Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SPINELESS WONDERS by Richard Conniff


Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World

by Richard Conniff

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8050-4218-0
Publisher: Henry Holt

 A warm, often funny, sometimes discomfiting look into the lives of creepy-crawly creatures. In his first book, science journalist and television producer Conniff recounts his travels around the world in search of tree-dwelling tarantulas, the aptly named slime eels, giant squid, and other denizens of a squeamish soul's worst nightmares. He peppers his happily daring narrative--for Conniff emerges as a man who will try anything--with unusual facts about the creatures in question. We learn, for instance, that a female fly spends nearly a third of her life throwing up the ``unspeakable things'' she has eaten and that houseflies in general are susceptible to dehydration, which requires them to be near sources of water, one of which is fresh manure. (For all that, Conniff points out, flies are clean creatures, cleaner than humans and far cleaner than perilously disease-ridden mosquitoes, which he brands ``the most dangerous animals on Earth.'') Conniff takes clear delight in analyzing the near-miraculous biochemistry of leeches and the courting habits of wolf spiders, and he takes even more pleasure in examining just why so many people dislike, often viscerally, the invertebrates he studies. (Those people may benefit from reading Conniff's account of how therapists cure arachnophobia; and as a bonus, every reader of this book will learn how to get rid of fleas.) The book has its disgusting passages, but also moments of scientific poetry, as when Conniff writes, ``One day I watched a damselfly nymph scanning its underwater world with its big, wide-set yellow eyes. When a quarter-inch minnow approached, the eyes followed it. . . . It yearned for the fish, the way a cat longs for a moth dancing just out of reach.'' Conniff delivers an uncommonly graceful excursion into popular science. Recommended reading for budding naturalists. (16 line drawings, not seen)