BOOKS: Astonishing Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2005:

Astonishing Animals
Extraordinary Creatures & the Fantastic World they Inhabit
by Tim Flannery & Peter Schouten
Atlantic Monthly Press (841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003), 2004.
Hard cover, 203 pages. $29.95.

This absorbing book celebrates the diversity of evolution.
Flannery takes the reader through a gallery of 97 of the
strangest-looking creatures on the planet. Many appear to owe less
to nature than to a Hollywood special effects studio.
Each turn of a page brings yet another fresh delight,
sometimes enough to make one gasp.
The behaviour of some animals matches their extreme
appearance. Sea devils absorb their own skeletons in order to
procure the calcium needed for their eggs. The male net-devil eats
his way into the female and then lives off her blood, a permanent
parasite. (Some women may be tempted to make morbid comparisons).
The stoplight loosejaw has evolved a separate set of formidable
jaws–outside its body. The King of Saxony bird of paradise boasts
eyebrows three times the length of its body, bedecked with
streamers, in order to beguile the female.

The illustrations by Peter Schouten are magnificent. But
unlike many coffee table books which propagate “feel-good
conservation,” the Astonishing Animals text by Tim Flannery does not
try to hide the extinction that looms large for many of his cast.
Behind the lovely pictures lies a deeper, subtle message.
Look at the power and extent of the evolutionary drive to
survive and propagate, and there is much food for thought. There is
inspiration for people to stop accepting progressive extinction as
something which is depressingly inevitable. How can we stand by and
allow such masterpieces of either the Creator’s work or of evolution
(take your pick) to be carelessly erased off the planet?
On a lighter note, Flannery tells us that one of the
alien-like creatures depicted is a figment of his own imagination,
and he invites the reader to identify the fake.
–Chris Mercer & Bev Pervan

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