Monday, August 19, 2013

Unusual Creatures by Michael Hearst

Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth's Strangest Animals is one of the most entertaining wildlife books I've read in a long time. Michael Hearst shares trivia about his 50 favourite animals with goofy gusto.

I learned how the wombat manages to make square poop and that artist Salvador Dali took his pet giant anteater for strolls through Paris. I already knew that male platypus have a venomous spur on each hind ankle because of the adult novel Albert of Adelaide, which stars a platypus named Albert. I didn't know that "there is no agreed-upon plural form of platypus, although scientists typically use 'platypuses' or platypus,' Not 'platypi.' Sorry."

The tardigrade, a water-dwelling microscopic animal found worldwide, is possibly the hardiest creature on the planet. "In 2007, tardigrades were taken into orbit on the Foton-M3 space mission and exposed to the airless, gravityless vacuum of outer space. After they returned to Earth 10 days later, it was discovered that not only had they survived, but they had also laid eggs."

"The hair on a sloth curves in the opposite direction of most other mammals: from the stomach to the back. Clearly, this is a mohawk waiting to happen."

An individual sea pig "is just about the perfect size to fit in the palm of your hand. I would suggest that the sea pig might make an awesome pet, but you would first need to find a 3,000-foot-deep fishbowl."

Check out Hearst's website, where you can also hear songs that he has composed in honour of unusual creatures. The Jesus Christ lizard video animation with toy piano music is pure fun. ("People have given the common basilisk [the name Jesus Christ lizard] because of its amazing ability to run on water.")

The artwork in Unusual Creatures is by Arjen Noordeman, Christie Wright, and Jelmer Noordeman. At first, I was disappointed that there were no photos of the creatures, but the strong visuals quickly won me over. The book's graphic design has a funky retro vibe.

An appealing nature book for readers of all ages.

Readalikes: Ubiquitous (Joyce Sidman); You Are Stardust (Elin Kelsey); Rare (Joel Sartore); and Packing for Mars (Mary Roach)

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