The lack of a spine, or even a brain, doesn’t keep invertebrates from learning, remembering, and solving problems.
Defining intelligence as “the ability to benefit and learn from experience and to apply that information to new situations,” the author of Elephant Talk (2011) provides fascinating examples of mindfulness, memory, and learning in a wide variety of invertebrates from earthworms to dragonflies and spider wasps. She includes chapters on jumping spiders, octopuses, honey bees and paper wasps, Argentine ants, mantis shrimps, box jellyfish and slime molds. Text boxes set off on yellow backgrounds offer fast facts about each species described and clear explanations of complicated concepts. Readers accustomed to the smooth storyline of narrative nonfiction may find Downer’s exposition demanding, but this fact-filled text has intriguing examples and surprising, memorable details. Picture Darwin’s family gathered together to play music to earthworms; slime molds mapping the best routes between U.S. urban areas; using the sound of a file on a wooden stake to attract fish bait (a method called “worm grunting”); experimenters playing tug of war with octopuses unwilling to give up their LEGO blocks. Ample backmatter supports the information, making this an ideal starting place for research on any one of these species.
Science facts more surprising than science fiction for teen readers. (endnotes, glossary, bibliography, further reading) (Nonfiction. 12-16)