________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003

cover Weird Nature: An Astonishing Exploration of Nature's Strangest Behavior.

John Downer.
Willowdale, ON: Firefly Books, 2002.
156 pp., pbk. & cl., $19.95 (pbk), $35.00 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55297-586-X (pbk.), ISBN 1-55297-587-8.

Subject Heading:
Animal behaviour.

Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*** /4


The evolution of jointed legs gave the crustaceans - crabs, lobsters and their relatives - a new means of getting around. The prize for weirdness goes to the spiny lobsters of Florida. It is not the movement of a single lobster that raises an eyebrow but the fact that, periodically, these animals join together for a mass conga across the sandy ocean floor.

Cued by the first autumn storms, they leave their rock crevices and assemble for the performance in lines of 50 or more. The leader sets the course and speed, while others, with their 10 legs kicking out sideways, join the conga line from behind. Like drunken party-goers, but using antennae rather than arms, they try to keep contact with one another as they swagger from the shallows to deeper water.

Weird Nature is a glimpse into some fascinating aspects of animal behavior which humans tend to view as strange. While presenting examples from the rest of the animal kingdom, the author challenges our self-perceptions with deliberate references to many similarities seen in human ways. His stated purpose: "It is only by understanding our deep links with the rest of the animal world that we can understand our place within it." The book is a companion to the Discovery Channel series of the same name. John Downer is a producer and director of nature documentaries, a photographer and author.

internal art

     Six chapters divide the book into topics: motion, breeding, feeding, defenses, partners and potions. Each chapter describes numerous examples of behaviors in an easy-to-read, story style, beginning and ending with comparative references to human activity to keep the reader focused on our place in the scheme of things. The type is double-spaced with generous amounts of white border on each page. The author has provided many of the exceptional photographs from his own work as a wildlife photographer. Multi-flash, time shots graphically reveal the leaping action of a bushbaby, for example.

     This is an entertaining read for anyone interested in the bizarre as well as familiar animal antics. Some of the latter are explained in greater detail. While most of us recognize the speedy roadrunner of cartoon fame as a bird that prefers to run rather than fly, we might not have known that it revs up its batteries by means of "a dark patch of skin on its back that serves as a solar panel," raising its temperature so it can perform at top speed. This well-illustrated book has plenty to satisfy your need for both visual stimulation and investigative content (index included).


Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer and former teacher-librarian living in BC.


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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364