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Inspired by Nature: Peculiar Penguins and Funny Looking Frogs

Posted on: January 26th, 2017 No Comments

Book Review: Peculiar Penguins and Funny Looking Frogs

Exploring some of evolution’s stranger choices

Allyson Shepard Bailey has done a really fine job of incorporating her own knowledge as well as combining this with various other intellectuals including professors of biology and senior research scientists to create a book that both sparks initial interest and keeps that interest going throughout.

Figure 1: Peculiar Penguins and Funny Looking Frogs,

Figure 1: Peculiar Penguins and Funny Looking Frogs, Allyson Shepard Bailey

The processes of evolution are explained accurately and in as simple terms as you can imagine but is still extremely engaging. You don’t even have to know all of the scientific jargon to enjoy this book. Scientific language is rarely used unless absolutely necessary and even then it is explained thoroughly.

Some would perhaps say that this is a patronising way of going about explaining the vast depths of evolution to someone who, like me, only has very basic knowledge. To be entirely honest, the tone in which the book is written isn’t in a way that makes me feel inadequate, it actually feels empowering to realise that actually, I have slightly more knowledge than I thought but I just didn’t know the scientific terms.

In each chapter, she focuses on a set of animals whether that be birds, amphibians or reptiles (among others) and takes you on a journey, step by step, from the very beginning of their evolutionary history to the present day taking you through the stages of their development and adaption and explaining the reasons why these happened.

Figure 1: Great Crested Newt Eft (Photo Credit: Dave Kilbey)

Figure 2: Great Crested Newt Eft (Photo Credit: Dave Kilbey)

Allyson’s approach to time scales is revolutionary. She uses months of the year as time periods to help you understand the tangled mess in your head when you’re trying to figure out what came before, Triassic or Jurassic (as well as other time periods) At the end of each chapter, she summarises what creatures have been discussed and also what time periods they appeared as a reminder.

The illustrations by Eleanor Loughlin help to back up each chapter with detailed drawings of some of the prehistoric creatures that are being discussed. They give a real feel of what would have been wandering the earth in those times and it’s very interesting to be able to see the similarities with animals that are alive on earth today.

I am guilty of being biased! I was particularly drawn to the chapter on amphibians “Bent out of Shape” as it explained how amphibians evolved from certain fish and how they developed limbs from living a specialised lifestyle in shallower water. It is amazing to discover that frogs evolved 170million years ago and have been essentially unchanged ever since.

Figure 2: Marsh Frog (Photo Credit: Silviu Petrovan)

Figure 3: Marsh Frog (Photo Credit: Silviu Petrovan)

I enjoyed reading this book very much indeed as it fed my interest in the subject of evolution even with me having quite basic a knowledge of it, it still kept me engaged with its simple language and explanations. I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the natural world and conservation as it also serves as a reminder that humans are merely a small speck in time compared to the creatures we share our planet with. We need to respect the fact that they were here first!


By Ash Jarvis, Trainee Conservation Youth Worker


Find out more about the book, and purchase it HERE

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