“Great Adaptation” Reveals Secrets to Amazing Animal Skills

Stories about unusual animals and unusual science make this an entertaining read

Neurobiologist Kenneth Catania’s passion for studying strange animal adaptations began with a creature with a 22-pointed star on its face.

Catania first saw a mole-nosed star (Condylura cristata) in a children’s book. Later, when he was 10, he found a dead man near a stream near his home in Columbia, Maryland. Since then, he has continued to peel for more. He had to wait until he was in college when he got a research job to catch star-nosed moles in the Pennsylvania wetland. At that point, no one knew what that strange nose was for, and they wanted to know.

In large adaptations, Catania describes her secret pursuit behind wobbly star-shaped mole feet (she helps the victim under the spots of animals that don’t use sight) as well as a number of other tricks. animals. The tale of his adventures as a biological sniffer offers detailed insight into curiosities such as how ‘hungry’ shrews lead the fastest documented predatory attack on a mammal, and how cockroaches didn’t become a zombie in them. parasitoid wasp attacks (SN: 10 / 31/18).

“It’s human nature to be fascinated by mysteries, but the mystery only brings us to the door,” he writes. “You never know what you might be looking for on the other side.”

In search of answers, Catania conducted some bizarre but fun experiments. To film wasps attacking cockroaches, he built a kit suitable for a horror movie by filling a small kitchen with warning signs and a plastic human skull that could be used by the wasp to store its excess of victim. True to the horror theme, he also removed the paint from the separate decorative zombie arms and gifted the plastic limbs to the Electric Eels (Electrophorus electricus) to show the animals jumped out of the water as a strategy to attack (SN: 06/09/16).

Each chapter follows a logical sequence as Catania describes her discoveries, from the first to spark her interest in an animal to her latest discoveries. However, the science is rarely as straightforward as its indication. Catania’s work as a science detective isn’t always easy, but he says any mistake means a longer book. Although, the book does refer to some ideas that did not happen. “Animals always do something unexpected and more interesting than I thought,” he writes.

For example, the idea that a tentacled snake (Erpeton tentaculatum) might use short limbs near its mouth to attract fish nearby, like turtles eroding their tongues, has been proven wrong. Instead, the tentacles help a snake identify a fish’s position in the water and know when to attack. In addition, the snakes have hijacked the natural leakage of their prey’s reflexes. In a fatal mistake, the fish fled in the wrong direction – straight into the snake’s mouth – if it was tricked by a contraction of the snake’s neck before the predator was completely gone.

Catania’s gentle but informative tale presents science in a way that is easy to understand for anyone with a basic understanding of biology. But even the most experienced expert is likely to know new details without ever making it a scientific task. For a particularly outrageous experiment in which Catania offered her own arm for an electric shock to measure the electric shock, Catania admitted that she would certainly not exhibit any other animals or volunteers. study of unwanted caries (SN: 09/14/17). His own arm is the “obvious solution”.

Side by side, Catania’s enthusiasm and admiration for animals was manifested. When she discovered that the snakes were born with tentacles that knew how to attack the victim rather than learn by failure, Catania recalled that “she had not found enough superlatives to sum up these results”. He also described the fight between a parasitoid wasp and a cockroach as an “insect rodeo”. The wasp attacked the head of a cockroach to lay eggs, but to defend itself “the money, jump and hit the cockroach with all its force”.

Some of that excitement is likely to impact readers and create a sense of wonder. Great Adaptation contains a lot of amazing details about some well-known creatures. As Catania says, “I stopped thinking that I knew the limits of the capacities of animals”.

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