Wild Marvels

Charting the most unusual creatures inhabiting our sea, earth, and sky.

Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own
By David Toomey

Bacteria living at the bottoms of volcanoes. Organisms that drink acid in place of water. Algae housed in Arctic ice. Fungi that call a nuclear reactor their home. Each of these “extremophiles” (animals that thrive in seemingly impossible conditions) and many more comprise David Toomey’s adventures in “the biological avant-garde.” With the clarifying accessibility of a great professor, Toomey travels from the ammonia-rich oceans of Jupiter to the sands of the American Southwest. In search of wonders that challenge all that we know of life science, he draws from authors as varied as Charles Dickens, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, Douglas Adams, Ursula K. Le Guin, and H. G. Wells to explain what our animal kingdom’s future may hold.

The Unfeathered Bird
By Katrina van Grouw

In our recent interview with Katrina van Grouw, the artist and taxidermist stated, “In every respect — in the quality and presentation of the images as well as the book’s overall design — I tried to make The Unfeathered Bird a thing of beauty in itself; a real fusion of art and science, and accessible to all.” Five years in the making, Unfeathered proves a transcendent union. A taxidermist and former curator at London’s Natural History Museum, van Grouw reveals in 385 drawings the structures and symmetry beneath the plumage of swans, parrots, owls, penguins, and an array of other avian species, matched with delightfully readable, brief essays on each illustration.

Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind
By David Quammen

When might the conquering of savage and deadly creatures that would prey upon us prove a disappointment? Monster of God proposes that humanity’s newfound status at the top of the food chain endangers our ecosystem by making us less conscious of how we inhabit it. If all of our would-be predators are either dead or under glass by the year 2050, as author David Quammen theorizes, the adventurous streak that brings Quammen to the brown bears of Romania, the lions of India’s Gir forest, and the crocodiles of southeast Australia may too diminish. Monster of God brings to light our most primal instincts and urges, presenting a view of the wild serving as a mirror of our own ferocity.

By Edward O. Wilson

On publication of this debut novel from one of history’s greatest environmentalists, author Barbara Kingsolver proposed that Anthill was to ants what Moby-Dick had been to whales, and Animal Farm to pigs. Most impressive are the ways in which Wilson shrinks the reader down to insect size, through which we may properly view the vast scope of the earth through the eyes of a tiny but heroic worker. A secondary small hero is found in Wilson’s charming protagonist, an Alabama boy named Raff, who at a young age takes on an obsessive lifelong passion for “the decency of ants,” like a folk hero sporting doctoral degrees under each arm. Wilson’s elegant prose is that of a scientist — Raff’s childhood home is dubbed “his habitat” — as both the critter colonies and those who love them shine with graceful precision.

Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind
By Richard Fortey

For all of evolution’s wonder and progress, it is particularly intriguing that some creatures have managed to remain entirely unchanged for millennia. Richard Fortey’s study of the eponymous horseshoe crab reveals a species whose mass breeding 450 million years ago resulted in a biological makeup that hasn’t had a tune-up since. The velvet worm of New Zealand’s rainforest has lived inside the wood of the local trees since before the separation of the supercontinent Pangaea over 300 million years ago. These and other ancient life forms still roaming the planet prove inspiring in understanding zoological progress, emerging as unlikely success stories, holding steady in ever-changing ecosystems.