Wonderful photographs, vivid descriptions, unusual organisms —— that is what you will find in this book, written as a companion to the Discovery Channel/BBC series Life. Over 300 color photographs vividly display the beauty and diversity of life in many different environments. The overview of the book is framed in the last sentence of the introduction: ““No one really knows how many species there are today……but all have one thing in common: the drive to survive and reproduce.”” The authors not only describe interesting behaviors, they also direct the reader to think about diversity and evolution in the living world and to develop an appreciation of its complexity. Some of the organisms shown in this book are familiar, such as the camouflaged cuttlefish and the tool-using chimpanzee. Others, such as the rock-climbing fish of Hawaii, which climbs (not swims) up water falls, and the lesser flamingo of Kenya, which lives in high-alkaline and high-temperature (140——150°°F) areas, are not usually found in biology textbooks.
Don't be fooled by the title —— this book is not just about animal behavior! Plants are included in the chapter entitled ““Irrepressible Plants.”” The authors' introduction to this chapter brings home the reason why plants are frequently neglected when behavior is discussed: ““first, we tend to consider plants as rooted to the ground and therefore literally inanimate, and second, plant behavior happens so slowly that we seldom notice it.”” This chapter is fascinating, with section descriptors such as ““The fastest plant on the planet,”” ““Longevity as a solution to adversity,”” and ““Wind-runner.”” The photographs of the landscape of Socotra in the Arabian archipelago can prompt much class discussion about adaptation and environmental pressures.
The book is composed of nine chapters: Extraordinary sea creatures; Fabulous fish; Irrepressible plants; Insect ingenuity; Frogs, serpents and dragons; Brilliant birds; Winning mammals; Hot-blooded hunters; and Intellectual primates. Each chapter begins with an overview of the topic followed by specific descriptions for the organisms shown in each chapter section. There is an introduction that sets the focus and a very useful index. At the beginning of the book, there is a world map that shows the various locations for photographing the organisms. This map is valuable but might be misinterpreted as showing that Europe and Asia do not have organisms with ““extreme behaviors,”” because few if any of the locations were in these regions. This reviewer has seen parts of the video series. They are exciting because you see the behavior in action, and the cinematography is excellent. As a companion to the videos, the descriptions in the book are enhanced to incorporate the evolutionary time-frame and ecological relationships. On its own, this beautiful book has value and could be used by biology educators at all levels to capture the attention of students. The images in the book are captivating. Placing the book in a classroom where students could peruse it will engage many otherwise uninterested students. Life: Extraordinary Animals, Extreme Behaviour provides the reader with a greater sense of the difficulties organisms encounter and the extreme approaches species use to meet the challenges.