Rockford's Summer Song

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Summer's here so here's Rockford's Summer Song! You'll need to LIKE us on Facebook to hear!

Hope you like it!

Tin Frog to headline Glastonbury

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We love this giant frog made from recycled Beetles - the VW ones that is!Glastonbury-festival-2014-017.jpg

The Glowing Coconut Octopus

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The Top Children's Story Download - on app, CD, DVD.

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Celebrating Two Million Children's Audiobook Downloads

We're delighted to announce that the award winning Rockford's Rock Opera audiobook for children has just passed the two million download mark.

These downloads, spread over our four children's audiobook apps (on Apple and Google play), our website (where the musical story can be streamed or downloaded) are in addition to the many plays via CD and DVD.

Rockford's Rock Opera is a musical educational story that's proved popular in schools (the story is rich in engaging educational content) and with families and children.

Part One - which is about an hour long is a free children's audiobook app and it's a free download at Rockford's Rock Opera website too.

To discover the magic of this unique children's audio story with pictures and videos, search for Rockford's Rock Opera on line, in the App Store or in Google Play. 

Say 'hello' to the Peacock Spider

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Although some of you may not like spiders... have a look at this. A species of 'jumping spider' from Australia! Worthy of being a character in Rockford's Rock Opera... perhaps they'll be a role for him in Part 5!View image

More Creatures' Secrets - A Moth with Amazing Ears

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From New Scientist:

The greater wax moth is flapping gently through the dark, looking for a mate, when it suddenly hears a high-pitched click. The sound is well outside the range of human hearing, but the moth has no problem picking it up. It swerves to the right - and escapes the jaws of a predatory bat by inches.

Greater wax moths have hearing like no other animal we know of. They can hear sounds that are so high-pitched that no known bat can produce them.

In the evolutionary race for survival, this moth has a head start.

Put simply, greater wax moths are a pest. Their larvae often live inside honeybee nests, where they survive on a diet of little more than beeswax. They have a particular taste for the brood combs where the bee larvae live, and can quickly trash the nest.

Adult moths only leave the hive to mate. Males gather on nearby trees and,shortly after sunsetbegin making calls to females, at frequencies above the range of human hearing.

Higher-pitched still are the calls of their predators: bats. While the male moth's calls range from 90,000 to 95,000 hertz, bats echolocate using sounds often closer to 110,000 Hz.

Evolution has pushed moths to keep up, so although they can't produce calls in the same range as bats, they can hear them coming. One North American moth can hear sounds up to 150,000 Hz - good, but not good enough to escape all bats, whose calls can reach 212,000 Hz.

I can hear you!

Enter the greater wax moth. Hannah Moir and colleagues at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK tested the hearing of 20 adult moths by playing them a wide range of sounds and measuring both the vibration of their tympanal membrane - the moths' "eardrum" - and whether a signal was transmitted down their auditory nerve.

Each sound was at 90 decibels, which is about as noisy as heavy traffic but not quite as loud as most bat echolocation calls. All the moths' tympanal membranes vibrated strongly to sounds at a frequency of 300,000 Hz, and 15 out of the 20 also showed strong neural signals.

Incredibly, that means the moths can hear a sound that no known animal makes.

Moir says there are two possible explanations. "It could be that the bats are producing higher frequencies than can be recorded," she says. Microphones struggle to record sounds higher than 150,000 Hz, and bat calls can be particularly difficult to capture.

Alternatively, the moths' sensitivity to high-pitched sounds could be an evolutionary accident, Moir says. The moths need to detect bat calls quickly to take evasive action. The physics of sound means that any sensor that can pick up a wide range of frequencies will also have a fast response time. So their sensitivity to a wide range of frequencies could be a fringe benefit of the ability to pick up the bats' calls faster.

Bats may eventually evolve higher-pitched echolocation calls to help them hunt those moths that can listen in on their existing calls. But this won't help them catch the greater wax moth: it is several steps ahead of them.

Despite their outstanding abilities, there doesn't seem to be anything special about the greater wax moth's ears. Moir says its tympanal membranes look pretty much like those of other insects, the only difference being that they are unusually thin - which would make them more sensitive to high-pitched sounds. So, as incredible as it seems, the moths' hearing may not be unique, says Moir.

More Creature's Secrets!

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This story, reported by the BBC and many others, highlights a report regarding the Earth's species and, highly relevantly to Rockford's Rock Opera - the ecological musical audio book - it states that many species may become extinct before we even discover them. Poor us....

Here's the story.

The natural world contains about 8.7 million species, according to a new estimate described by scientists as the most accurate ever.

But the vast majority have not been identified - and cataloguing them all could take more than 1,000 years.

The number comes from studying relationships between the branches and leaves of the "family tree of life".

The team warns in the journal PLoS Biology that many species will become extinct before they can be studied.

Although the number of species on the planet might seem an obvious figure to know, a way to calculate it with confidence has been elusive.

In a commentary also carried in PLoS Biology, former Royal Society president Lord (Robert) May observes: "It is a remarkable testament to humanity's narcissism that we know the number of books in the US Library of Congress on 1 February 2011 was 22,194,656, but cannot tell you - to within an order of magnitude - how many distinct species of plants and animals we share our world with."

Now, it appears, we can.

"We've been thinking about this for several years now - we've had a look at a number of different approaches, and didn't have any success," one of the research team, Derek Tittensor, told BBC News.

"So this was basically our last chance, the last thing we tried, and it seems to work."

Dr Tittensor, who is based at the UN Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Unep-WCMC) and Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, worked on the project alongside peers from Dalhousie University in Canada and the University of Hawaii.

The vast majority of the 8.7 million are animals, with progressively smaller numbers of fungi, plants, protozoa (a group of single-celled organisms) and chromists (algae and other micro-organisms).

The figure excludes bacteria and some other types of micro-organism.

Linnaean steps
About 1.2 million species have been formally described, the vast majority from the land rather than the oceans.

Continue reading the main story
The natural world in numbers

Animals: 7.77 million (12% described)
Fungi: 0.61 million (7% described)
Plants: 0.30 million (70% described)
Protozoa: 0.04 million (22% described)
Chromists: 0.03 million (50% described)
The trick this team used was to look at the relationship between species and the broader groupings to which they belong.

In 1758, Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus developed a comprehensive system of taxonomy, as the field is known, which is still - with modifications - in use today.

Groups of closely related species belong to the same genus, which in turn are clustered into families, then orders, then classes, then phyla, and finally into kingdoms (such as the animal kingdom).

The higher up this hierarchical tree of life you look, the rarer new discoveries become - hardly surprising, as a discovery of a new species will be much more common than the discovery of a totally new phylum or class.

The researchers quantified the relationship between the discovery of new species and the discovery of new higher groups such as phyla and orders, and then used it to predict how many species there are likely to be.

"We discovered that, using numbers from the higher taxonomic groups, we can predict the number of species," said Dalhousie researcher Sina Adl.

"The approach accurately predicted the number of species in several well-studied groups such as mammals, fishes and birds, providing confidence in the method."

And the number came out as 8.7 million - plus or minus about a million.

Muddied waters
If this is correct, then only 14% of the world's species have yet been identified - and only 9% of those in the oceans.

The rate of species discovery has remained about even ever since Haeckel compiled his Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature) a century ago
"The rest are primarily going to be smaller organisms, and a large proportion of them will be dwelling in places that are hard to reach or hard to sample, like the deep oceans," said Dr Tittensor.

"When we think of species we tend to think of mammals or birds, which are pretty well known.

"But when you go to a tropical rainforest, it's easy to find new insects, and when you go to the deep sea and pull up a trawl, 90% of what you get can be undiscovered species."

At current rates of discovery, completing the catalogue would take over 1,000 years - but new techniques such as DNA bar-coding could speed things up.

The scientists say they do not expect their calculations to mark the end of this line of inquiry, and are looking to peers to refine methods and conclusions.

One who has already looked through the paper is Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation programmes at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

"I think it's definitely a creative and innovative approach, but like every other method there are potential biases and I think it's probably a conservative figure," he told BBC News.

"But it's such a high figure that it wouldn't really matter if it's out by one or two million either way.

"It is really picking up this point that we know very little about the species with which we share the planet; and we are converting the Earth's natural landscapes so quickly, with total ignorance of our impact on the life in them."
Yes, it's true, Rockford's Rock Opera audiobook for children Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 are now available from Google Play for Android phones and tablets.

Here they are:

The Part One App is free with parts 2,3 and 4 all £2.99 each.

We hope you enjoy them and please let us know any feedback - there are so many different Android devices its impossible to test for all of them.

And, while we're here, take a look at this wonderful recent review for WIred of our Apple Apps (the same content as the Google Android Children's Story Apps):

Here it is!

A Great Review from the USA

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Here's a great review we've just reviewed from the USA from the excellent 'MyDevotionalThoughts' blog by Ruth Hill. Thank you!!! So glad you enjoyed the story and found the educational resources useful!

Rockford's Rock Opera Website Review

A couple of months ago, I discovered a fantastic educational website for children.  And since I am a music teacher, I knew right away that I wanted to review this website.  It sounded exactly what I wished I could have had when I was an elementary music teacher.

The site is Rockford's Rock Opera.  It is subtitled "The Creatures Have a Secret."  I am enthralled by it!  It has an interactive portion of the site where students age 11 and under (and possibly even older--it depends on the child) can play the story, read along, read the songs/lyrics, and so much more.  I think what intrigues me even more is that it has an ecological message.  "Being Green" is all the rage now, and I am thrilled that the site uses music and so much more to get the idea of responsible living across.

As a music teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed the educational area.  There are lesson plans that cover each area of the story and opera.  They are perfect for cross-curricular teaching.  There are lessons for music, reading, art, science, and so much more.  I only wish I had a class right now so I could teach these fantastic lessons!

This site is free to a certain point, and after that, one has to become a member.  If I were a full-time teacher, i think I would investigate more of the paid areas.  I love pre-made lesson plans and interactive sites like this.  Not only does it inspire the students when a teacher brings technology like this into the classroom, but it is ideal for "filler" time.  There are always those students who finish early, and this is the ideal thing to keep those students on task and under control.  And for making up absences?  Fantastically easy! 

What I am most happy about is that it uses the term "opera," and makes this genre of music less scary for children.  If you ask just about any school-age child (my daughter included) to tell their thoughts about opera, you will hear all sorts of things.  Some students confuse "opera" and "Oprah."  Others have the concept of opera where "the fat lady" sings a song at the top of her voice.  It was my perception as I grew up as well.

I cannot recommend this fantastic website enough.  In fact, I would say this would be ideal for homeschool as well as public/private schools.  It is appropriate for almost any subject, and I would highly recommend the full area of the site--you will not regret it!

Thanks again to Ruth and the MyDevotionalThoughts blog where this review appears.

New Rockford Song Supports 'Save the Manatee Club' Charity

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Sea Cows Go Interstellar In 
Rockford's Rock Opera

This article was first published by our friends, Save the Manatee Club, on their website:

In the new Rockford's Rock Opera adventure (coming soonish), the Interstellar Sea Cows wander the universe spreading peace and love with their siren's songs. Click on the image above or on the following link to hear the Interstellar Sea Cow Song. You can also download the song on Amazon (UK residents click here) or at iTunes and support manatee conservation efforts. (Image courtesy Elaine & Matthew Sweetapple.)

Elaine and Matthew Sweetapple live in the UK and are adoptive parents of Elaine the manatee. They are also creators of Rockford's Rock Opera, a musical story that teaches children about ecology and extinction. Rockford's Rock Opera is currently used in 15,000 schools worldwide and is a hit with children and adults alike with well over a million downloads to date. Recently, the Sweetapples created a new character for the story called the "Interstellar Sea Cow" together with a captivating song that's now available on Amazon (UK residents click here) or at iTunes, with all proceeds going to manatee conservation efforts.

Elaine and Matthew Sweetapple, creators of Rockford's Rock Opera and adoptive parents of Elaine the manatee.
Elaine and Matthew Sweetapple, creators ofRockford's Rock Opera, and adoptive parents of Elaine the manatee. (Photo courtesy Elaine & Matthew Sweetapple.)

Rockford's Rock Opera tells the story of a boy named Moog and his dog, Rockford, who arrive on the mystical Island of Infinity, which is home to the last one of every extinct animal species. The rock opera has been featured on the BBC and has received rave reviews, including a description by The Times as "an amazing mix of story, songs and sound effects." Matthew writes, produces and performs all the music for the rock opera, Elaine creates the designs and illustrations, and writer Steve Punt - a well-known comedian in the UK - provides the script and many of the voices.

The Sweetapples are currently hard at work on Rockford's next adventure, due out in 2012, and which features the Interstellar Sea Cow, an animal character based on the Steller's sea cow, a relative of modern day manatees and dugongs that was hunted to extinction in 1768. In Rockford's Rock Opera, the Interstellar Sea Cows are the last of an imagined herd of creatures that wander the universe spreading peace and love with their siren's songs. "We thought that the tale of the Steller's sea cow, and its fate at the hands of man, could be told to make the world aware of the plight of its modern day relatives," said Matthew. "The character was also inspired by the fact that the collective scientific name for all sea cows is 'Sirenia' - which both suggested the idea of music and sirens, and sounded to us very 'alien'!"

Moog searches for Rockford the dog in Rockford's Rock Opera.
Elaine creates the beautiful designs and illustrations for Rockford's Rock Opera. Above, Moog encounters the Anonymous Moth on his search for his dog Rockford. (Image courtesy Elaine & Matthew Sweetapple.)

The Sweetapples believe it is important to use the success ofRockford's Rock Opera to support organizations that are helping to protect endangered species, especially when they have relevance to their animal characters. So as a gift for Matthew's birthday last year, Elaine adopted her namesake, Elaine the manatee, from Save the Manatee Club, and the couple later contacted the Club to offer the proceeds from the Interstellar Sea Cow Song. "Over the past year - although we're in the UK - we were really impressed with the charity and its work, so when we wrote our sea cow song, it was obvious that Save the Manatee Club would be the charity we'd most like to support," said Elaine. "From our point of view, since our Interstellar Sea Cow character was inspired by manatees and sea cows, it's only right that the song should help support these amazing, gentle creatures."

Rockford the dog and the Cocklebur Ick meet Colonel Utensil and the Squid Squad in Rockford's Rock Opera.
Rockford and the Cocklebur Ick meet Colonel Utensil and the Squid Squad. (Image courtesy Elaine & Matthew Sweetapple.)

Matthew and Elaine have added Save the Manatee Club's web address to their Rockford web site and Facebook pages, so their visitors can learn more about manatees and what they can do to help protect them. The Rockford's Rock Opera web site also contains information about the threats currently faced by plants and animals around the world, along with lesson plans for educators and other resources. 

"In creating Rockford's Rock Opera, we've been amazed how the true stories of extinct creatures, mixed with a little imagination, truly inspire children, prompting them to ask questions and to learn more about the natural world," said Matthew. "It also, we're glad to say, inspires them to make a difference and to realise the importance of every life and every species, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant." 

"So now, if a catchy, Interstellar Sea Cow dance anthem inspires more people to support the Stellar sea cow's modern day relatives and Save the Manatee Club," said Elaine, "that's a brilliant result!"

Rockford and Ick are welcomed to the Island of Infinity in Rockford's Rock Opera.
Rockford and Ick are welcomed to the Island of Infinity, a place that is home to the last one of every extinct animal species. (Image courtesy Elaine & Matthew Sweetapple.)

Explore More! 
Check out the Interstellar Sea Cow Song 
and Rockford's Rock Opera
  • Listen to the Interstellar Sea Cow Song on Facebook.

  • Download the Interstellar Sea Cow song on iTunes or at Amazon and help support manatee conservation efforts. (Note: UK residents can download the song by clicking on this link for Amazon UK ). 

  • Discover Rockford's Rock Opera! Part One is available free to download or stream from the Rockford web site. It is also available as a podcast or free App on iPhone. Parts 2, 3 and 4 are available as a downloads, Apps or on CD.
    Rockford's Rock Opera on iPhone


Elaine the manatee

As a gift for Matthew's birthday last year, Elaine Sweetapple adopted Elainethe manatee from Save the Manatee Club. Elaine lives in the wild and winters at Blue Spring State Park, located in Orange City, Florida. She is known as a manatee with a fierce independent streak.