- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (December 1, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1250075319
- ISBN-13: 978-1250075314
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 22 x 207.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle Reprint Edition
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“Through personal stories, historical narrative, and detailed sketches, biologist Emlen charts the evolution of animal weapons so bizarre and gargantuan, it's amazing they even exist.” ―Discover magazine
“Outstanding . . . Emlen's book on animal warfare reveals a world far more fascinating and intriguing than one we could summon with our imagination.” ―The Seattle Times
“A fascinating account of how animal weaponry, both offensive (claws, horns, teeth) and defensive (armor, shelter, thorns, claws again) parallel human weaponry, both offensive (arrows, lances, swords, missiles, A-bombs) and defensive (armor, castles, spies). It's a compelling, fun, often scary analysis. And David Tuss's drawings, especially his animals, made me jealous.” ―Robert Krulwich, science correspondent for NPR and cohost of Radiolab
“A great deal of the living world really is red in tooth and claw. That important principle has needed a real biologist to illustrate and explain it, now accomplished dramatically by Emlen.” ―Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer Prize–winning scientist, Harvard University
“Emlen's excellent writing will draw in readers intrigued by astonishingly powerful weapons, both in the wild and in the military, and how they have evolved owing to selective pressures.” ―Library Journal (starred)
“Absorbing . . . Throughout the book, Emlen's demonstrations of the many parallels between human and animal weapons are fascinating, even when the possibilities are frightening . . . Emlen is not a hurried or simplistic storyteller. He is a writer of nuance, and he traveled to many different environments to get the story.” ―Kirkus
“Emlen infuses scientific explanations with entertaining anecdotes from his field research at the University of Montana. Each step of the way, he provides parallels with human weapon development and design, from ancient civilizations to weapons of mass destruction, and the evolutionary process of animals. While his conclusions about the human arms race are dire, it is his description of animal weaponry in action and in evolution that will captivate.” ―Publishers Weekly
“One of our leading evolutionary biologists, Doug Emlen, delves into the deep meaning of entities as different as beetle horns and medieval castles, to take the reader on a joyous ride of discovery about nature and the human experience. Animal Weapons is an authoritative, knowledgeable, and epic narrative of one of the dominant themes of life on earth, including our own. Emlen's curiosity, passion, and storytelling prowess make this magisterial little volume leap from the page.” ―Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish
“This is a great read not only for the stories of conflicts and weaponry in a diversity of animals, but also for the history of human weaponry, and the highly relevant message about arms races the author reads from both.” ―Bernd Heinrich, author of Winter World and Why We Run
“Animal Weapons is must read, especially those of us who are interested and concerned about human weapons development. As Douglas Emlen shows definitively, arms races are not something we as a species invented, but instead the most natural thing in the world.” ―Robert L. O'Connell, author of The Ghosts of Cannae and Fierce Patriot
“Doug Emlen has done a superb job of bringing together the stories of animal and human weapons. He makes the biology behind the evolution of weapons understandable for this soldier and engineer, and convincingly illustrates the human animal's problems in controlling or avoiding catastrophe in the age of weapons of mass destruction.” ―Lieutenant General John Myers
About the Author
Douglas J. Emlen is the recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering from the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, multiple research awards from the National Science Foundation, including their five-year CAREER award, and a Young Investigator Prize and the E. O. Wilson Naturalist Award from the American Society of Naturalists. His research has been featured in outlets including the New York Times and National Public Radio's Fresh Air. He is a professor at the University of Montana.
David J. Tuss is a graphic artist who specializes in blending technical accuracy with vivid, lifelike compositions. His work is also featured in textbooks, scientific articles, and technical biology papers. He lives in Helena, Montana, where he works as a wilderness ranger, natural science illustrator, and public school science and art teacher.
Top customer reviews
A recipe consisting of three ingredients triggers these arm races. (In some cases, as with male fiddler crabs, arms races stop being metaphorical: males develop a single-oversized claw to deter and combat each other.) This process unfolds by sequentially adding the ingredients: sexual competition, plus the economic defensibility of resources, plus dueling. When all of these conditions are present, as Emlen describes drawing on his extensive field work on beetles, a costly equilibrium emerges where weapons grow and grow in size, depleting resources from other uses for all parties involved.
Sexual selection provides the first stepping stone. In sexual reproduction, whenever there is relative scarcity of gametes, asymmetrical parenting investment exists and turnaround times are high (i.e. the time between one birth and another), competition emerges. Illustrating with the selection pressures from female jacanas to male elephants, Emlen summarizes: "Sexual selection arises whenever individuals of one sex differ in their reproductive success. […] When differences in reproductive success get larger, the intensity of selection increases." (p. 69).
The second ingredient is economic defensibility. It serves no purpose to be in a position to defend resources if these resources are spatially impossible to protect. Weapons grown only when a benefit-cost threshold is surpassed, as "animals benefit most from fighting to guard territories when those territories contain valuable and limiting resources" (p. 75), and both the metabolic costs and exposure risks associated with the upkeep of these weapons can be compensated by gains in sexual competition, or resource protection, either by deterring conflict or by providing blunt-force advantages. Locations like tunnels, caves or burrows, therefore, are ideal for this second condition to hold as they allow an animal to reap the benefits of investing in larger weapons.
The final ingredient is dueling - the tendency for encounters to be one-on-one: "All else being equal, we expect species where males fight each other one-on-one to be more likely to evolve extreme weapons than species where males fight less predictably." (p. 91). Large antlers in deer, horns in beetles -which can represent more than 50% of the total body mass- or the asymmetric claws of fiddler crabs all appear as a by-product of layering this third condition over the other two.
Arms races diffuse through asymmetric war tactics. Sneak attacks, deception and ingenuity can render large weapons worthless. In the human version of an arms race, strategies like those in cyberwarfare can become increasingly effective to combat large, expensive, seemingly unbeatable weapons.
After positing the theory, Emlen turns to human warfare, describing how the construction of castles, warships and planes have all followed an arms race trajectory. He ends by describing the global peak of an arms race: the Cold War and the role that Weapons of Mass Destruction play in an escalating conflict. These weapons are unlike any other because "Collateral damage from weapons of mass destruction is likely to be staggering, and this changes the stakes of conflict" (p. 216). Then, the whole game becomes about brinkmanship and attempting to diffuse any escalation.
The book is full of fascinating examples of animal behavior, specially on sexual competition and the technological development of military power. It's a synthesis of Einstein's adage that "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler". Highly recommended.
Emlen is an expert on dung beetles and you come away with a new respect for this very diverse group of animals. However, his review of the evolution of weapons, defensive and aggressive, covers a very wide range of animals from tiny pseudoscorpions, which fight for their harems while hitching a ride on the backs of other insects, to enormous bull elephants, where the limited availability of fertile females raises the reproductive stakes.
Developing armor or weapons is expensive to the organism and therefore most species tend to be fairly balanced as they try to eat, avoid being eaten and reproduce. However, at certain times for certain species, there is an ''arms race" usually driven by sexual selection and Emlen identifies three key components:
1. Competition: Limited availability of fertile partners. It is almost always males who fight and beginning with a rare exception, the jacana, a bird, he offers a clear explanation why
2. Economic defensibility: What kind of resources are available and how to easy to defend
3. Duels: more extreme weapons will develop if the competition is one on one, rather than a melee.
These weapons come at a high price. The prize for largest weapon relative to body size goes to the fiddler crab, whose huge single claw can account for 50% of its bodyweight. In an extensive study of fallow deer, a species with one of the most extreme range of antler size, it was found that 90 % never mated and that they lost more than a quarter of their body weight during the rut. Other studies have shown that animals deplete calcium and phosphorus from existing bones to build antlers, making their bones very brittle at a time when violent conflict is most common. Emlen does an excellent job of explaining why these extremes develop and how sometimes they pass a tipping point.
It is when the author decides to compare natural weapons with humans, particularly when discussing arms races that he really steps out of his scientific expertise. Of course, humans are part of nature and are subject to the same environmental pressure as other animals. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that our weaponry is affected by the same trades-off that limit natural weapons. However, to talk of human weapons "evolving" is using the term in its vernacular, not scientific, sense. Most human weapons, from spears to nuclear weapons, were consciously designed and developed by humans and not the subject of Darwinian evolutionary selection and to confuse the two is unwise in my opinion. Further, his final chapter, "Mass Destruction", is rather naïve in its analysis of current threats. Having argued that the presence of nuclear weapons prevented major conflicts, he now believes that "cheaters" such as terrorists, not playing by the rules, could launch nuclear or biological attacks. While it is certainly true that there is now a greater risk of limited attacks like this, it is hard to see that it will be the cataclysm that he fears.
Except for some limited comparisons, the bridge he tries to build between weapons and warfare in non-humans and humans is unconvincing and adds little to our understanding of human warfare and rather detracts from the otherwise excellent book.
For the scientifically minded, recent research is showing that arms races do not only evolve from sexually selected intra-sex conflict (competition), mutualisms such as acacia-ant and others also trigger rapid genome evolution and 'reward races'! Fascinating stuff!
Most recent customer reviews
I enjoy popular science type books, but am not usually into biology type things.Read more
This book is well written and enlightening. In the center of the book there are even hi-resoultion images of some of the animals...Read more