Field Guide To The Carnivores Of The World: Review

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Carnivores of the World: Second Edition (Princeton Field Guides) by Luke Hunter and lavishly and beautifully illustrated by Priscilla Barrett is in its second edition. I reviewed the first edition here, where I discussed the idea of having a Order-wide “field guide.” To summarize, you don’t really carry a field guide to all the members of a world wide class around in your pocket in case, for instance, you run into a South American Coati or a Sulawesi Palm Civet on your walk back from your favorite bird blind in northern Minnesota. You have a book like this because you are a student of nature, and you find yourself needing to know about on or another carnivore at one time or another. Or, just because, as a student of nature, you might enjoy sitting in a comfortable chair and studying up on all the carnivores (aside from the carnivorous sea dwellers, which are not covered in this book).

Carnivores, relative to some of the more common mammal Orders, are both ubiquitous and thinly distributed. As you track mammals across the landscape, you might find that certain mammals are highly concentrated here and there, almost absent in other places. The total biomass of bovids in northern climes varies dramatically as you go from herds of bison to forests with thinly distributed deer to tundra or mountain slopes where the highly specialized forms occur in small groups with big gaps between. But everywhere you go, you will be within the territory of a carnivore. In fact, as a rule, you’ll be within the territory of between two and four carnivores, as they tend to divide themselves up by size class, with the classes sometimes competing with each other. In one place there may be otters or minks (small) and coyotes (medium) and either a cougar or a wolf pack (large), or there may be lots of coyotes (large) and otherwise mainly stoats and the like (small). In much of Africa, there will be one large cat (lion) one small cat (golden, wild-house, or sand?) one hyena and two or more mongoose-getet-civet-like creatures that are different from each other in size covering the exact spot you are standing. You’re standing there looking at some bird, and off in the bush there are five carnivores looking at you. In the ancient middle east, there would be lion, leopard, a smaller cat, and an even smaller cat. And so on.

Don’t think about that too much … it is just a rule of thumb. The point is, most space is covered by carnivores, yet at the same time they are way spread out because of their territorial habits which arose for a number of reasons including the fact that they eat other animals and are thus limited. And, this means that as they disperse during their own carnivoresque personal development cycle, they tend to disperse over very long distances, maybe not during all generations but certainly some. Therefore, some carnivore species have huge ranges, or if they have diversified a bit, some carnivore groups of species have huge ranges. And, for many types of carnivores, there are both tropical and temperate and in between forms. This is not typical of the other orders of mammals.

This is why we get interesting patterns such as the fact that the New World cougar and the Cheetah are close relatives, having differentiated in North America. The Cougar did not spread from North America probably (this is just an educated guess) because medium+ size cats were already everywhere, but the Cheetah was rather a novelty … a doggish cat that could run as fast as the fastest antelope or pronghorn … so it did spread. Subsequent events left the Cheetah only in Africa but it was once more widely dispersed (as a type of cat, not necessarily the same exact species).

The lion was probably the one mammal among all mammals, other than humans, that has the largest range of all mammals ever, having been spread across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa not too long ago.

The result of these patterns of adaptation, dispersal, and ecology is what you see in Carnivores of the World: Second Edition (Princeton Field Guides). When you look at the carnivores organized more or less by taxonomy and then pay attention to the geography, your mind will be blown and you will demand an explanation! How the hell did we get the same basic animal living in the woods of North America (wolverine) and the nearby prairies (badgers) as we have across Europe and Asia and Africa (the honey badger) with about dozen or so other versions all over the place? And you will see other patterns as well. As you thumb through the pages, you will repeatedly see size grading among the carnivores, but most of the size grading is localized. It isn’t like Asia has large otter-mink-stoat critters and Africa small ones .. everywhere gets a range from small to large. Also, as you thumb through the pages, every here and there you’ll see “Crab Eating X” where “X” is some kind of animal (dog, badger, cat, whatever). Either carnivores like them their crabs or carnivore namers are regularly surprised enough to see crab eating that they tend to name anything they see eating a crab after that behavior, even if some of them actually rarely do. (Had I named coyotes after my first extended wild encounters with them, they would be the “crab eating dog”!)

In my earlier review, I said (after noting that the fish-like carnivores such as seals and sea lions were not included in this volume) “…the other thing that is missing from this book that I would very much like to see and that I must insist (as if I could) be included in the next edition is range maps. I have ideas as to how to make them fit. It is important.”

Well, this second edition includes range maps. I don’t remember what my great idea was, but a second difference between the second and first edition may have made them work: The second edition is about a quarter in inch taller and about three quarters of an inch wider. The second edition also uses columns, which may give it a tiny bit more room. The book also hass 16 more pages. Together, these tweaks made room for species range maps, which makes an excellent book even more excellent.

The second edition has mostly the same drawings but updated, and in the printing I have, better printed. More species are covered and the species coverage is updated. There are a couple of dozen new illustrations showing behavior. I’m sure any new species that have evolved since the first edition are also included. There are also new spreads on hybrids.

The book includes 250 species covered in 93 plates each including several drawings, and about 400 drawings of footprints and skulls.

If you already have the first edition, the second edition may be an extravagance, though the range maps are great. But if you have neither, get this book and enjoy it now!

Have you read the breakthrough novel of the year? When you are done with that, try:

In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden, now in Kindle or Paperback
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