Great Adaptations: Star-Nosed Moles, Electric Eels, and Other Tales of Evolution’s Mysteries Solved.

Princeton Univ.. Sept. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9780691195254. $27.95.. Princeton Univ.
Catania (neurobiology, Vanderbilt Univ.) showcases some strange creatures with unusual capacities. The “star” of his show is the star-nosed mole, with its weird schnoz containing some 25,000 touch-sensitive nerve organs and the ability to gobble small invertebrate prey in world record–breaking time. The mole was undergrad Catania’s first real biological assignment; his “strange path of discovery” is brilliantly documented, from figuring how to find and capture his elusive subject to eventually mapping its brain. He also studies tentacled snakes that deploy some devilish hunting strategies, worms that leave the ground in response to “grunts,” eels that paralyze their prey with Taser-like jolts, bloodthirsty water shrews, and zombie-making wasps. The author’s witty style and amazing findings are complemented by stunning photography and movie shorts that readers with smart phones can scan and play. The astonishing animals are only half the story. Just as compelling is the enquiring-human side—i.e., seeing a scientist at work (and at play), applying a Sherlockian credo: “approach the problem with an open mind, gather every possible clue, start eliminating suspects.”
VERDICT Casual science readers will be hooked from page one; for those contemplating careers in the sciences, this should be required reading.
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