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The Book of Shells: A Life-Size Guide to Identifying and Classifying Six Hundred Seashellsby Jerry Harasewych
Synopses & Reviews
From the brilliantly green and glossy eggs of the Elegant Crested Tinamouand#151;said to be among the most beautiful in the worldand#151;to the small brown eggs of the house sparrow that makes its nest in a lamppost and the uniformly brown or white chickensand#8217; eggs found by the dozen in any corner grocery, birdsand#8217; eggs have inspired countless biologists, ecologists, and ornithologists, as well as artists, from John James Audubon to the contemporary photographer Rosamond Purcell. For scientists, these vibrant vessels are the source of an array of interesting topics, from the factors responsible for egg coloration to the curious practice of and#147;brood parasitism,and#8221; in which the eggs of cuckoos mimic those of other bird species in order to be cunningly concealed among the clutches of unsuspecting foster parents.
The Book of Eggs introduces readers to eggs from six hundred speciesand#151;some endangered or extinctand#151;from around the world and housed mostly at Chicagoand#8217;s Field Museum of Natural History. Organized by habitat and taxonomy, the entries include newly commissioned photographs that reproduce each egg in full color and at actual size, as well as distribution maps and drawings and descriptions of the birds and their nests where the eggs are kept warm. Birdsand#8217; eggs are some of the most colorful and variable natural products in the wild, and each entry is also accompanied by a brief description that includes evolutionary explanations for the wide variety of colors and patterns, from camouflage designed to protect against predation, to thermoregulatory adaptations, to adjustments for the circumstances of a particular habitat or season. Throughout the book are fascinating facts to pique the curiosity of binocular-toting birdwatchers and budding amateurs alike. Female mallards, for instance, invest more energy to produce larger eggs when faced with the genetic windfall of an attractive mate. Some seabirds, like the cliff-dwelling guillemot, have adapted to produce long, pointed eggs, whose uneven weight distribution prevents them from rolling off rocky ledges into the sea.
A visually stunning and scientifically engaging guide to six hundred of the most intriguing eggs, from the pea-sized progeny of the smallest of hummingbirds to the eggs of the largest living bird, the ostrich, which can weigh up to five pounds, The Book of Eggs offers readers a rare, up-close look at these remarkable forms of animal life.
andldquo;We must be careful what we say. No bird resumes its egg.andrdquo; andmdash;Emily Dickinson
And what a shame, as while birds are stunning in their plumage, the variety and beauty of the vessels from which they hatch are beguiling. The egg has been called natureandrsquo;s perfect container. And the variation on a theme is spectacularandmdash;from the bold purple red hue of a Tinamou egg to the roughly surfaced greenish-blue Emu egg. Incubation varies as much as colorandmdash;from days to monthsandmdash;as does the clutch size. All of these different egg types reflect ecological and evolutionary dynamics.
The Book of Eggs introduces readers to the eggs of 600 bird species. Bird eggs have inspired artists like Rosamond Purcell, and countless birders have considered them quarry. For scientists, these brilliant vessels lead to an array of interesting topics, from the patterns of egg coloration to how birds and their parasites recognize eggs. Particularly appealing is this bookandrsquo;s use of The Field Museumandrsquo;s bird egg and nest collection.
After an introductory section, the work is organized taxonomically. Each entry, which focuses largely on North American birds, includes life-size photos, distribution maps, and drawings of the birds from which the eggs emerge. The text discusses bird behavior and the egg traits, inclusive of some evolutionary explanations for the variance of form. This is the first time the Fieldandrsquo;s egg collection has been photographed, and it is world renowned for its content. The book will also include portrayals and descriptions of the clutches, which can be a helpful tool in identifying species for birders.
Who among us hasnt marveled at the diversity and beauty of shells? Or picked one up, held it to our ear, and then gazed in wonder at its shape and hue? Many a lifelong shell collector has cut teeth (and toes) on the beaches of the Jersey Shore, the Outer Banks, or the coasts of Sanibel Island. Some have even dived to the depths of the ocean. But most of us are not familiar with the biological origin of shells, their role in explaining evolutionary history, and the incredible variety of forms in which they come.
Shells are the external skeletons of mollusks, an ancient and diverse phylum of invertebrates that are in the earliest fossil record of multicellular life over 500 million years ago. There are over 100,000 kinds of recorded mollusks, and some estimate that there are over a million more that have yet to be discovered. Some breathe air, others live in fresh water, but most live in the ocean. They range in size from a grain of sand to a beach ball and in weight from a few grams to several hundred pounds. And in this lavishly illustrated volume, they finally get their full due.
The Book of Shells offers a visually stunning and scientifically engaging guide to six hundred of the most intriguing mollusk shells, each chosen to convey the range of shapes and sizes that occur across a range of species. Each shell is reproduced here at its actual size, in full color, and is accompanied by an explanation of the shells range, distribution, abundance, habitat, and operculum—the piece that protects the mollusk when its in the shell. Brief scientific and historical accounts of each shell and related species include fun-filled facts and anecdotes that broaden its portrait.
The Matchless Cone, for instance, or Conus cedonulli, was one of the rarest shells collected during the eighteenth century. So much so, in fact, that a specimen in 1796 was sold for more than six times as much as a painting by Vermeer at the same auction. But since the advent of scuba diving, this shell has become far more accessible to collectors—though not without certain risks. Some species of Conus produce venom that has caused more than thirty known human deaths.
The Zebra Nerite, the Heart Cockle, the Indian Babylon, the Junonia, the Atlantic Thorny Oyster—shells from habitats spanning the poles and the tropics, from the highest mountains to the oceans deepest recesses, are all on display in this definitive work.
About the Author
M. G. Harasewych is research zoologist and curator of marine mollusks at the Department of Invertebrate Zoology at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which houses one of the worlds largest mollusk collections. He has discovered and described dozens of new genera and species, written widely for scientific journals and periodicals, and is the author of Shells: Jewels from the Sea. Fabio Moretzsohn has a doctorate in zoology and is a researcher for the Harte Research Institute in Texas. He has discovered a few new species of mollusks and is a coauthor of the Encyclopedia of Texas Seashells.
Table of Contents
What is a Mollusk?
What is a Shell?
Shell Identification Key
Glossary of Terms
Index of Species Aranged According to Evolutionary Relationships
Index of Common Names
Index of Latin Names
What Our Readers Are Saying
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