air or come down feet-first on small reptiles and birds.  They will often eat their prey while in flight, and will also skim the surface of bodies of water to drink in flight (don't try that at home).  They rarely ever flap their wings to fly, mostly just turning their tails to help them soar on streams of air.  They nest in the tops of tall trees and can often be found in wetlands or in woodlands with access to bodies of water.  Standing on the ground looking up at them in flight, they look like a smaller white bird with a larger dark shadow behind it.
Stiver Photos
Very striking.  Also, they are only in the area of my story in spring and summer for breeding season, which keeps me from having to choose a season in which to set my story.

That's the only animal that really has anything specific to do with my story, but there are all kinds of other animals in the swamp lands.  It would feel wrong to talk about a swamp without mentioning the American alligator, or any of the number of turtles, fish, snakes, lizards, frogs, or salamanders that are prevalent in that habitat.  There are lots of mammals:  bears, raccoons, cougars, otters, foxes, rats, skunks, and the invasive nutria.  And there are hundreds of different insects.  As you might guess, with an entire village made of sugar, they are the biggest problem.  Archer has a few words for us on that.

The animal and insect life, while the most interactive, really only play a small part in the story.  The plant life in a swamp is what the Neif use as building materials, supplemented with whatever garbage they find washed into the swamp.  Swamps are typically waterlogged, and only specialized plants can grow there that need little to no air around their roots.  Cypress and Tupelo-gum are the most common trees.  Spanish moss grows in the trees, and most of the smaller plants that grow on the ground (in the water) are emergent reeds and lilies.

It wouldn't be near as much fun to say straight out in-world what everything is.  That would make it way too obvious!   While plants will be referred to by their general names, the animals will be referred to by terms the Neif have given them.  If you decide to read this story, be on the lookout for these incognito beasts, and see if you can decipher their true identities.

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