Martin Stevens explores the extraordinary variety of senses in the animal kingdom, and discusses the cutting-edge science that is shedding light on these secret worlds.
Our senses of vision, smell, taste, hearing, and touch are essential for us to respond to threats, communicate and interact with the world around us. This is true for all animals – their sensory systems are key to survival, and without them animals would be completely helpless. However, the sensory systems of other animals work very differently from ours. For example, many animals from spiders to birds can detect and respond to ultraviolet light, to which we are blind. Other animals, including many insects, rodents, and bats can hear high-frequency ultrasonic sounds well beyond our own hearing range. Many other species have sensory systems that we lack completely, such as the magnetic sense of birds, turtles, and other animals, or the electric sense of many fish. These differences in sensory ability have a major bearing on the ways that animals behave and live in different environments, and also affect their evolution and ecology.
In Secret Worlds, Martin Stevens explores the remarkable sensory systems that exist in nature, and what they are used for. Discussing how different animal senses work, he also considers how they evolve, how they are shaped by the environment in which an animal lives, and the pioneering science that has uncovered how animals use their senses. Throughout, he celebrates the remarkable diversity of life, and shows how the study of sensory systems has shed light on some of the most important issues in animal behaviour, physiology, and evolution.
1: A Plethora of Senses
2: Singing Mice and Painting Pictures with Sound
3: For My Eyes Only
4: Electric Attraction
5: Stars of the Tactile World
6: Smelling in Stereo
7: Homing Turtles and Animal Magnetism
8: A Changing World
Martin Stevens is Professor of Sensory and Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Exeter. His research has covered a wide range of areas, but much of his current work explores how animals change colour for camouflage, and how human impacts on the environment are affecting animal colouration and vision. He has authored over 120 scientific papers, two textbooks, and a popular science book on deception in nature Cheats and Deceits, (Oxford University Press, 2016). Stevens' work is frequently covered in the popular media, including by the New Scientist and the New York Times. He has appeared several times on radio and TV, such as on the BBC and on National Geographic, and has given a range of public lectures around the world.
"a riveting new volume that explores the extraordinary senses of animals [...] This volume brings the wonders of these sensory worlds to a more general audience."
– Michael J. Ryan, Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol.97, no.1
"While paying its dues to those amazing abilities of animals, Secret Worlds has some very intriguing things to say about the evolution and plasticity of the sense – and above all, the cost of acquiring them. [...] One can only hope that Stevens will return with fresh insights in a few years."
– Simon Ings, New Scientist