Short Stuff

Short, newsy items for kids – from 18-million-year-old armadillos to squirrels that smell like rattlesnakes.

Melanie Stetson Freeman – staff/file
Velizar Simeonovski/Reuters
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

A White House holiday

Have you ever wondered what the holiday season is like for the president of the United States and his family? Well, it includes lots of parties. And there are decorations such as giant Christmas trees and even a gingerbread replica of the White House! The 2007 gingerbread house was coated in white chocolate so it would be the same color as the real thing. The whole structure weighed 300 pounds!

Each year, the president and first lady also host a children's holiday reception. President and Mrs. Bush had special guests this year: some of the kids whose moms or dads are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The kids got to see the play, "A Christmas Carol." And they listened while Mrs. Bush talked about the theme for the 2007 decorations: America's national parks.

Ancient armadillo

An armadillo is a small animal in the Southwest that has gray, bony plates of armor on its body. But the armadillos in the United States aren't the only ones. There are several kinds that live in the Americas. And these creatures' ancestors date back millions of years.

In fact, scientists recently identified a brand new species of prehistoric armadillo from fossils they found in the Andes mountains of northern Chile in South America.

The scientific name for the animal is – get ready: Parapropalaehoplophorus septentrionalis! Despite its big name, this ancient armadillo was not the largest ever to have roamed the earth. But it is the earliest known species. It lived 18 million years ago and weighed about 200 pounds. A later, larger species, Glyptodon, was about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle!

Beach glass

You might know that sand is used to make glass. It's harder to imagine that glass could be used to make sand. But in Broward County, Fla., researchers and officials are experimenting with ground-up glass to see if it could replace sand that has eroded away at area beaches.

County officials needed to find a good use for the glass they collected from residents' recycling bins. So four years ago, a "beach glass" project began. Beach glass is fine and smooth enough to be safe for beachgoers' bare feet.

Today, researchers are studying to be sure that it will be also be safe for sea life. Soon, project participants hope to put 3,000 tons of beach glass along a 300-foot stretch of a local beach so they can study how waves and sand will affect the glass.

Amazing singers

You're a unique person who may have done important things. Did you know there's a website where you can read about the achievements of other talented kids?

Amazing Kids! ( highlights the accomplishments of a different kid (or group of kids) every month. Members of the Los Angeles Children's Choir made the grade to be December's Amazing Kids. The 260 singers have a busy schedule, but the rewards are worth it. They get to sing at their own concerts, with other children's choruses, and at choir festivals in the US and overseas!

The website also has other cool features, such as a pen pal program and an "eZine" that's written by kids, for kids.

Clever disguise

Many animals in the wild have special ways to hide or escape from predators. But ground squirrels and rock squirrels in California use "perfume" so nearby predators won't smell them.

Researchers at the University of Cali­fornia, Davis, have finished a new study showing that the squirrels look for skin that rattlesnakes have shed. Then the squirrels chew up the skin and lick their fur.

This masks the squirrel's own scent and confuses predators. The trick is especially handy when squirrels are asleep in their burrows because animals looking for a tasty squirrel will think they smell a snake instead and will know to keep away!

• Compiled from wire services and websites by Jessica Worful

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