Monday, April 07, 2014

The Eyes Have It: Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins

Most animals rely on their vision, more than any other sense, to find out what is going on around them. For these creatures, the eyes are the most important link to the world.

In the animal kingdom the eyes really do have it, for finding food, avoiding being another animal's food, communicating and reproducing, and, as any human mother knows, keeping their offspring safe while they are growing up.

But the means of vision vary, from the tiny eyespot, which only perceives light, to the basketball-sized eyeball of the colossal squid, from simple sensor cells shared by worms and sponges to the super-sharp camera eye of raptors such as the Eurasian buzzard, who can spot a rabbit from two miles away.

The eye is one of the most specialized of all organs. Some animals, such as cats and deer, have built in reflectors called tapetum which reflect external light back outward to assist nocturnal hunting and foraging. Others, such as the mantis shrimp have light and color perception that Picasso would have envied, to help them survive in among their colorful coral reefs. Atlantic scallops have dozens of bright blue eyes arranged along their shells. Some animals, such as ghost crabs and snails are equipped for a 360-degree view, while the panther chameleon can swivel its two eyes independently of each other with true double vision.  Some animal eyes, such as those of frogs,  only see motion, while others can "see" ultraviolet and infrared" waves that humans cannot. Predators like wolves and humans can take in only one view, but with incredible depth perception made possible by their binocular vision abilities which enable most of what we humans do--driving, throwing, reading--all those things that require great focus that places objects accurately in space.

Illustrated lushly with deftly painted collages, Steve Jenkins' Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), shows and tells the reader about the variety and wonders of vision. As is his wont, Jenkins specializes in up-close views of his subject, giving us clear views of the four eyes of jumping spider, the compound eyes of the dragonfly, or the zipper eyes of the leopard gecko. His highly readable and succinct text slips in much information while providing plenty of amazing animal facts to entice middle readers to look deeper into the subject.  For further research, the author also offers an excellent appendix with diagrams of the five types of eyes--eyespot, eyecup, pinhole, primitive lens, and camera eye--thumbnail illustrations and descriptions of  his intriguing animals and their eyes, as well as a useful bibliography and glossary.

Eye-catching and eye-opening eye candy, Steve Jenkins' tribute to the science and art of vision gives young animal lovers a close look at the nature of seeing and the seeing of nature. Recommended for curious browsers and as a middle reader research report resource, this one should have a place in classroom, school, and public libraries.

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