Saturday, March 30, 2013

Strange Bedfellows? How to Clean A Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships by Steve Jenkins

Why does a plover stroll into a crocodile's mouth?

And why would coyotes and badgers hang out together?

Why does the boxer crab make like a cheerleader, waving anemones in its claws like pom-poms?

Why does a warthog drop and roll over when he meets a mongoose?

All of these strange pairs are engaged in symbiotic partnerships, patterns developed in nature when two very unlike species engage in seemingly uncharacteristic behaviors for mutual benefit.

Crocodiles will munch anything that walks, swims, or flies that they can get their teeth into...except the little plover, called the toothpick bird. Crocodiles lie down and open wide for this daring little bird which walks right into that snaggly smile zone to chow down on tidbits stuck in the croc's teeth. Voila'! Dental hygiene done right!

The little boxer crab picks small anemones and waves them in the face of predators, who love crab nuggets but hate being stung by anemones, and the anemones enjoy the floating fragments of food that the crabs drop.  And warthogs, troubled by ticks, lie down and let a team of mongoose pick off  those pesky parasites, their favorite party tidbits. Oxpicker birds do the same for giraffes and rhinos.

Nature has many odd couples of unlike animals which find each other's company has survival value. Egrets, whose diet is big on grasshoppers, ride around on the backs of antelopes, picking off the bugs that their four-footed transports stir up, meanwhile using their elevated positions to peer around for predators, sounding the alarm when big cats come prowling.

Coyotes and badgers actually play tag team when they're just dying to dine on prairie dog. The badger digs down and stand guard in the backdoor of the burrow while the coyote chases the colony in by the front door, and soon the panicked prairie dogs are easy pickings on both ends.  A small bird called the honeyguide follows a loaded bee to its hive, flies back to summons the honey badger and lead him to the nest, and when the badger uses his strong claws to break open the hive, they both feast together on the sweet treat within.

Steve Jenkins' and Robin Page's just-published  How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) uses Jenkins' illustrative skill to picture these amazing animal partners.  The book's page design utilizes panels to demonstrate how these partnerships work to mutual advantage, ending with that mutually symbiotic relationship most familiar to children, that of human and dog.  An appendix explains the types of symbiosis and  summarizes the basic facts--size, habitat, and diet--of  the fifty-four featured animals, from ants to giraffes, clownfish to wolves.  A mutual partnership themselves, as a couple Jenkins and Page are among the most successful of nature writers for young people, engaging them with enticing mysteries and award-winning artistry, as shown in earlier books such as What Do You Do When Something Wants To Eat You?,  Jenkins' splendidly illustrated The Beetle Book, (see review here), and their My First Day (see my recent review here).

School Library Journal passes out more than a pair of kudos to Jenkins' and Page's latest mutual effort: "This title is another outstanding offering from this extraordinarily talented, wonderfully symbiotic couple."

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