Reptile Round-Up: New Apps From PBS, Dr Seuss, & the Smithsonian

Reptile Apps © Smithsonian/Dr Seuss/PBS Kids
Reptile Apps © Smithsonian/Dr. Seuss/PBS Kids

According to the Chinese calendar 2014 is the year of the horse but a look at some recently released and forthcoming apps tells me that this is actually seems to be the year of the reptiles. Dr. Seuss, PBS Kids, and even the Smithsonian have new apps out filled with dinosaurs, lizards, and snakes so I’ve been taking a look at several of them.

Dinosaur Train © PBS Kids
Dinosaur Train © PBS Kids

Dinosaur Train: A – Z
I’m a big fan of Dinosaur Train, probably because even the name combines two of my childhood passions. The Dinosaur Train A-Z app introduces the alphabet as it teaches kids about 26 different dinosaur species including their habitats, and where and when they lived. In train mode the train pulls into the station pulling carriages labeled from A to Z. Kids can choose any carriage and work their way along the train meeting the different dinos. Each profile begins with the same sentence telling you which branch of the family tree the dino belongs to, the continent on which it lived, and the time period in which they existed. You can choose to look at the skeleton to learn more about the dinosaur’s body, discover its eating habits, and find out what the dino’s name means. For instance, did you know that Xenotarsosaurus means strange-ankle lizard? The graphics are in the show’s style rather than being biologically accurate (unless dinosaurs were actually neon pink and purple), and kids can feed the different dinos or hit a star button to create a list of their favorites.

In dinosaur mode, you can choose from a screen full of dinos to view their profiles. You can filter which dinos are on screen by diet, body type (biped, quadruped or marine), time period, or favorites, and these filters can work together. Want to find a carnivorous, bipedal dino that lived in the Triassic? This feature will help you do just that. I was rather disappointed to spot that the game offers in-app purchases to add more dinosaurs to the list, especially as many traditional favorites including Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus are only available in these expansions. However, despite that fact I really liked this app and my son did too.

Miles & Miles of Reptiles © Dr. Seuss
Miles & Miles of Reptiles © Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss: Miles and Miles of Reptiles
The latest addition to the Dr. Seuss Library, Miles and Miles of Reptiles teaches kids all about modern day reptiles via a trip around the world with The Cat in The Hat. On the trip we meet lizards of all shapes and sizes, snakes, tortoises, alligators, and much more. As always from Dr. Seuss, the story doesn’t skimp on the details leaving in a lot more scientific language than you might find in another kids’ book aimed at the same age bracket. I was happy to see that the app was accurate about the reasons why a chameleon changes color, but the app did incorrectly refer to some snake species as having a “poisonous” bite. In case you’re unaware, there is a significant difference between “poisonous” and “venomous” creatures and snakes fall solidly into the latter category, so it was a shame to see that error left in what is otherwise another great app in the Dr. Seuss library.

Velociraptor finds a snack © Smithsonian Institute
Velociraptor finds a snack © Smithsonian Institute

Smithsonian: A Busy Day for Stegosaurus and Velociraptor Small and Speedy 
The Smithsonian Institution has produced a series of dinosaur themed story apps, the two most recent releases featuring Stegosaurus and Velociraptor. Each book focuses on one species and has the option to read it yourself or have the book read aloud with or without automated page turns. The stories have an obvious natural history focus to them and feel similar in style to the BBC show Walking with Dinosaurs as we follow a day with a single individual to learn about the life of its species. This means the stories could be considered violent, nature is red in tooth and claw after all, but the subject is handled sensitively with a focus on presenting the facts as they stand. Clearly some liberties have to be taken for the benefit of storytelling–it’s far more difficult to infer behavioral patterns from nothing more than a few bones than we’ve been led to believe–but nothing seems too outlandish. The illustrations are very up-to-date with current paleontological thinking too, showing velociraptors as feathered, bird-like creatures rather than the more more lizard-like beasties we all remember from Jurassic Park. At the end of the stories we learn some facts about the species including the era they lived in, their size, and how they moved. I wasn’t as impressed with these apps as I was with the others; they simply didn’t seem as involving as the others. My son seemed to enjoy them both, though, and that’s what really counts.