Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Nature's Copycats! Shell Beak Tusk: Shared Traits and the Wonders of Adaptation by Bridget Heos.

Animals that are related often have similar traits which they inherited from a common ancestor. Rabbits and hares both have long ears.

However, some animals share traits but are not related. Why? Because they have adapted the same traits separately in order to survive in their environments.

This is called convergent evolution.

In the dry season on the African savanna, the grass grows coarse and parched and the best foods are the tender leaves on the trees. To survive over time, giraffes evolved an amazing adaptation--a very long neck to help reach all those juicy leaves, the longest among living mammals. On a much smaller scale, there is an insect called the giraffe weevil whose extended neck enables a long reach for a meal as well.

Mother Nature's toolkit of parts is filled with many parallel examples of convergent evolution--parallel adaptations for survival between different types of animals, found often in distant places. Porcupines, echidnas, and porcupine fish all share one defensive trait, protective spikes that that make would-be predators think twice. Turtles (reptiles) and snails (mollusks) both retreat from danger within sheltering shells. Birds and bats (mammals) share wings for flight, and the common firefly and the exotic anglerfish of the deeps both use their power to produce cool heat from body chemicals as a lure, sometimes for reproduction and sometimes for predation. Birds like the parrot have a specialized beak to crush shells of seeds and fruits, while octopuses (mollusks) have hard, sharp beaks to crush crabs.

Bridget Heos' intriguing new Shell, Beak, Tusk: Shared Traits and the Wonders of Adaptation (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) offers even more engaging examples of such parallel traits from nature's bag of tricks. Full- and double-page color photographs of such wildly different animal pairs as the mallard duck and the platypus or walrus and elephant illustrate the major premise of nature's logical and lovable diversity in an eye-catching and inviting narration that may inspire young readers to come up with their own examples of unlikely animals with similar traits. In the manner of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's other superb science books, author Heos offers an ample bibliography and index to lead young nature scientists to further thinking and reading.

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