Tiny Invasives & Sooper Yooper

  • Billy Cooper, the Sooper Yooper, swims after an invasive sea lamprey. (Illustration by Mark Heckman, courtesy of Thunder Bay Press)

Scientists are scrambling to keep up with teeny tiny invaders… bacteria and fungi.

A new study in the journal Ecology Letters finds there are more invasions by microbes… and very little is being done about them.

Elena Litchman is the author of the study.

She says there’s an invasive bacterium from the tropics that’s been spreading in lakes in Michigan. It can produce toxins and make people and animals sick.

“It could affect people who want to go swim in a local lake and that could be really unpleasant.”

Litchman says invasive bacteria and fungi are really hard to detect, so they just don’t get a lot of attention.

(music sting)

This is the Environment Report.

With 180 invasive species already in the Great Lakes… a superhero could come in handy.

There’s a new children’s book called Sooper Yooper: Undaunted Hero from the North Battles Alien Sea Creatures. It features Billy Cooper, an ex-Navy Seal who lives in the U.P. with his scuba-diving bulldog, Mighty Mac. In the book Cooper and Mighty Mac discover the Lakes are being invaded by blood-sucking sea lamprey and destructive zebra mussels.

The Michigan State University study on invasive microbes

More about Sooper Yooper


Clip of Mark reading from the book:

“‘Holy zooplankton!’ cried Cooper, spotting more proof of an invasion. Mighty Mac barked wildly from the shore. Sniffing out more menacing mollusks, he was doggone determined not to allow the problem to be buried.”

That’s Mark Newman. He’s the book’s author. Sooper Yooper was illustrated by artist Mark Heckman. He died in May after a two-year battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Heckman’s wife, Diane, is here along with Mark Newman.

Diane, this book was your husband’s idea. Why did he want to create Sooper Yooper?

DH: “Mark had a huge place in his heart for the environment and for kids and he wanted to just get kids more informed with the environment and how they can help protect the Great Lakes because they are our future.”

RW: So what was the process like for him, developing these characters?

DH: “Each page is an actual original painting and they’re beautiful. It took Mark, oh, a month or more per painting and they’re all acrylics.”

RW: They’re beautiful, and they’re funny. I especially love the one of Mighty Mac when he’s diving down to catch a sea lamprey in his mouth, and the way Billy Cooper’s portrayed – he’s sort of a cross between a lumberjack and a surfer.

DH: “Yes. Mark was always very physically fit, which had to do with his physique, Billy Cooper, in the book, and Mark loved bulldogs, so that is actually our bulldog in the book.”

RW: So, Mark Newman, you and Mark Heckman worked together to come up with the story. Billy Cooper doesn’t really seem to have any special superhuman powers… why is that?

MN: “We decided to just make him like you or I, so kids could get that message that they could be a superhero when it comes to saving the environment.”

RW: Except, I would note there’s a point in the book where he gets legislation passed in Congress with lightning speed, which would never happen…

MN: (laughs) “That’s a good point. But I tell kids if he has a superpower, he’s super smart.”

RW: Diane, what did your husband tell you he wanted kids to take away from this book?

DH: “Just that they can all be a superhero in their own right to help save the Great Lakes. Just to know they can make a huge difference in the environment. Mark was a great guy, he had a huge, huge personality, and in his 49 years of life he probably lived a couple lifetimes. He really got out and enjoyed life. He was a very fun guy and a joy to be around.”

RW: Thank you both so much for coming in to talk with me.

DH and MN: Thank you.

Diane Heckman is the wife of the late Mark Heckman. He illustrated the new children’s book, Sooper Yooper. Mark Newman is the book’s author.

You can see some of Mark Heckman’s illustrations from the book on our website, environment report dot org. I’m Rebecca Williams.