- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux (August 9, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374283370
- ISBN-13: 978-0374283377
- Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 57 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry
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"A vibrant tour through [an] exciting field." ―Jennie Erin Smith, The Wall Street Journal
"Superbly entertaining popular science." ―Nancy Bent, Booklist (starred review)
"Once you dive into biologist Christie Wilcox's book about her scientific adventures among poisonous animals, you'll find that evolution is even more badass than a venomous spider." ―Annalee Newitz, Ars Technica
"[Wilcox] paints a vast portrait of poison . . . No stranger to encounters with these poisonous creatures, Wilcox brings years of personal insight to her research and analysis." ―Seth Ferranti, Vice
"Wilcox mines reams of research on venomous fauna . . . [and] reminds us that venoms are 'complex molecule libraries' with medical potential―so safeguarding their biodiversity also preserves biochemical riches." ―Barbara Kiser, Nature
"A lively tour . . . Whether she’s discussing snakes and pufferfish or Komodo dragons and spiders―not to mention octopuses, snails, platypuses, and bees―Wilcox relates technical biochemical and physiological information in a manner that is accessible and enjoyable." ―Publishers Weekly
"[Venomous] gives these toxic but necessary creatures their due . . . Wilcox, a biologist and science writer based in Honolulu, takes a deep dive into what makes these dangerous creatures tick." ―John Bonazzo, The New York Observer
"Wilcox’s book is one of the better science books I’ve read in some time . . . as a person who has lived for years in the venom-rich rain forest . . . I still found myself learning something new with every page turn." ―Greg Laden, ScienceBlogs
"[Venomous] includes a full array of stingy creatures." ―Sarah Murdoch, The Toronto Star
"Enthralling . . . Wilcox’s enthusiasm and accessible writing style . . . craft a gripping read that offers a remarkably broad and in-depth look into the evolution and impact of Earth’s deadliest creatures." ―Josh Goller, Spectrum Culture
"Christie Wilcox is the perfect guide to the wild and weird world of venomous creatures―a scientist who knows how to tell a vivid story, a storyteller who understands the elegant science of poisons. As a result, Venomous succeeds both as an insightful study of the natural world and, equally important, as a fascinating read." ―Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook
"Even at its most sinister, nature can’t help but be fascinating, and in Venomous, Christie Wilcox has created a fitting tribute to one of nature’s most sinister creations of all. She not only provides a tour of the venomous world’s most frightening specimens, but she also dives into the astonishing biology underlying their deadly success." ―Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex
"Having just been stung by a scorpion while camping in the Mexican desert, I have a renewed interest in venomous creatures. But you don’t need to have been stung or bitten to be utterly captivated by this important and original book. Christie Wilcox has a natural gift for storytelling, and she gracefully mixes anecdotes and humor with science and spellbindingly gory details about some of the most feared animals on the planet." ―Mark Carwardine, zoologist
"Reader be warned: Venomous sinks its fangs into you and won’t let go. Christie Wilcox is as remarkable as the hemorrhage-inducing caterpillars and mind-controlling wasps in the pages of her book: a molecular biologist who can write. I’m recommending Venomous to every friend who wonders what venom scientists are so excited about and to every student who asks, ‘What is left in nature for me to discover?’ " ―Leslie V. Boyer, MD, founding director of the VIPER Institute at the University of Arizona
"Readers of Christie Wilcox’s blog Science Sushi already know her as a candid, curious guide to the myths and much more interesting realities of ocean and land biology. Venomous, her intoxicating exploration of poisonous beasts and the scientists who celebrate them, should bring her the wider audience she deserves." ―Maryn McKenna, TED speaker and author of Superbug and Beating Back the Devil
About the Author
Christie Wilcox, PhD, is a scientist and an award-winning science writer. Her writing has appeared in Discover, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Scientific American, Slate, and Popular Science.
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There are many thousands of venomous creatures. They deliver venom through spines, fangs, stinging cells, stingers and the platypus' spur. Obviously snakes, but also the American Southwest's Gila monster, scorpions all over the world, Australia's platypus, but also ticks, vampire bats, and the famous blue-ringed octopus (whose venom is remarkably potent, the more so from a creature the size of a golf ball). And many more: some shrews, the slow loris (!!), jellyfish, hundreds of species of cone snails and yet more, such as Komodo dragons, caterpillars, ants, and a huge number of bees and wasps.
Venom is in an evolutionary race between predator and prey, particularly for defensive venoms. Some species easily cope with poisonous snakes, for example--mongooses, hedgehogs, honey badgers, some possums, and snake eagles. 48 species of mammals eat poisonous snakes, their own bodily system biochemistry able to cope with venoms, or some other adaptation suck as very thick fur or extreme quickness. Snakes are serious menaces to people, with says Wilcox, as many as a hundred thousand fatalities from snakebite in India, and a similar number in Africa (mostly sough of the Sahara). Some of that loss of life is a matter of poverty, lack of access to hospital care and lack of money enough to buy anti-venom.
Venom has two divisions so to speak. One is to kill prey, so call it offensive. The other is defense, so the purpose is to hurt rather than kill, to cause enough pain so a predator will not continue an attack and will not likely make a meal of the venom's originator. To cause pain that prevents predation and stops an attack, the venom has to act very quickly. And some venomous creatures offer warnings such as the rattlesnake's rattle or stinging insects' bright coloration.
Venom in the large sense offers a great deal of medical potential. The last section of the book describes some of this. A component of bee venom has promise against HIV. A component of the venom of the Brazilian wandering spider may help with erectile dysfunction. There are already several venom-derived drugs on the market on the billion-dollar a year sales level. Only a small portion of venomous creatures have been investigated for medical potential, and we're on the brink of extincting many of them. Wilcox is really arguing for the great value of biodiversity in the last section. She writes: "Every species on the planet tells a story, an evolutionary novel packed with generation and generations of knowledge. Letting these
species disappear is like setting fire to every library on earth."