Thursday, December 7, 2017

An Amazing Tour Through the Skillz of the Animal Kingdom





Beastly Inventions: A Surprising Investigation Into How Smart Animals Really Are – Jean Craighead George (1970)

            As a person who loves amassing vast amounts of data in my head, books like this one are such a pleasure.  While some books explore very specific topics in depth, others, such as Ms. George’s cool book, Beastly Inventions, act as a compendium of so many interesting things that they lead an inquisitive person into ever expanding and fruitful areas of inquiry.  When it comes to a book that details a wide array of the most amazing feats our animal brethren are capable of, I have found none better than this one.  One can tell feel the true love and admiration for all these creatures that Ms. George shares through the descriptions and anecdotes in this book.
            Like all great loves in life, Ms. George’s adoration of the natural world came to her via her father, a biologist, who would never pass up an opportunity to teach his daughter and sons interesting details and facts about nearly every plant and animal they would come across.  (My love of books and reading came directly from highly literate parents who stocked our house with all manner of amazing things to read, from children’s books to smart magazines like Smithsonian or National Geographic, to encyclopedias, and who took us on regular trips to the public library, my favorite place on Earth - RXTT)  What began as simple curiosity grew into a love of nature and a desire to explore all its quirks and oddities.
            Jean Craighead George begins this book with a chapter discussing the new technological developments that allow us humans to explore nature in ways unimaginable just a few decades earlier.  As this book was published in 1970, there are a few items that are out of date, but the information is still very good.  Other chapters then explore the ways the animals have shaped and formed their bodies, the manner in which they travel through the world around them, the unusual parenting techniques, the intricate and highly varied manner of creating homes and nesting sites, and the specialized ways that animals have created to gather food and sustenance.  Each chapter is chock full of great examples and items that just blow away the old idea that animals are boring and that we are the best thing around. 
            While humans have good to excellent sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch senses, there is no sense that is not overwhelmingly greater in some animal or other.  Some animals cannot see very well, but can smell in ways that seem to us to be magic.  Others have the ability to see in parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that humans can only see with specialized equipment, while yet other animals have senses that in o way relate to our day to day existence as humans.  One of the oddest “senses” found by biologists is the ability in many rodents to detect radiation itself, avoiding a source of x-rays that, to our knowledge, they should have no way of “sensing!”  Amazing stuff.  From the lowliest worm to the most advanced primates, each animal and its unusual powers amaze and intrigue.
            One of the best uses for a book such as this, is to shine a light on areas of study that I have been remiss in.  For instance, reading a couple or paragraphs about the manner in which some animals reproduce made me want to go dig deeper and study the animals closer.  Books such as this are amazing in that you can go back to them and find new avenues for exploration and new fields to study.  I would love to find a companion book to this one detailing the amazing discoveries made from 1970 to the present regarding the wondrous capabilities of our fellow animals on this Earth we all call home.  Anyone who doubts the magnificence of the natural world, or who has a young adult that is curious about biology and animals should get this book.  It is a shame that it is out of print.  Hunt it down at your local library.  You will not be disappointed.

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