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Monday, July 8, 2019

Book Review: The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems by Matt Simon, narrated by Jonathan Todd Ross (audio)

What a fascinating book! I really want a pet waterbear. They're microbial creatures that you can boil, that can get down to one half degree above absolute zero, blast out into space without a spacesuit, or dry out for 20 years, and they will survive all of these things! How amazing! And the elasticity of the skin of the naked mole rat, means it doesn't get cancer. There's a fish called the pearlyfish that, in order to hide from predators, swims up the butt of sea cucumbers and well... lives there.

This book very much reminded me of the completely delightful Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson which I read a couple of decades ago. While the story of pretty much all creatures great and small does revolve around sex, since any creature's #1 goal is reproduction, Mr. Simon does branch out into unusual habitats, cool ways creatures kill each other, and other bizarre evolutionary traits. Tiger beetles run so fast they temporarily blind themselves and have to occasionally stop and readjust (they don't, as I assumed, have wind blasting into their eyes so fast they dry out, instead light can't enter their eyes fast enough to process sight.) There's a species of fish that, in order to get away from sharks, shoots globs of goop into sharks' gills to suffocate them. There's a shrimp that can snap its claws so fast the friction causes heat as hot as the surface of the sun.

Do you like fun facts? Any interest in science? Better if your interest is superficial as he doesn't dive into deep details about anything, and there is some fairly juvenile humor occasionally. But the narrator sounds a tiny bit like Casey Kasem which I like. (I wish he wouldn't have such long pauses but that's easily overlooked.) I know I missed out on some illustrations with the audio version, and at first I was confused by what appeared to be some repetition, but which I eventually figured out were captions for those illustrations. This is a satanic leaf tailed gecko. That "leaf" is part of the gecko:


Much fun for a very-armchair biologist! And I got a D in high school biology so you really need no interest or aptitude at all. Just tuck in and find out about the zombie ants and the spiders that look like bird poop and how many creatures can regenerate body parts.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from Libro.fm, which supports independent bookstores.

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