Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind

Richard Fortey. Knopf, $28.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-307-26361-2
Compared to sponges and cyanobacteria, human life is in its infancy. In this delightful account, former Natural History Museum (London) paleontologist Fortey (The Hidden Landscape: A Journey into the Geological Past) gives us the stories of those plants, animals, and other creatures that have survived from Earth’s early days—the planet’s “true marathon runners.” We encounter the horseshoe crab sealing off wounds with its strange blue blood, the leisurely lungfish surfacing for a puff of air before returning to sweep the mud of Australia’s Mary River, and the rainbow of extremophile bacteria huddling within the sulphuric maws of Yellowstone’s boiling geysers. Fortey examines factors that might have contributed to these species’ longevity and, mourning the threat from climate change and invasive species that looms over these ancient organisms, contemplates what these creatures might teach us “as a metaphor for the brevity of human history in the face of true persistence.” In his quest, Fortey treks to a variety of far-flung locales, from the quaint fishing villages perched on Delaware Bay to the stark, windswept cliffs of Mistaken Point on the coast of Newfoundland, and misty Chinese mountain peaks ribbed with primeval stands of gingko trees. Despite the odd title, even those squeamish about worms will find Fortey’s enthusiastic excavations charming. Agent: David Godwin Associates Limited. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/13/2012
Release date: 04/10/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-307-27553-0
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-307-95741-2
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