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EVERY CREEPING THING by Richard Conniff

EVERY CREEPING THING

True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife

By Richard Conniff

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-5697-1
Publisher: Henry Holt

A savory collection of natural history entertainments from Conniff (Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World, 1996), who shares much with one of his subjects, the weasel—both being “very curious, investigative creatures.” Here is a pleasurable miscellany of essays on animals often near but rarely dear: the bat, the cormorant, the house mouse, the porcupine. Much of what Conniff has to report may seem odd, but it’s really only Nature steaming along on a normal day: for instance, the grizzly bear, taking August off to dine solely on moths. Or the cahow, a bird thought to be extinct for 350 years, that spends most of its life airborne at sea, returning to land only to nest in burrows under cedar woods. Or the serious scenting talents of the bloodhound (now to be found coursing the English countryside not for that ancient quarry, the fox, but for joggers who volunteer as bait), which more than compensate for all the slobber it produces. Consider the lordly moles tramping their estates, knotting and secreting earthworms against a stormy day. There is the pathological ill will that has been visited upon the cormorant, and there is the bum rap laid on that evolutionarily suicidal “mad dog of tunnel warfare,” the stoat. Conniff has also sought out darker engagements, with sharks and snapping turtles, to underscore that “mix of wonder and dread, attraction and repulsion” that characterize so much of our dealings with wild creatures (and a response that Conniff finds healthy evidence that we are still in touch with our “Pleistocene memories,” those instincts that were once elemental in human survival). After all is said and done, it is a relief that Conniff doesn’t stir the ashes of his experiences afield for deep truths. The creatures themselves are truth, and reason, enough. (line drawings)