From star-nosed moles that have super-sensing snouts to electric eels that paralyze their prey, animals possess unique and extraordinary abilities. In Great Adaptations, Kenneth Catania presents an entertaining and engaging look at some of nature's most remarkable creatures. Telling the story of his biological detective work, Catania sheds light on the mysteries behind the behaviours of tentacled snakes, tiny shrews, zombie-making wasps, and more. He not only shows how studying these animals provide deep insights into how life evolved, but also how scientific discovery can be filled with adventure and fun.
Beginning with the star-nosed mole, Catania reveals what the creature's nasal star is actually for, and what this tells us about how brains work. He explores how the deceptive hunting strategy of tentacled snakes leads prey straight to their mouths, how eels use electricity to control other animals, and why emerald jewel wasps make zombies out of cockroaches. He also solves the enigma of worm grunting by teaming up with professional worm grunters. Catania demonstrates the merits of approaching science with an open mind, considers the role played by citizen scientists, and illustrates that most animals have incredible, hidden abilities that defy our imagination.
Examining some strange and spectacular creatures, Great Adaptations offers a wondrous journey into nature's grand designs.
Kenneth Catania is the Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University. A 2006 MacArthur Fellow, Catania lives in Nashville.
"The irresistible enthusiasm of Great Adaptations couldn't come at a better time – science is under assault not merely by know-nothing deniers but in how it is taught and presented to the general public. It's dispensed as a collection of facts, recitations of what past research has uncovered, findings to be understood, which all too often means just 'memorized.' By contrast, as Mr. Catania clearly understands, and demonstrates beautifully in his book, science offers adventures in trying to decode the mysteries of the natural world."
– David P. Barash, Wall Street Journal
"In page after page, Catania's enthusiasm and awe for the animals shine through [...] Some of that enthusiasm will likely rub off on readers and spark a sense of wonder. Great Adaptations packs in plenty of astounding details about some remarkable creatures."
– Erin Garcia de Jesus, Science News
"[Catania] is as keen that we learn about the process of discovery as about animals themselves [...] The realms he studies may be on the small scale, but the implications are enormous."
– Bill Thompson, The Post and Courier
"Casual science readers will be hooked from page one; for those contemplating careers in the sciences, this should be required reading."
– Library Journal, starred review
"By blending accessible writing with cutting-edge science, Catania [...] demonstrates how exciting the process of scientific investigation can be in his invigorating debut [...] The joy Catania takes in the process of exploring the natural world will delight readers."
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"With its combination of clearly explained science and vivid tales from the road, this is a book for anyone who is interested in the natural world and the interesting people who study it."
– Linda Lombardi, Shelf Awareness, starred review
"Using a variety of visual aids to good effect, Catania explores how the humblest species may have developed their remarkable abilities [...] It's clear that being a scientist has only magnified the author's sense of wonder, and he notes how chance, failure, an open mind, and tirelessly methodical experimentation are as much natural parts of science as breakthroughs [...] His delight is contagious."
– Kirkus Reviews
"From mapping the sensory cortex of the star-nosed mole's brain to tactile receptors in its fleshy tentacles, to illustrating the unique behavioral capabilities of the electric eel, tentacled snake, water shrew, and jewel wasp, each species description reveals a compelling story of evolutionary adaptations in anatomy, physiology, and/or behavior. Catania aptly conveys his wonderment at finding out how an organism interacts with its environment, a project that became his life's work."
– J. Burger, Choice
"With engaging prose and captivating stories, Kenneth Catania brings his brilliant research to life. Never have I learned so much from a book that's so enjoyable to read."
– Jonathan Losos, author of Improbable Destinies
"In writing about the astonishing ways that animals live on this planet, Kenneth Catania says he stopped at the word 'miracles.' But in Great Adaptations, what he describes is just that – a planet full of miracles. Catania's personal experiences and journeys make this a compulsively readable book. Be very amazed."
– Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words and Becoming Wild
"Through a series of gripping vignettes about incredible animals doing seemingly impossible things, Great Adaptations melds insightful natural history with sophisticated experimental analysis, garnished with scientific brilliance. It is among the best natural history accounts our generation has to offer."
– Michael J. Ryan, author of A Taste for the Beautiful
"From star-nosed moles to worm grunting, this book captivates readers with stories about the extraordinary abilities of ordinary creatures."
– Marlene Zuk, author of Paleofantasy