cover image The Voices of Nature: How and Why Animals Communicate

The Voices of Nature: How and Why Animals Communicate

Nicolas Mathevon. Princeton Univ, $32 (376p) ISBN 978-0-691-23675-9

This illuminating debut by Mathevon, an animal behavior professor at University of Saint-Etienne, breaks down “how animals make and hear sounds, what information is encoded in their sound signals, [and] what this information is used for in their daily lives.” Mathevon delivers fascinating insights into animal communication, noting that songbirds that travel more tend to have larger repertoires, fish find coral reefs by following the “chattering, rasping, squeaking, and growling” noises of the reef’s inhabitants, and mother sea lions wait to leave their pups until they learn to recognize their mother’s cries. Many insects, he adds, have developed eardrums to detect the high-pitch frequencies bats use to echolocate, and some male moths will make calls that mimic bats because they cause female moths to freeze up, making it “easier for him to approach her and convince her to mate.” Some of the more technical explanations will go over lay readers’ heads (“Stridulation is produced when the rasp of the elytron rubs against the scraper,” Mathevon writes of how crickets make noise), but the bounty of stimulating facts about animal communication more than compensates. This will change how readers hear the animals around them. Illus. (June)