Leeches, fire ants, dragonflies and mosquitoes; slime eels, giant squids, earthworms and fleas--this gallery of creepy-crawlies is enough to give anyone nightmares. Yet in his new book, Spineless Wonders
, author Richard Conniff succeeds in making his subjects interesting if not exactly attractive. Conniff, a journalist, knows all too well that most people do not share his admiration for the invertebrates of the world, and so he sets out to demonstrate just what marvels of engineering they really are. From discussions of just how these creatures are made and how they survive, he goes on to tell stories about the people who study them. From the scientist who ate the only known specimen of a new species to the leech-farmer in Wales, Conniff paints a vivid picture of invertebrates and the people who love them, making even that slime eel seem almost appealing.
From Publishers Weekly
Invertebrates are literally spineless and much maligned. But we vetebrates are figuratively spineless, at least when it comes to the creepy, slimy, hairy horror evoked by that which "represents more than 99.5 percent of all animal species." Coniff (writer and producer of nature programs for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel) humbles us in his wonderfully weird, icky book, for he makes clear that without the fly to pollinate and the worm to till the earth, we would vanish. There is much to learn here: that leeches are being farmed and used medicinally (again); that in Texas, fire ants "frequently get to highway accident victims before the ambulance"; that the squid's mantle, when served up as calamari, is virtually fat free (Coniff even includes a recipe); that dragonflies have been clocked at 35 mph and that 440 fleas can be found on a single cat; that some moths smell so bad spiders set them free if caught in their webs. People are terrified of snakes and spiders, but the mosquito, Conniff tells us, is "the most dangerous animal on earth," spreading malaria, yellow fever, dengue and encephalitis, diseases that often change the course of human history. With humor, Conniff follows various eccentric characters (madly in love with their subjects, be they squid or slime eels) down tarantula's burrows and into dusty collection drawers. He points out that we have researched many invertebrates relentlessly in our effort to kill them off, only to learn in minutest detail what mirculous systems make life live. Readers may feel something crawling up their leg as they read this enlightening and entertaining book. Illustrations by Sally Bensusen. Rights, except electronic: The Spieler Agency.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.