- Paperback: 268 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 15, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199205574
- ISBN-13: 978-0199205578
- Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.8 x 5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,250,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Built by Animals: The Natural History of Animal Architecture 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Hansell (Animal Architecture), emeritus professor of animal architecture at the University of Glasgow, looks at termite nests, amoeba cases, caddis larvae traps and birds' nests and wonders how creatures with brains so much smaller and simpler than those of humans can create such complex structures. This methodical book discusses some of the intriguing scientific investigations that have been made into animal engineering, from the organization of social insects that work together to construct their nests to the impact of animal architecture on the environment. Hansell describes the biochemistry and mechanical properties of spiders' webs; computer models that simulate the building of nests by wasps; the mathematical models constructed by theoretical biologists to demonstrate how animals transmit information from generation to generation; and laboratory experiments showing that honey bees can learn and retain information about spatial relationships. This emphasis on precision is balanced by one carelessly undisciplined question when Hansell looks at the elaborately decorated structures male bower birds build to attract their mates and wonders whether it might be possible that nonhuman animals have the capacity to appreciate beauty. His engaging discussion provides ample reason to pursue the inquiry. B&w illus. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Hansell has written a typically eloquent account of a fascinating manifestation of animal life. He seamlessly weaves scientific method and understanding into the observations of nature that so clearly have inspired him. Maggie Reilly, Glasgow Natural History Society Chatty yet profoundly learned. The Independent
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It's a captivating title and a captivating cover photo. And anyone who makes the effort to understand the natural world will come to this book with some appreciation of animal architecture, if not from personal observation, then from nature TV. Moreover author Mike Hansell's credentials are exactly those you would expect. So why is this book so unsatisfying? After all, the author treats us to some of the animal construction that we expect, caterpillar cocoons, beaver lodges and dams, ant tunnels, and mud dauber nests. And he introduces us to much that we do not expect, naked mole rats tunnels, hairy-nosed wombat warrens, European badger setts, "magnetic" termite mounds, and amoeba shells. And, although it doesn't relate to animal construction, Hansell also includes a very good chapter on tool use by animals. It also asks, in a chapter-long unanswered question, who makes the design decisions in a colony of hundreds or thousands of residents.
But the reader expects Professor Hansell to answer as well as ask the questions. Unfortunately the answers are all too infrequent. The treatment of the construction of the web of the orb web spider, Araneus diadematus is a rare exception. It is truly excellent, and very satisfying, but it appears to have been written by a different person (a graduate student, perhaps?). Overall the book fails for three reasons. The first is Hansell's painfully self-conscious writing style. We are not reading about animal architecture, we are reading about Hansell writing about animal architecture. We even catch him writing to himself, as in "but let me not get carried away..." The second reason is the pointless digression, as when he describes the nerve centers for avian vocalization. Ultimately, though, the book fails because it does not explain what we wanted explained. How do the filter nets of the Oikopleura dioica get built? "Well, they just appear." How do the stones comprising the shell of the Difflugia coronata amoeba get put in place by a one celled organism which doesn't possess a central nervous system? "...the stones arrange themselves." Professor Hansell, those stones are inorganic; they are inanimate; they do not simply arrange themselves. Perhaps a hundred times throughout the book Hansell simply states, "we really do not know," or that something happens "in a manner not yet studied."
This book addresses a most fascinating topic, but the enthusiastic naturalist will be disappointed that it doesn't live up to its billing.
Built By Animals is a book in which different patterns in Behavior and architecture are shown with the use of examples from the vast diversity of ecosystems in the planet, to explain to an extent the behavior and possible thought processes behind these structures and analyzing what this can tell us about evolution, intelligence, and a view of what defines art. The audience is able to engage and learn about the many different techniques that animals use in architecture which includes nesting, and living conditions, mating, predation even social interaction between species. This book provides a pleasant journey through the world.
Author Mike Hansell is currently an Emeritus Professor in the University of Glascow. He has also written many research papers on animal architecture as well as the different characteristics of nesting for many bird species. And his deep interest in the intricate behavior behind this architecture is shown deeply throughout the book, being written for all audiences, presents to be somewhat challenging, yet entertaining and fun for all readers.
The book is divided by eight chapters, each of them covering a different aspect of the behavior and the different examples of animal architecture in the world. Chapter one focuses on a brief introduction to the category of animals known as "builders" this chapter serves as the first encounter of the animal kingdom in which we can first appreciate the many different techniques or approaches to building a shelter. Beavers and their intricate designs to build dams with the use of wood and branches and twigs, a general overview of the techniques that birds employ when it comes to building nests or even burrowing, we are shown a closer look to the complexity behind ant colonies and the way they are formed and set up to house and protect the colony from predators.
Chapter two titled "Builders change the world takes a closer look at the effects that many structures have on the ecosystem. This chapter takes a look at humanity's advances in architecture and presents the idea that rather than promote biodiversity, humanity's influence is more shown in destruction of ecosystems, such as the termite colonies, which not only provide protection for the termite but also provide mutual benefits for other species like birds. It also takes a look at the fossilized records of these colonies, showing that ants and termites have been present for quite a while and have been able to coexist in the environment rather than harming it.
"You don't need Brains to be a Builder" is the title for chapter three. In this chapter, Hansell brings different examples of individuals that manage to be builders but are not necessarily categorized as being the most outstanding architects, the amoeba, and it's ability to make a protective shell is shown in this chapter as well as the caterpillar and his ability to make the cocoon, honeybees and their wax cells, giving the audience the idea that even simple minds can create complex architecture when they have different materials at their disposal, thus showing that perhaps a brain is not quite required to make architecture for protection.
Chapter four "Who's in Charge" provides a comparison of the Human architecture with the termite architecture in terms of capacity, showing that Human architecture pales in comparison to the capacity that termite architecture provides for their inhabitants. It also talked about the termites' ability and sense of direction to navigate through the many different tunnels in the colony.
Chapter five "From One nest to Another" goes into detail between the relationship between parent and offspring, dealing with things like group nesting to provide better protection for the offspring as well as the different aspects of it from evolutionary history, on how it has changed, or improved over the years, to evolutionary mechanism, on how it works and what does it focus on diversity in nesting, going from the different types of nests, like building nests on cliffs, to burrowing using mud. This chapter also mentions Darwin and Mendel and their different findings on evolution and heritability.
Chapter six "two routes lead to trap building" focuses on the different ways in which species create traps in order to catch prey, this chapter provided different examples going from humans, to the ant lion and worm lion using trapdoors, to the red back spider that carried a web and walked around trapping insects. This chapter also presents the question whether a big brain is not required for this type of behavior, due to the majority of this individuals being invertebrates versus the humans being the only vertebrates
Chapter seven focused on the different aspects of tool making and whether it can be a reflection of intelligence or pure instinct. Focusing from individuals like the chimpanzee using tools in lab environments as well as in the wild, to crows who make tools to catch some prey. It also focused on the Australopithecus and it's ability on tool making, which could've had an impact in evolution as the "smart" ones mated causing a larger brain to develop over time.
Chapter eight "Beautiful Bowers" focused on the aspect of mating in species, such as the Bowerbird and its intricate behavior of creating a colorful structure to better attract a female as well as focusing on the perspective of art that is given in nature itself, from the web designing of a spider to the Bower making to attract a mate and the social interactions that this causes within species.
I found this book to be fascinating and incredibly engaging for the reader, because it presents itself in a different manner than most books, giving the impression that a conversation is happening involving the reader directly with the author. An excellent read for anyone interested in animal behavior, and the many reflections within the book provide detailed descriptions for the reader to visualize. The book centers on the equilibrium that each species brings to an ecosystem, what roles these organisms take on and how do they influence themselves and others. The book is expertly written in a way that it will keep the reader interested and motivated to read more while providing and teaching new information in such a manner that it does not seem like a lecture. Definitely something worth reading
The book divides itself in these chapters in order to give a broad perspective on how vast and incredible are the mechanisms of nature, showing from the start animals such as the beaver who are builders on an ecosystem to comparing and contrasting humanities' own architectural achievements to those of the termites and ants, showing how our own achievements fall short when comparing it to the wonders of nature, but simultaneously Hansell shows us the magnificence of these organisms in assembling their homes. From evolution of species, adaptations to the environments, to different behaviors that influence a species' interaction within an ecosystem, this book gives us an objective tour through the many wonders that animals achieve and sometimes humanity fails to recognize.