Dancing Cockatoos and the Dead Man Test: How Behavior Evolves and Why It Matters

Norton. Aug. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781324007227. $28.95. NAT HIST
Zuk (ecology, evolution, and behavior, Univ. of Minnesota; Sex on Six Legs; Paleofantasy) explores the nature vs. nurture debate. After establishing the definitions and scope of this conversation, and invoking the philosophies surrounding both points of view, Zuk uses examples from her field to elaborate on genes and their influence on behavior. She defines the differences between dogs and wolves, the ability of animals to solve problems, and the use of language in animals, specifically primates. The chapters are well constructed but dense. The science is populated with entertaining stories, such as birds that use cigarette butts to fumigate their nests, and an octopus that punches fish, which help clarify the text when the thesis about the evolution of behavior gets a little muddled. Insects receive an examination, as does the mental health of animals. It’s evident that Zuk’s passion lies with the debate on sex and gender, making those the strongest sections and the easiest to understand.
VERDICT Treat this like a tasting menu: explore sections and then pursue further study.
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