THE RAPTOR AND THE LAMB by Christopher McGowan


Predators and Prey in the Living World
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 A schoolmasterish exposition on prey/predator survival techniques from University of Toronto zoologist McGowan. The intention here is to educate readers in the manifold strategies of conquest and avoidance in the animal and botanical worlds--that is, how living organisms are adapted to their lifestyles, ``how certain features may be correlated to certain functions'' (why, for instance, does the herbivorous wildebeest have horns?). The tone is tinder-dry, lapsing at times into an annoying marmishness: ``We should therefore not think that reptiles are inferior to mammals and birds.'' But there is no denying the fascination of the subject matter. As none can be the fastest and the strongest and the biggest at once, special talents have surfaced to improve chances of success and survival, subtle offensive and defensive strategies that coevolve between predator and prey. McGowan details this world of risk management for land mammals, reptiles, arthropods, sea vertebrates, dinosaurs (a McGowan specialty), birds, plants, and others. He sticks to high-profile organisms: Komodo dragons, great white sharks, killer whales, peregrine falcons, deadly nightshade, foxglove (though there is ample time spent with diatoms and ciliates and copepods). He chews on various theories purporting to explain camouflage (disruptive coloration, countershading, mimicry) and, as this is written for the lay reader, manages to make sense of excursions into cellular biology, thermoregulation, and other windy scientific climes. Wisely, McGowan salts the book with quick and palpable vignettes of kill techniques, like how a pod of killer whales goes about eating alive a modest 45-ton blue whale, or how a rattlesnake snuffs a squirrel, how a Nile crocodile snacks on a wildebeest. McGowan closes with a macabre little endpiece on the deceptive tranquillity of an English garden that, while truly black of humor, adds a surprising fillip to the lecture. (line art)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-4298-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997


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