Built by Animals: The Natural History of Animal Architecture

Mike Hansell, Author . Oxford Univ. $29.95 (268p) ISBN 978-0-19-920556-1

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.)

Reviewed on: 09/24/2007
Release date: 12/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
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