NATURE'S ODDBALLS by Lisbeth Zappler


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But now I will surprise you again,"" Zappler prefaces her disclosure that there are birds that burrow in the ground like rodents. But what is chiefly remarkable about her early chapters on ""Unusual Life Styles"" and ""Strange Look Alikes"" is how few surprises there are. We ali know of mammals that fly (bats), birds that don't (ostrich, penguin, kiwi), fish that walk (though she adds other examples to the famous catfish), animals that look like plants (sea anemones), fish that look like snakes (eels), and mammals that look like fish (whales). And if you didn't know about parrots that feed on sheep or marsupials that look like placentals (jerboas), the fact that such anomalies occur ""for no apparent reason"" won't make the news all that enlightening. Moving on, the ""Reproductive Peculiarities"" are mostly exceptions to the classifier's rules--amphibians and reptiles (rattlesnakes among them) that bear live young, mammals (platypus) that lay eggs, fathers that hatch them, and fish that ""do it""--though the ""conjugating paramecium"" occasions a more basic description of protozoa and Zappler does get in some more general evolutionary background in this chapter and the next one on ""Freaks."" The last chapter, ""Betwixt and Between,"" is indeed the broadest, with the questions of whether the euglenia is a plant or animal and the virus animate or inanimate touching on the theory of the origin of life. But how many readers will find such glances an appropriate reward for browsing through a sideshow of curiosities?

Pub Date: June 1st, 1977
Publisher: Doubleday