New York Times bestselling science writer Sy Montgomery, right, and illustrator Matt Patterson are visiting Peninsula College. (Matt Patterson)

New York Times bestselling science writer Sy Montgomery, right, and illustrator Matt Patterson are visiting Peninsula College. (Matt Patterson)

Science writer of ‘Octopus’ fame presents book on turtles

Reptiles full of surprises, Patterson says

PORT ANGELES — Coinciding with the launch of their first book together, “The Book of Turtles,” New York Times bestselling science writer Sy Montgomery and illustrator Matt Patterson are visiting the North Olympic Peninsula this week.

Locals have three days of opportunities to attend events with the pair as Peninsula College hosts them this week for the long-established Writer in Residence program.

Montgomery has visited the area before.

“I had a splendid visit to the area before, to Sequim, to talk about my book, “The Soul of the Octopus,” after it was published in 2015. What a gorgeous part of the world. I am so delighted to be back.”

She described Patterson as “a turtle savant. Matt’s artwork is so realistic that when images of his paintings in process are shown with his hand in them, his hand looks fake and the turtle looks real.”

Patterson said he and Montgomery met “several years ago at an art festival that I was taking part in. At the time, I had just read ‘Soul of an Octopus’ and loved it. Once we met, we instantly realized how much we had in common and how much we both were animal and nature people.”

“The Book of Turtles” is a 40-page picture book marketed for children, but it contains informative text older people can appreciate while waiting for “Of Time and Turtles, Mending the World Shell by Broken Shell,” which is slated to be released in September.

“It’s about amazing people and turtles we met while working at a turtle hospital, learning at a breeding center for the world’s rarest turtles, raising hatchling turtles for release and rescuing cold stunned sea turtles from the beach,” Patterson said.

A third book, about a turtle named Fire Chief, will be coming out in two years, he said.

“This book is about an amazing 42-pound common snapping turtle that regained use of his paralyzed back legs after being hit by a car at the Turtle Rescue League.”

“Everyone can recognize a turtle and most everyone loves turtles, but turtles are full of surprises,” Patterson said.

He detailed some of what the book covers: amazing turtle abilities, how turtles speak, each individual turtle having its own personality, how to help turtles, turtle celebrities and turtle evolution.

Turtles evolved around the same time as dinosaurs, more than 240 million years ago, Patterson said.

“One of the earliest turtle ancestors was discovered in 2015 and named Papychelys, which means ‘grandfather of turtles,’” he added.

“Papychelys looked much like a lizard but had a hard belly plate, which shows us the shell evolved from the bottom up.”

Turtles are crucial to many ecosystems, Patterson said.

“Many ancient cultures believed that the world was on the back of a turtle,” he said, “which might be true because turtles really do support the world.”

Some are keystone species, he said.

“One example is the gopher tortoise,” Patterson said. “Over 360 other species of animals completely rely on the gopher tortoise for survival. Helping turtles gives us the chance to help take our part in upholding the health of our planet.”

Montgomery said she perceives a cultural shift over her lifetime on the subject of animal intelligence.

“I was born in 1958 — two years before Jane Goodall set foot in Gombe to study the famous chimpanzees in Tanzania. Her first groundbreaking article on tool use in animals was rejected because she named her animals like people rather than number them like rocks,” Montgomery said.

“Today, recognizing that each animal is a unique individual, with thoughts, feelings and personality, is Job One of every scientist studying animal behavior. This marks a sea change in our understanding of the living world.”

Patterson said: “One of the things that connects me with nature and fills me with a sense of wonder, joy and appreciation is that we humans, although newcomers to this planet, are part of it.

“Many people may think we are separated from nature, but it’s the opposite; we are connected,” Patterson said.


Emily Matthiessen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach her at

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