While the ecological and cultural histories of tortoises and hares go “way back,” my story overlapped with theirs much more recently.

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A black-tailed jackrabbit (yes, jackrabbits are technically hares) specimen I sketched while visiting the University of Arizona’s Vertebrate Museum. (c) BGMerkle, 2016.

Two years ago, I signed up for an online children’s book illustration workshop – our assignment was to draft storyboards (sketches of page designs) for a classic tale. In search of something that could be portrayed accurately, ecologically speaking, I stumbled across the fact that tortoises and hares co-exist in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

As it turns out, tortoises and hares co-exist in several ecosystems. Ever since I learned that, I’ve been piecing together ideas, distribution maps, and lists of researchers that span the globe, and I’m getting closer to actually having the information necessary to draft those storyboards.

Right now, I am conducting field observations, interviews, and museum visits (along with reading a lot of popular and scientific material) – all with the intent of gathering together the “ecologically true story” of these animals.

Doing so requires visiting the locations on earth where tortoises and hares co-exist. I’ve chosen to focus on three ecosystems where Aesop’s popular fable could actually play out – the Sonoran Desert (specifically Arizona), Kenya, and the Mediterranean region of southern France.

I will explore, document, and incorporate the animals, their ecosystems, and the people who live in these regions, into a manuscript which tells the deeper story of these places, the scientists focused on them, and the diversity of habitats and species involved with the actual ecology of the tortoise and the hare. This combination of fable, science, and art will provide the public with an accessible and engaging gateway into complex ecological systems and research efforts.

More information:

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How can you contribute?

I am looking for the following, and would greatly appreciate your support:

  • Contact information for tortoise and hare ecologists, particularly those studying the species that occur in Arizona, France, and Kenya.
  • Scientific or popular materials about either species.
  • Financial support: traveling to Kenya and France this summer is a pivotal component of this project. It won’t be a vacation – I’ll be working every waking minute to capitalize on what might be a single opportunity to visit these locations, connect with these species in their native environments, and observe scientists working in these regions.

This project would not be possible without support from:

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Maria Altemus, Crystie Baker and the team at the Phoenix Herpetological Society, Melanie Bucci at the University of Wyoming Natural History Museum’s Vertebrate Collection, Jonathan and Akiko Derbridge, Kirk Emerson and Ron Wrighty, Jake Goheen, Alyson Hagy, Mark Jenkins, Jeffrey Lockwood, Jerod Merkle, Tom Morrison