cover image An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us

Ed Yong. Random House, $30 (464) ISBN 978-0-593-13323-1

Pulitzer-winning journalist Yong (I Contain Multitudes) reveals in this eye-opening survey animals’ world through their own perceptions. Every animal is “enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble,” he writes, or its own “perceptual world.” Yong’s tour covers vision (mantis shrimp have “12 photoreceptor classes”), sound (birds, researchers suggest, hear in a similar range as humans but they hear faster), and nociception, the tactile sense that sends danger signals (which is so widespread that it exists among “creatures separated by around 800 million years of evolution”). There are a wealth of other senses outside the standard five: sea turtles have two magnetic senses, electric fish generate currents to “sense their surroundings” as well as to communicate with each other, and the platypus’s sensitive bill gives it what scientists think may be “electrotouch.” Yong ends with a warning against light and sound pollution, which can confuse and disturb animals’ lives, and advocation that “natural sensescapes” ought to be preserved and restored. He’s a strong writer and makes a convincing case against seeing the world as only humans do: “By giving in to our preconceptions, we miss what might be right in front of us. And sometimes what we miss is breathtaking.” This is science writing at its best. (July)