cover image The Language of Animals

The Language of Animals

Frans de Waal, Stephen Hart. Henry Holt & Company, $9.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-3840-8

Hart, a biologist, zoological researcher and science journalist, takes a cautious stance on animal language, summing up the wide range of animal communication he reviews here as ""neither a poem nor a twitch."" Hart starts with the lowly cephalopods and cuttlefish, translating the latter's Technicolor mating call as "" `Me Tarzan. You Tarzan? No? Must be Jane.' "" Moving through insects, fish, amphibians, birds, cetaceans, elephants and hippos, wildcats and domestic dogs and, finally, primates, Hart reviews some of the classic research into how animals communicate, such as Karl von Frisch's study of honeybee directional dances and Herbert Terrace's attempts to teach Nim Chimpsky to ""speak."" Because this is a complicated subject, some things are skipped (some mention of differences between monkeys' and humans throat apparatus, for example, would be useful). More problematic is the choice of illustrations, which are more aesthetic than illustrative: a diagram of a bee dance, say, would have been more illuminating than the generic photo of ""A honeybee entering its hive."" Still, this is an easy, anecdotal introduction with plenty of factoids and some interesting details on how experiments in animal behavior are constructed. (Feb.) ~ FYI: Like The Language of Animals, the two other launch titles in the Scientific American Focus series-Scott Veggeberg's Medication of the Mind (paper -3842-6; cloth -3841-8) and Dana Desonie's Cosmic Collisions (paper -3844-2; cloth -3843-4)-have 128 pages and more than 60 b&w illustrations and are priced at $9.95 paper and $22.50 cloth.