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The 12 Days of Books to Buy for Your Science Readers: On the Third Day of Book Lists…

This time I though I would move beyond dinosaurs to other animals. There is a whole, wide world of animals and here are a few books to help.

Turtles as Hopeful Monsters: Origins and Evolution by Oliver Rieppel. Life of the Past Series. 2017. Indiana University Press. ISBN: 978-0-253-02475-6

rieppel2017At one time, I would have said that if there was ever an animal that was mysterious enough to be aliens from another planet, turtles would be that animal. Understanding how they evolved their shells was a challenge. However, a lot of information has turned up in the last couple of decades that have helped elucidate the history and evolution of turtles. We know a lot more about them now and they are no longer that mysterious, but they are still fascinating animals. Few can match Dr. Rieppel’s expertise on turtles, making him a prime guide to all things chelonian. This book is not written as a technical treatise, but it isn’t for kids either. Rather, it is written for an informed general audience that is fascinated by the strange and wonderful stories about natural history. If this sounds like you, check this book out.

End of the Megafauna: The Fate of the World’s Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals by Ross D. E. MacPhee. 2018. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN-13: 978-0393249293

mcphee2018Everyone knows about the Pleistocene Ice Age megafauna. Mammoths, giant ground sloths, saber-toothed tigers (Smilodons), armadillos the size of small cars, and rodents as big as bison. But the story of why they are no longer around is less well known. Were they wiped out by climate change? Were they hunted to extinction? Was it some of both? Was it something else? Don’t expect this book to give you a definitive answer, but it will give you an in depth discussion of what is known and unknown. Dr. McPhee has been studying this question for a long time and this book distills that experience into a readable and richly illustrated story for the rest of us.

The Rise of Marine Mammals: 50 Million Years of Evolution by Annalisa Berta. 2017. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN-13: 978-1421423258

marinemammalsDr. Berta has spent a lifetime studying the fossil record and evolution of marine mammals. She has written a book to share some of what she has learned and the wonder of these amazing creatures. I have a special fondness for whale evolution because of the great evolutionary story they represent and because one of the earliest known whales was found in my state, although few people know about it. This book will walk you through the history of whales and dolphins, sirenians (manatees and dugongs), seals and sea lions, and other lesser known aquatic mammals. If you enjoy watching the otters play at the zoo and ever wondered how mammals made the transition to aquatic organisms and if the otters might continue down that path, get this book.

Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea, Second Edition by Michael J. Everhart. 2017. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-02632-3.

everhartMammals are not the only animals to have returned to the water.  During the Cretaceous, an inland sea split the North American continent in two. If there were people around making maps at the time, they would have labeled this area “Here be monsters.” No one knows them better than Mike Everhart. The first edition came out in 2005 and huge amounts of information has been discovered since then. This new edition is bigger and more richly illustrated with more fossils and more information of their diets, behavior, and ecology. If you love mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, and all the amazing marine reptiles that lived in the central United States, you will appreciate this book.

Snakes of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: A Photographic Guide by Philippe Geniez. 2018.Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-17239-2.

snakesThe closest animals alive today to mosasaurs are the monitor lizards and snakes, so let’s finish up this list with a book on snakes. There are plenty of books on Snakes of North America, but it is harder to find good books on other places. This book is a great field guide covering the classical cradle of civilization and Europe. For all 122 snakes in the region, this book has detailed distribution maps, anatomy, ecology, phylogeny, and tons of other information on them. It even discusses the venom and its uses for the venomous ones. There are even lists by country, so you can easily find what snakes are present in any particular area. And did I mention photos? Lots and lots of photos. With this book handy, you should have no fear of running across a snake unprepared.

That’s it for this time. Come back tomorrow for more books. The next set will move away from vertebrates to the spineless ones and a book about plants.

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