Thursday, October 27, 2016

Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricksters by Rebecca L. Johnson

Johnson is back with another disgusting, fascinating, and completely engrossing book.

Like Lunch fights back and Zombie Makers, this title explores a selection of unique animal abilities. In this case, camouflage and mimicry and the way animals use the art of deception to hunt, hide, and otherwise benefit themselves.

The featured animals include the assassin bug, pictured on the front cover, who disguises itself with a "coat of many corpses" and uses this disguise to catch its prey, ants. Then there's the chick of the cinereous mourner, which is disguised as a poisonous caterpillar or the caterpillar of the Alcon large blue butterfly which uses scent and song to trick ants into caring for it. Harlequin filefish disguise themselves as coral to confuse predators and the Cyclosa spider takes things even farther by creating a large decoy of itself to scare away predators. A gliding lizard looks enough like a leaf to distract predators for a few precious moments, the cuckoo finch tricks other birds into caring for its own eggs, and, most amazing of all, the Grote's tiger moth actually avoids bats by jamming their echolocation!

Each chapter features a different animal and lasts 3-4 pages, with plenty of stunning photography. The animal and its ability is introduced in a short narrative and then there is a section titled "The science behind the story" which explains how scientists discover and research the animals' behavior. An afterword discusses instinct and genetics and how creatures learn the behavior described in the book. There is also a page dedicated to the scientists introduced in the book, source notes, glossary, bibliography, and further research and reading.

I love the way the author combines "isn't this gross/amazing/weird" with science, especially where the scientists talk about how they're still studying to learn how/why the creatures do what they do. It's written in a fresh, engaging way that doesn't over-dramatize the freaky parts and also keeps the science brisk and readable.

Verdict: This book will grab readers' attention from the first sentence and keep them absorbed until the end. Definitely worth the slightly higher price of Millbrook's titles - highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781512400878; Published 2016 by Millbrook Press; Purchased for the library

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