Friday, December 14, 2007
I revert again to talking of British books on wildlife. First, I must admit I have a weakness for off-beat publications – frivolous books that are about ‘nothing’ but for a nebulous central idea, quirky funny books with self-belief. Precisely one such is The Wildlife Companion. Edited by Malcolm Tait and Olive Tayler, this is an assortment of the most delightful trivia on wildlife you might wish to come across.
Nothing is too sacred, or too trivial for this book. Random notes by naturalists feature here: you can admire Peter Scott’s career in conservation or scoff at Aristotle for imagining that redstarts turned into robins in winter. Then there are myths and fables associated with flora and fauna, puzzles, quotes and of course trivia. You would learn for instance of Campsicnemius charliechaplini, a fly with a tendency to die in the bandy-legged position and that an owl has 14 neck vertebrae twice as many as most mammals and that swans have 25. Dead useful for all that necking they do.
Like I said, more trivia than you could possibly remember. To underline this, each page number gives you a little nugget: for instance, on Page 20 you will find ‘20 Time, in minutes that a grey seal can stay submerged’ or if advance to 32, you would discover that this was the ‘amount, in billions of dollars, spent on their hobby by us birdwatchers in 2001’. And the pages are sprinkled with a series of hilarious jokes on talking frogs.
With its broad, all-enveloping stance, The Wildlife Companion links Hannibal, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Pliny the Elder, cockatrice, Siegfried Sassoon and Shakespeare among a diverse number of other things… the writers evidently agreeing with John Muir when he says, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”