________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 20 . . . . May 29, 2009

cover Animal, Aha! Thrilling Discoveries in Wildlife Science.

Diane Swanson.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2009.
48 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-164-8 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55451-165-5 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Animals-Juvenile literature.
Animals-Anecdotes-Juvenile literature. Animals-Miscellanea-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

*** /4


In her research lab in Massachusetts, Dr. Pepperberg and her trainers used an unusual method to teach Alex to speak English. She let him watch and listen as two people examined and discussed an object- a grape, for example. When one of them named the object correctly, that person received it as a reward. When the person named the object incorrectly, it was taken away. Then the trainers exchanged roles so that Alex could learn both parts. The purpose was to make him want to name and receive the object, too. It worked. Next, a trainer helped him say each new word as clearly as possible.

Humans have long been intrigued by animal behaviour, both in the wild and in a lab setting. This compact, but informative, book, features six animals-gorillas, elephants, dolphins, parrots, Burmese pythons and cockroaches (five of them depicted on the book’s cover) and the experiments which helped scientists to better understand them. Following a brief introduction, there is one chapter devoted to each animal. “Fast Facts” provide information about the animal’s habitat, food, size and lifespan, while “Fun Facts” offer five interesting bits of trivia. For example, a gorilla’s noseprints are as unique as a human’s fingerprints, and one elephant ear weighs about 50 kg. A table of contents and an index are included.

    The first featured animal is the gorilla. Gorillas, unlike other members of the ape family, usually rely on their body strength to obtain food. However, scientists observing gorillas in a Congo rainforest were astounded when the gorillas used “tools” such as a tree branch to measure water depth and a snapped-off tree stump as a base for one hand while pulling herbs out of the water with the other. The gorillas also used the stump to form a bridge over a muddy area. Though the scientists had been studying gorillas for over 10 years, this was the first time that they were privy to this type of behaviour, proving that patience and persistence do pay off.

    In other experiments highlighted in the book, scientists proved that elephants are able to recognize their own reflections in a mirror, provided that the mirror shows their entire body. Elephants are also able to learn about 100 commands.

    Dolphins can be trained to do basic math and to learn the difference between more and less, a survival skill necessary in the wild when they are keeping track of areas with greater food sources. In scientific experiments performed at the Dolphin Research Center in Florida, dolphins, shown two different black panels with white dots painted on them, were able to select the correct answer at least 82% of the time, even when the size, number and position of the dots varied.

    Alex, an African gray parrot, was the subject of several lab experiments involving language. His trainers taught him to identify seven colours and five shapes, count up to six items, and to identify a wide range of objects and tell which one was larger and what was the same or different about the objects. Before Alex died at age 31, he was learning the basics of reading, connecting letters with sounds.

    Scientists studying the eating habits of Burmese pythons discovered that the python adds 40% more muscle to its heart within two days of feeding. This heart enlargement lasts from one to two weeks, depending on the size of the prey, and then gradually decreases in size. It is believed that this phenomenon helps the python to digest prey quickly as otherwise the prey would rot inside the python and make the reptile ill.

    Finally, scientists trained cockroaches to like certain smells, peppermint and vanilla. Some of the cockroaches were trained during the day, others at night, and then they were tested 30 minutes to 48 hours later. An interesting finding of this experiment was that the insects trained at night had better test scores. These results show, perhaps, the link between learning, memory and animals’ biological clocks.

    Swanson’s admitted fascination with nature is evident in this book. Her fluent, almost conversational, writing style, combined with the book’s layout and colour photographs, engages the reader. She not only describes the various experiments so that young readers can comprehend easily, but she also explains how the results of some of the experiments might be applied to learning more about human behaviour.

    Educational, interesting and informative.


Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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