Carrion (not soul) eaters crawl, trot, swim, fly, and…drive into the spotlight.
After breaking down the stages of decomposition (which do “not smell good”), Halls dishes up profiles of some of nature’s recyclers—from blowfly larvae (“born to eat”) and the culinarily “versatile” pill bug to vultures, crabs, and human motorists. (“Why let the meat go to waste?” says a Washington state fish and wildlife official pragmatically about harvesting roadkill.) Along with dissecting decomposition’s usual course, the author offers piquant research findings, such as the surprisingly divergent fates of pig corpses planted on the seabed in well- and less-well-oxygenated waters as well as recently discovered evidence that T. Rex was a hunter as well as a scavenger. The relegation of the fullest mentions of bacteria and fungi to the end conveys a misleading impression that their work doesn’t begin until the bigger dogs (etc.) have had their fills, but the course of all deceased animals from corpse to scattered chemicals is otherwise clearly charted. Big, bright color photos of, for instance, salmon being torn apart by a bald eagle and a raccoon chowing down on a dead squirrel add further zest to these easily digestible observations.
“Gross,” to echo the author, but “also amazing.” (index, further reading) (Nonfiction. 7-10)