Animal Earth: The Amazing Diversity of Living Creatures

Ross Piper, Author
Ross Piper. Thames & Hudson, $45 (320p) ISBN 978-0-500-51696-6
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-500-29165-8
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Readers expecting an elegant study of the animal kingdom are in for a shock as zoologist Piper showcases legions of oft-overlooked species. Noting that familiar animals such mammals, birds, reptiles, and their relatives account for only “4 per cent of the roughly 1.5 million known animal species,” Piper makes good on his titular promise in this impressive study, buoyed by page after page of breathtaking images. Most of Piper’s subjects are of the marine or microscopic varieties: parasitic nematodes, micro-colonies of barnacles and feather stars, “water bears,” and spindly sea spiders are just some of the creepy-crawlies awaiting readers. Piper’s prose, while informative, veers toward the academic more often than not, vacillating between scholarly lecture and enthusiastic guide. But the book’s main draw is its striking images, capturing the iridescent eyes of mantis shrimps (which allow them to see 10 times more color than humans), elegant fireworms, a brilliantly multicolored Persian carpet flatworm, sea slugs (nudibranchs) that look more like sculptures than living organisms, and sinister wasp close-ups that will both haunt readers and draw them back for more. The tome’s only real flaw is burying the photo credits among the acknowledgments in miniscule print; a petty offense, but one that is a noteworthy in a book with such excellent images. Color photos. (Nov.)
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