North America's fastest mammal, the pronghorn can accelerate explosively from a standing start to a top speed of 60 miles per hour--but it can also cruise at 45 miles per hour for many miles. What accounts for the speed of this extraordinary animal, a denizen of the American outback, and what can be observed of this creature's way of life? And what is it like to be a field biologist dedicating twenty years to studying this species? In Built for Speed, John A. Byers answers these questions as he draws an intimate portrait of the most charismatic resident of the American Great Plains.
The National Bison Range in western Montana, established in 1908 to snatch bison from the brink of extinction, also inadvertently rescued the largest known remnant of Palouse Prairie. It is within this grassland habitat--home to meadowlarks, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, coyotes, elk, snipe, and a panoply of wildflowers--that Byers observes the pronghorn's life from birth to death (a life often as brief as four days, sometimes as long as fifteen years) and from season to season. Readers will also experience the vicarious pleasures of a biologist who is eager to race a pronghorn in his truck, scrutinize bison dung through binoculars, and peer through the gathering dusk of a rainy evening to count the display dives of snipe.
A vivid and memorable tale of a first-rate scientist's twenty-year encounter with a magnificent animal, the story of the pronghorn is also a reminder of the crucial role we can play in preserving the fleeting life of the native American grassland.
John A. Byers is Professor of Zoology at the University of Idaho.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Rick Bass
1. Anatomy of a Speedster
2. Spring and the Sounds of Snipe
3. First Field Season
4. The Adult Bullies
5. Milk Politics
6. Little Speedsters
7. Columns of Dust
8. Bachelor Workout
9. The Turning Year
10. Making Next Year's Fawns
11. After the Equinox
12. After the Solstice
13. The Floor of the Sky
What People are Saying About This
Frans de Waal
Listen to this serenade for American wild life sung by a biologist who has spend an unimaginable amount of time following his favorite animal, the pronghorn. With great love and humor, John Byers describes the ins and outs of this unassuming but remarkable animal's life while effortlessly educating us about ecology and evolution. Frans de Waal, author of The Ape and the Sushi Master (BasicBooks, 2001).
Readers of this book will be transported by its engaging prose into three very different worlds. First, they will gain an appreciation for what fieldwork on large mammals is really like. Second, they will see how there is no substitute for long-term research on marked individuals to gain knowledge on large mammal ecology. Thirdly, they will see a prehistoric world where cheetahs chase pronghorns over the North American Plains, and will be invited to think about how those distant events may affect the biology of modern-day pronghorn. Marco Festa-Bianchet, Professeur, écologie, Université de Sherbrooke
Patricia Adair Gowaty
John Byers's Built for Speed is the best modern natural history I know. His profound sense of place, welded to his tenacious observations of the behavior of long-lived individuals, and his knowledge of deep time have exposed the ghosts of predators past on pronghorn. Added pleasure comes from Byers's prose, which is sometimes as thrilling and amusing as watching pronghorn run. You won't find a more passionate exegesis of what it is to be a modern animal behaviorist anywhere. Patricia Adair Gowaty, PhD, Professor of Ecology, University of Georgia
John Byers's beautifully written account of his twenty-year study of pronghorn antelope was sheer pleasure to read. With the eye and empathy of the keenest naturalist, and the voice of a poet, Byers evokes the sights and sounds of the western prairie so vividly that I felt as if I was there in Montana beside him. This splendid book certainly made me want to be. Sarah Hrdy, author of The Woman that Never Evolved