Category Archives: Animals

Go right to the source and ask the horse

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We should probably not allow the racing of 2 year old horses. I think this is only done in the US and a couple of other countries. It is not allowed elsewhere.

We may need to admit that horse-racing has become corrupt. Well, certain areas of horse racing were always corrupt. Don’t ask me how I know, but I think the statute of limitations is up on that anyway.

And now, Cancel Culture is ruining everything!

Maybe we should cancel the Kentucky Derby as it exists today. Shut it down, tweak the rules, clean the process up, and restart in a few years. Maybe be nicer to the horses.


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The Animal Awards: This year there are 50 winners!

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The Ice Lover Award goes to the Polar Bear, the Crafty Hunter Award goes to the Tiger, and the Terribly Tall Award goes to the Giraffe, as usual.

This new coffee-table format kids book, The Animal Awards: Celebrate NATURE with 50 fabulous creatures from the animal kingdom, by Martin Jenkins with illustrations by Tor Freeman*, is a rollicking riot of excellent information about (fifty) animals, with fun illustrations.

The ceremony is about to begin. Roll up, roll up, roll up! The ceremony is about to begin so prepare to be amazed. We’re here to celebrate the crème de la crème of the animal kingdom, and shine a spotlight on the finest achievements and unique qualities of some special individuals. Among others, we will be awarding prizes to the fastest, the oldest, the strongest, the smelliest, the tallest, and the longest. We have some unusual prize winners and some quite scary ones, too. As we run through our short lists you’ll have the privilege of meeting our esteemed guests from dangerous, frogs to organised ants, to spiders that have devised all sorts of strange and admirable ways of catching their food. It’s been a really difficult job choosing winners but we hope you approve and find plenty to marvel at in this beastly line-up of champions. Now put your hands together and clap! The Animal Awards is about to begin…

Tor Freeman is a London-based illustrator. In 2012 she was awarded the Sendak Fellowship. In 2017 she won the Guardian Graphic Short Story Prize. Her books include the Digby Dog and Olive series.

Martin Jenkins is conservation biologist and children’s writer. His jobs have varied greatly: “I’ve been an orchid-sleuth in Germany, a timber detective in Kenya and an investigator of the chameleon trade in Madagascar.” His titles include Emperor’s Egg, winner of the Times Junior Information Book of the Year Award, Can We Save the Tiger, winner of the SLA Award, and Gulliver’s Travels, winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. He lives in Cambridge and London.


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Encyclopedia Of Animals: Time to upgrade the science shelf in your library

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When I was a kid, I had an encyclopedia of animals. I cherished it, read it several times. For a long time, until I was in middle school, I knew more about animals than anyone else I knew because I had read that book. I also used it as a jumping off point to learn more about each type of animal, looking them up in the two general encyclopedias we had in the house, taking notes, drawing pictures, all of it. That one single book probably is the reason that I went in certain academic directions. In fact, I had flashbacks to the pages on the leopard and the Cape buffalo while poking around actual wild leopards and Cape buffalo in Africa.

There have been a lot of encyclopedias of animals in print, and now there is a new kid on the block, and it is probably the one you should get for your emerging naturalist. Encyclopedia of Animals by Jules Howard, illustrated by Jarom Vogel*, covers 300 species. Unlike my old volume, which only had large mammals and a snake or two, this volume gives a much more uniform treatment of “animal” with roughly equal treatment for six Classes. The book uses bleed-tags to quickly find the inverts, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, or mammals.

There are over 500 illustrations across 192 nicely laid out pages, interesting facts about each animal exemplar, including Latin binomial.

It is hard to define the age range for this book. Adults will find it useful as a reference. Kids from about 3rd grade and up will browse it. It aligns with the kinds of science taught in fifth grade and up (10-11 years old.) A middle school science teacher will want this handy in the classroom library.

Jules Howard is science writer and presenter, regularly contributing to The Guardian and BBC Wildlife Magazine. Jarom Vogel is an illustrator, designer and digital artist.


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Superlative Beauty and Beautiful Superlatives in Nature: Books

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Superlative: The Biology of Extremes is almost as extreme, or shall we say, hopeful, in its marketing-cover claims as the animals discussed are outlandish. If the cure for cancer was going to be found in a shark, we would have already found it. But despite what the book promises on its cover, Matthew D. LaPlante’s book is a detailed, engaging, and informative look at ongoing and recent scientific research from the perspective of an experienced journalist.

There are three categories of science book authors: Scientists, who write the best ones most of the time, science-steeped (often trained-as-scientists) science writers, who can write some pretty good books, and journalists who delve into the science and sometimes write amazing books, other times write books that are good books but not necessarily good science books. Superlative: The Biology of Extremes is in the higher end of the last category. It is about the scientists, the teams, the work more than the cells and polymers.

Also, LaPlante has another set of credentials: He is deeply, severely, hated by Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. Oh, also, the book is at present deeply on sale.

Animal Beauty: On the Evolution of Biological Aesthetics (The MIT Press) is sort of the opposite.

This is a series of essays by biologist Chrisiane Nusslein-Volhard, engagingly and skillfully illustrated by Suse Grutzmacher (and translated by Jonathan Howard) about the aesthetic sense talked about by Darwin, its evolution, distribution, function, meaning, across animals. The essays take a Tinbergian approach to explore most aspects of how thinks look or are looked at, how paterns, colors, and other features play ar ole in sexual selection, and how the underlying genetic connect to these important surface features, allowing us to understand the phylogeny of this physical-behavioral nexus. This is the scientist talking about the science. The book itself is also a bit unusual, as it is designed to fit comfortably in a pocket or purse. Take it to the dentist office or hair stylist! (When the Pandemic is over.)


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The rat in the can effect

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To find out more about the rat in the can effect, you can read this book: The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit by Mel Konner, where I think it is described. Here, I will summarize it, in simplified form. If you seriously need to know about this in more detail, do more research and don’t rely entirely on what I say here. Continue reading The rat in the can effect


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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).

Continue reading Field Guide To The Carnivores Of The World: Review
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One Iguana Two Iguanas: Children’s evolutionary biology book, with lizards!

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The land and marine iguanas of the Galapagos Islands are famous. Well, the marine iguanas are famous, and the land iguanas, representing the ancestral state for that clade of two species, deserve a lot of credit as well. The story of these iguanas is integral with, and parallel to, the story of the Galapagos Islands, and of course, that story is key in our understanding of and pedagogy of evolutionary biology, and Darwin’s history. Continue reading One Iguana Two Iguanas: Children’s evolutionary biology book, with lizards!


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Remember Cecil the Lion?

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Do you remember Cecil the Lion? He was a loin in Zimbabwe, living in a protected park, somewhat habituated to human presence. A Great White Hunter, who was also a dentist in Minnesota, killed him a couple of years ago, and took a lot of heat for it. The real story of what happened is now out in a brand new book by biologist Andrew Loveridge. Continue reading Remember Cecil the Lion?


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Sexual Selection Up To Date: A Taste for the Beautiful

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A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction is a popular science book written by an actual expert on the field, addressing the ways in which the world of animals is shaped by sexual selection.

One of Darwin’s major contributions to the panoply of theoretical and observational work we call “evolution” was to recognize, describe, and model sexual selection. Continue reading Sexual Selection Up To Date: A Taste for the Beautiful


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Leopards Eat Feral Dogs, Limiting Rabies

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I heard a story from a reliable source, who in turn heard it from a fairly reliable source. So believe it or not:

One day a resident of a Nairobi, Kenya — a fairly well off person who liked to collect things — called the police to report that his leopard had gotten out.

So, the police called around and got some leopard traps. Not hard in a place like Nairobi.

They put a dozen, maybe two dozen, traps around the area, in town.

That night and the next, they caught a half dozen or so leopards. None of them were the missing animal. All the caught leopards were wild. Continue reading Leopards Eat Feral Dogs, Limiting Rabies


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Why Was the Grizzly Man Eaten by a Bear? (Film review and commentary)

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Grizzly Man is Werner Herzog’s film about Timothy Treadwell, mostly using Treadwell’s own footage of his time living among grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Treadwell spent each of thirteen summers up to 2003 mainly in two areas of the park where a community1 of grizzly bears lived and foraged. During the last three years of this stint, Treadwell went to the field with video cameras and produced quite a bit of footage. In 2003 he and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were killed and mostly eaten by a bear.

Continue reading Why Was the Grizzly Man Eaten by a Bear? (Film review and commentary)


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The Furry and Creepy Creatures of Britain

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A Field Guide to Britain’s Spiders

No, this is not a new Harry Potter story. It is a pair of books on British Wildlife.

I wish I had Britain’s Spiders: A Field Guide (Princeton University Press (WILDGuides)) Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford & Helen Smith for the United States.

The Chelicerata include the Arachnids, which in turn includes such as the scorpions, harvestmen, mites, etc. The largest single group of Arachnids is the spiders (Araneae). They all breath air, they all have eight legs, they all have venom injecting fangs (see THIS for more on that). Of all of the orders of organisms, spiders are seventh in terms of total species diversity, with over 45,000 species. (For reference, there are about 5,400 species of mammal and about 10,000 species of bird. Continue reading The Furry and Creepy Creatures of Britain


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