“Stone Soup” draws on Sea Grant expert for help on invasives strips

Stone Soup Comic

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(STONE SOUP © 2013 Jan Eliot. Used courtesy of the creator and Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.)

When Oregon cartoonist Jan Eliot, who draws the popular “Stone Soup” comic strip, wanted to feature a storyline about how animals common in one place can become invasive species in another, she turned to Oregon Sea Grant’s Sam Chan for advice.

The result, which runs newspapers nationwide starting tomorrow (Sept. 4), is an engaging – and scientifically accurate – story about a 9-year-old, a crawdad found on a camping trip, and an educational moment featuring a science teacher.

She contacted Chan, our watershed health and aquatic invasive species specialist, with questions about the species she wanted to feature (Procambarus clarkii, the red swamp crayfish), its invasive potential (highly invasive in areas without harsh, cold winters), and whether it was OK to call it a “crawdad” as opposed to “crayfish” (yes, the terms are regional but interchangeable).

Chan was happy to help, and calls the cartoon series “very timely for teachers, parents, students and pet owners. “It can be a revelation that releasing ‘pets’ is often not the kindest alternative.”

The Sea Grant specialist and his team are leading a nationwide study on a related topic: The spread of non-native species that are released from classrooms after being used for school science projects.

Eliot, who lives in Eugene but grew up tromping around Midwestern lakes and creeks, says she once considered studying marine biology at Oregon State University, but “chickened out and followed the easy path of Art and English.” Now, she says, she’s enjoying as Alix, the Stone Soup character featured in the new strips, grows into a budding biologist. “I can live the path I didn’t choose through her.”

It’s not the first time “Stone Soup” has delved into marine science. Her ongoing science teacher character, Erma, is modeled after former NOAA administrator and OSU zoologist Jane Lubchenco and Eliot’s friend Dr. Kathy Sullivan (now Lubchenco’s successor at the agency’s helm). The character is named after ERMA (Emergency Response Management Application), a web-based NOAA tool, available to the public, for managing information in oil spill crises.

Follow as the story unfolds over the next two weeks in your local newspaper, or at http://www.gocomics.com/stonesoup

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