WINTER WORLD: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival

Bernd Heinrich, Author
Bernd Heinrich, Author . HarperCollins/Ecco $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-019744-5
Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003

How do bears, bees, frogs and other creatures stay alive in a barren, subzero landscape? A veteran natural history author and University of Vermont biology professor, Heinrich (Mind of the Raven) uses the New England winter as a laboratory for investigating the adaptability and evolution of animals. In short, dense, lucid chapters that will intrigue both natural history buffs and neophytes, Heinrich discusses the survival strategies—such as hibernation and nest building—of mammals, birds and reptiles. He shows how bears endure months of hibernation without losing muscle mass or bone density, how an air-breathing snapping turtle survives six months at the bottom of a frozen pond and how honeybees keep the temperature in their hives at a balmy 36 degrees Celsius no matter how cold it is outside. The narrative is full of exuberant first-person observations from Heinrich's walks through the Maine and Vermont woods ("I hit the tree with an ax. One flying squirrel with huge black eyes and soft gray pelage popped its head out.... After I started to climb the tree I saw three heads looking out. No—it was four!"), and he reflects on such subjects as the ethics of hunting and the implications of animal survival strategies—particularly the bear's ability to stay in shape without exercise—for human health. Throughout the book, Heinrich returns to the example of the mysterious golden-crowned kinglet, a bird whose tiny body—not much bigger than a walnut—loses heat so quickly that it seems to defy the rules of winter survival, and whose perseverance symbolizes the improbable, miraculous feats of endurance of all the animals of the north. Nature lovers will delight in this lively, fascinating study. (Jan.)

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