Why and How Animals Do the Things They Do
by David Burnie
I've been reading this book at leisure over the last few days, a few pages at a time. I saw it on a display shelf at the library. It's a fantastic look at the wide variety of life in the animal kingdom, from tiny insects and worms to the great whales. The book is organized into nine sections. The first looks at animals' bodies, describing their structures- skeletal or soft-bodied, having shells, fur or feathers, etc. The second part looks at different ways in which animals move- crawling, walking, flying, etc. Then there are sections on how their bodies work on the inside, what they eat, how they hunt (or avoid being caught), the senses, communication methods, reproduction and family life. The final section is an overlook of all the animal families, with examples of the more spectacular or interesting creatures in each. In fact, most of the book is about the most bizarre, unique or superb traits and habits animals have. There is so much variety here, but I found all of it intriguing. Each spread has a scattering of beautiful photographs with snippets of text describing the creature and its particular characteristics. Of course none of them go into great detail, but they are intriguing in showing the vast variety, the dazzling array of ways in which animals have evolved to carry out the business of life. Most of the book is illustrated with vivid photos, but there are also some diagrams, like the one that shows the insides of a sea anemone.
Some of the intriguing facts I learned? There is a spider that can walk on water. Cicadas spend up to seventeen years living underground as nymphs until they emerge to spend one season as adults. Some species of ants and termites make their own compost to grow fungus! There is a bird (the club-winged manakin) that makes a high-pitched violin sound by vibrating its wing feathers (twice as fast as a hummingbird!). Some aphids reproduce first by giving live birth without mating to offspring that are their genetic clones and then later in the season the same bug will mate with a male, then lay eggs which survive the winter to hatch in spring. Talk about crazy! The weirdest thing of all, though, was reading about how great gray slugs mate.
Note that much of the stuff that amazed me was about smaller critters and birds. A lot of the facts on mammals I was already familiar with, but it was no less enjoyable to read about them and linger over the photographs.
Rating: 4/5 ........ 192 pages, 2010