Sunday, June 04, 2017

Top of the Heap! Apex Predators: The World's Deadliest Hunters, Past and Present by Steve Jenkins

Who's the biggest, baddest king of the animal kingdom?

"In every habitat, past and present, there have been a few apex predators--creatures too tough, too big, or too well-armed to be hunted by other animals--the apex predators of their time and place." 

What does it take to be the top critter of your time? Except for one title holder (to be announced), it usually takes terrific size, super speed, and enviable equipment--teeth, tusks, claws, poison, and/or brute strength--to take the title of top dog.

In his forthcoming title, Steve Jenkins' Apex Predators: The World's Deadliest Hunters, Past and Present (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) catalogs the champs, past and present, who overcame all comers in their age.

Jenkins begins with our modern-day predators, the ultimate top of the food chain in their natural habitats--the Siberian tiger, the mega-hunting mammal of today, the Komodo dragon, the ruling reptile of the islands, the great white shark, sultan of the seas, the giant freshwater ray, the largest fish of fresh water fame, the electric eel, not so big, but shockingly equipped to take on all comers--and two smaller outliers, the fossa, the mega-mongoose predator of his island domain, Madagascar, and the African wild dog, not so big nor fearsome solo, but unlike most of the rest, a pack hunter, polishing off their prey in groups of up to thirty who cooperate to run down prey.

But, as Jenkins points out, our modern apex predators pale before those of the distant past, the towering Terror bird, thirty feet tall, with long powerful legs and huge, hooked beak, who was the terror of the plains over two million years ago. But even the Terror bird would have been dead meat had he been hunted by the giant teratorn, of six million years ago, with a wingspan as wide as a single-engine Cessna and the curved beak and talons of the raptor trade. And either of them would have quailed at the sight of the Hatzegopteryx of 65 million years ago, the largest flying reptile, and perhaps the largest flying creature of all time.

And Jenkins has more mega-predators--titanoboa, a constrictor snake 48 feet long, and the sea monster of all sea monsters, mososaur, who was even longer than tintanoboa. Luckily for both, they stayed off each other's turf. These and many more strange and monstrous apex predators parade through the pages, all monstrous, and all long gone.

What did they eat? Anything they wanted! Perhaps as predators they were too successful.

Jenkins' signature paper-collaged illustrations set against bright white backgrounds in single- or double-paged spreads are stunningly imposing. The author provides small insets showing the relative size of each creature compared to a diminutive human figure. But as Jenkins points out ironically, the most deadly, the apex predator in all of Earth's history seems to be--(wait for it!)--us, homo sapiens.

There is one apex predator--the most deadly and efficient predator that has ever lived--that is not described in this book. Compared to a tiger or shark, we are slow and weak. But we've made up for it with our big brains, our clever hands, and our ability to cooperate.

With a multitude of facts, arresting illustrations, and his engagingly-arranged face-offs between top predators of different times, Jenkins' latest nonfiction book packs plenty of punch for browsing page turners and backs up the wow factor with solid animal science, making this one a killer-diller purchase.



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