Page 45 Review by Stephen
Oh how I adored Medieval Bestiaries when I was a small boy!
You know what I mean: ancient books of awe-inspiring creatures that were imagined to exist based on legend, hearsay or travellers' wild exaggeration. They were hybrids, a lot of them.
I would pore over those almost excitedly as I would over details of dinosaurs!
Painted 'Animals of the World' books were lapped up too. The more exotic the animal, the better, with extinction like the Great Auk a bloomin' big bonus!
It was the exoticism of it all and, sadly, the impossibility of ever encountering them.
Evolution fascinated me.
Well, if any of that hits home with you then I have one hell of a treat in store, for this is all of the above wrapped up into one thrillingly illustrated encyclopaedia, complete with an in-depth, 30-page education on evolution before the highly informed and therefore genuinely witty post-Sapiens speculation begins!
It is essentially one big book of extrapolation, and the basic set-up is this: man finally fucks off and dies, leaving beleaguered nature to breath a collective sigh of relief and recover from Homo Sapiens' 45,000 years of casual, unintentional but unapologetic mass murder beginning with the extinction of Australia's mega-fauna then bequeathing the same gift to America on first settling there some 29,000 years later. See DARWIN - AN EXCEPTIONAL VOYAGE.
We're still at it, and accelerating rapidly.
50 million years later, what has evolved from what we were negligent enough to leave alive?
Well, you can forget the remnant populations of big beasts like elephants, rhinos, tigers and whales recovering: we didn't leave nearly enough of them alive to survive. We probably haven't already. Crocodiles, maybe: they've been around since - I don't know - the Carboniferous Era? Something close, anyway. I should check.
Instead, Dixon anticipates what will take their place in his first 30 pages. Nature abhors a vacuum in any of its environments and at all levels of its food chain so long as we leave it in peace, so more big beauties will arise from humble origins. The horse, for example, was originally just a couple of hands high, scurrying about in the undergrowth until the plains first appeared. So the place of the whales and other aquatic mammals like the dolphin will be taken by evolutionary offshoots of...
Nope, no spoilers, but it does all make perfect sense, especially when it comes to size, temperature and extremities. I promise you, those first 30 pages before you get to the goods you're really after are golden.
"The influence of latitude on animal shape and form has two oddly contrasting effects. One known as Berman's rule predicts that, within related groups, animals living nearer the poles will be larger. The other, Allen's rule, states that, again in related groups, those living nearer the poles will have smaller extremities. Both effects are heat-conservation measures designed on the one hand to preserve body temperature and on the other to prevent frostbite."
Equally interesting is the rise of the rabbit and rat in so very many divergent forms here. I loved the reasoning behind the Swimming Ant-Eater. Also if, like me, horns and armour were a big thing for you when it came to dinosaurs, I can promise you protrusions aplenty!
The book's most famous fan is the great Desmond Morris, he of 'The Naked Ape' which I also devoured albeit a little later in life, during puberty, and what an honest, silence-breaking breath of informative fresh air that was precisely when I needed it the most! Morris heaped praises on AFTER MAN in its introduction when originally published back in 1981, while Dixon provides a brand-new foreword which delightedly points out that, during the intervening years, animals similar to those he'd conjured have since been discovered, living and breathing, and I don't just mean superficially.
Take his Oakleaf Toad:
"It gets its name from a peculiar fleshy outgrowth on its back that looks exactly like a fallen oak leaf. The toad lies partly buried in the leaf litter, totally camouflaged and quite motionless except for its round, pink tongue which protrudes and wriggles about just like an earthworm. Any small animal that approaches to investigate falls victim to the toad's powerful jaws. The animal's only real enemy is the predator rat.
"These two creatures, the oakleaf toad and the predator rat, have a curious relationship. Within their blood streams lives a fluke that spends the juvenile stage in the toad and the adult stage in the predator rat. When the fluke approaches adulthood it produces a dye that turns the leaf-life outgrowth on the toad's back bright emerald green. As this happens in the winter the toad becomes highly conspicuous and is quickly eaten. In this way the fluke is transferred into the body of the predator rat, where it becomes sexually mature and breeds. The fluke's eggs return to the toad through the predator rat's faeces, which are eaten by beetles that are preyed on by the toad. As the fluke needs to spend a period of at least three years growing in the toad's body before it is ready to parasitize the predator rat, and the toad is sexually mature at eighteen months, all toads have the opportunity of breeding before being exposed to predation."
How well thought through was that speculation? Sure enough, such a parasitical relationship has since been unearthed!
You will learn loads about parallel and convergent evolution, and the overriding role that environment plays (either stable or in flux) upon natural selection / evolution!
But really you're here for the pictures aren't you?
If so, I heartily commend to you also WILD ANIMALS OF THE NORTH and WILD ANIMALS OF THE SOUTH
Oh, I had fun with those two reviews!