Interesting reference work

The Secret Language of Animals: A Guide to Remarkable Behavior - Janine M. Benyus

A reference book that devotes a chapter each to some of the more interesting (large) animals around the world. Much of the focus is on African fauna - gorillas, lions, zebras, crocodiles, etc. - but Benyus also samples Asia, the oceans, North America and the poles. The selection is governed in large part by the animals' presence in zoos, and the author devotes the opening and closing chapters to critiques of zoos and how they can better accommodate their charges, and zoos' importance in a world where humans are short-sightedly destroying natural habitats at a frightening pace.


Five interesting things I learned:


  1. 1. Because black rhinos are so unsocial, mating rituals can be dangerous as "in response to early solicitations, the female is likely to attack." (p. 195)


2. The unfortunate myth that rhino horns promote sexual virility comes from the fact that copulation can last up to 1-1/2 hours.


3. Among male giraffes, dominance contests often cause erections and end in the winner mounting the loser.


4. Bottlenose dolphins exude a mucous from their eyes that helps them move through the water more easily.


5. Komodo monitors are not picky eaters. Smaller, younger monitors run the risk of becoming meals themselves if they get in the way of their larger cousins.


And one example of the need for editors:


There's a point in the book where Benyus uses the idiom "it doesn't faze the animal" but it's spelled "phase."