Aug 17, 2017

Life Everlasting

the Animal Way of Death
by Bernd Heinrich

Nature recycles the nutrients of dead animals and plants into new life; that's what this book is about. The author carries out his own studies, making observations on his own land in Maine and Vermont- he deliberately set out mouse carcasses to see what burying beetles do when they find them. He dragged deer or cow carcasses into the woods and then watched to see which animals arrived when, what parts of the body they disposed of, and so on. He always hoped for a large gathering of vultures, but never got one. Also in a few different places in Africa he observed various kinds of dung-collecting beetles. There are beetles that bury mice, and others that consume bones. Subject jumps around somewhat- one chapter speculates on how early man must have been a hunter and tyranosaurus rex a scavenger; another on what exactly happens to a whale carcass when it sinks in the ocean, another ruminates on how salmon are "committing suicide" when they swim upstream to spawn. There's an entire chapter about how bark beetles, fungi and other organisms break down a tree. Of course seeing the author's lifelong fascination with corvids, there's a lot about ravens and crows throughout many chapters. I expected a bit more about coyotes, but there's not much beyond the mention that they open a carcass, making it available to crows and other scavenging birds (even large vultures can't break the skin by themselves).

He kind of lost me on the last few chapters- the idea that insects undergoing a complete transformation from larval stage into adult are actually two separate species that merged their genetic code long ago? wow, a new one for me. The final chapter that waxes philosophic on ideas of the afterlife- dipping briefly into several ancient cultures and then considering what are the options if you don't want to be buried in a casket or cremated (which adds lots of toxins to the atmosphere)- kind of lost my interest. But at that point, the book was done. It wasn't nearly as engaging as some of his other books I've read. I kept loosing interest and then coming back, so it took me a while to get through.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5            236 pages, 2012

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of this book but it doesn't sound like it was executed all that well.


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