Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Trials of Life

The Trials of Life: a Natural History of Animal Behavior
© 1990 Sir David Attenborough
320 pages

Following up on last week's The Private Life of Plants, I enjoyed another of Attenborough's books documenting the extraordinary natural world: this with a focus on the lives of animals, with chapters devoted to various elements of animals' lives. After two initial chapters on birth and childhood, the book covers navigation, courtship, feeding, hunting, and home-making among others, not to mention separate chapters exploring the way animals interact with one enough. All sorts of beasts have their time in this book, from the smallest ants to mighty elephants. I learned that there is a caterpillar that appears to be a viper, why termite skyscrapers are neatly oriented along with the poles, that they are often home to a host of other animals besides termites, and that antlers are only temporary. Like The Private Life of Plants,  Trials of Life is replete with astonishing pictures. This is an easy recommendation.

This is a caterpillar with a tank-like shell invading the tree nest of ants. The ants can't get under the shell, and the caterpillar uses that advantage to navigate to the ant nursery, where he lifts the shell up a bit and uses it to capture eggs. Then it feeds on the eggs while pupating.

These are honeypot ants: the little black specks are their limbs. This species uses some of its individuals to store food for hard times later on: these individuals gorge themselves on honey and swell up, spending their time hanging from the ceiling. When food is scarce, other ants will force the gorged individuals to burp up little droplets of honey.

This is a caterpillar. 

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