WTF, Evolution?!: A Theory of Unintelligible Design by Mara Grunbaum
My rating: 5/5 cats
this book is hilarity.
by now you should know how i feel about the weird shit nature has put out there for us to enjoy. in case you don’t know – i love it. i loooove it. so this book is a glorious gift to my sensibilities. and it’s apparently also a tumblr: http://wtfevolution.tumblr.com/, which has tons of creatures not in the book itself, so this discovery is a fantastic hidden-track bonus for me!
i plan on using a lot of examples from the book in this review, because there were just far too many that made me laugh out loud. however – this book is like 250 pages long, so no matter how many i showcase here, there will be so many more for you to encounter in the book, which i am going to have to buy myself when it comes out in october, since this ARC has some missing images i really want to see.
to begin, evolution has produced some crazy-assed creatures:
the red handfish:
the whitemargin stargazer (which sounds like a horrible prog-rock band):
the pacific hatchetfish:
the spotted unicornfish:
the proboscis monkey:
the vervet monkey:
the surinam toad:
don’t mind me – just being born over here!!
and this book lets evolution answer for itself about some of its more bizarre decisions:
Okay, look. Here’s what I’ve realized. I make organisms, right? And I make other organisms for those organisms to eat. Then I make bigger organisms that eat the first organisms, and so on and so forth. It’s all just life eating other life, back and forth, round and round, for millions of years on end. And for what? I mean, when you get down to it, what I’ve created it basically an unnecessarily complicated system for moving carbon molecules around.
So yeah, I could make some plain stuff, have it eat some other plain stuff, and then call it an eon and go home. But you know what? It’s been billions of years. I get bored just like anyone else. And because everything is just going to keep changing, and it’s all a little pointless to begin with – well, why shouldn’t I just do whatever I want?
why not, indeed? and we are all glad of it.
the book is structured as a series of pictures of ill-advised creatures with commentary that either takes the form of a conversation between evolution and a puzzled interlocutor, or simply a sentence or two from the same interlocutor questioning some of evolution’s decisions. there is a lot to learn here, and a lot to laugh about. so let’s begin to laugh and learn.
the sharp-ribbed newt:
the stinking corpse lily:
Three feet wide. Fifteen pounds. Smells like a rotting cow carcass. Gross, Evolution.
the dumbo octopus:
the asian giant softshell turtle:
Look, Evolution, everyone has trouble staying motivated sometimes. Take a walk or have a snack when that happens… Don’t force yourself to make turtles when your heart obviously isn’t in it.
the irrawaddy dolphin:
These are supposed to be dolphins? Evolution, have you ever actually seen a dolphin?
that one deserves one more picture:
the sea potato:
the regal horned lizard:
The horned lizard fends off predatory coyotes by shooting three-foot streams of its own blood from its eye. Evolution, please seek psychiatric help.
“Hey! Hey! I think I finally made something cute.”
“Oh, yeah? Let’s see.”
“It’s a ‘shoebill.’ It’s big and blue and adorable. Nice, right?”
“It’s… hm. I don’t know. I like the blue, but something about those eyes is kind of creeping me out right now.”
“What? Come on. Those are friendly eyes. It wants to be your friend.”
“Okay. Okay, yeah. You’re right, evolution, I’m sorry. Should I feed it, maybe? What does it eat?”
“Oh Jesus Christ.”
the smalltooth sawfish:
the king vulture:
the gum leaf skeletoniser:
Molting is a beautiful thing. When your insides start feeling a little too big for their case, you can just crack open your exoskeleton, head capsule and all, and emerge a whole new invertebrate. You get to leave your shed body behind and walk away, freed from all the trappings of your former, smaller life.
… unless, that is, you’re a gum-leaf skeletoniser caterpillar. In that case evolution actually stacks all your old heads on top of your new one and makes you wear them around forever like a macabre stovepipe hat. I don’t know, just go with it, okay?
the leopard sea cucumber:
with some additional info:
In addition to being useful for defense – and, of course, pooping – the sea cucumber’s anus connects to a branching internal tube that extracts oxygen from water and pumps out excess carbon dioxide. In other words, sea cucumbers breathe through their butts.
the sand cat:
moron or not, i lost about an hour GIS-ing these little kitties. i want one for my own please, evolution!!
but back to the ewwwwwww
the tongue-eating isopod:
A parasitic louse that crawls into your mouth, vampirizes your tongue, then clamps itself onto the withered stub so it can ride around inside you and drink your mucus for the rest of your mutual lives? Why, yes. It’s called symbiosis and it’s beautiful.
What? Relax. It’s going to be fine. This isn’t going to hurt. You won’t even miss your tongue—once the louse is latched onto the muscle, you can simply use its body as a tongue instead. These are exactly the kind of details that evolution has worked out for you, because evolution loves you and it wants you to be all right.
When a female isopod takes over a fish’s tongue, a smaller male usually infests the gills, occasionally popping over into the mouth to mate.
Why so gloomy, babirusas? Is it because evolution gave you some weird extra tusks that are awkward, brittle, mostly useless for fighting, and may eventually grow so long that they curve around and fatally puncture your skull? Could that be it?
the western gray kangaroo:
the pacific hagfish:
the yellow-footed antechinus:
“Oh, what a cute little mouse!”
“It’s not a mouse! It’s a marsupial called an antechinus.”
“Sorry, evolution, my mistake. Still cute, though.”
“Isn’t he? And he’s excited, because he’s almost eleven months old, and that means he finally gets to start mating.”
“Aw, that’s nice.”
“He’s going to run around getting it on with as many females as he can for the next two or three weeks.”
“And he’ll have sex with each of them for up to 14 hours at a stretch.”
“And he’ll get so exhausted from all the frantic mating that his fur starts falling off, and he contracts gangrene.”
“What? Jesus. Then does he take a break, at least?”
“Nah, not really. He basically keeps doing it until he gets so sick and stressed out that he dies. ‘Suicidal reproduction,’ I’m calling it.”
“Are you serious? He’s going to mate himself to death?”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t know it yet. Happy coming-of-age, antechinus!”
“You’re sick, you know that?”
the wattle cup caterpillar:
“I really don’t want anyone to eat this wattle cup caterpillar.”
“Sure, evolution, that’s understandable.”
“I’m going to put some huge spikes on it.”
“Now I’m going to put more spikes on the spikes.”
“And I’ll make them sting!”
“And I’ll color the whole thing like a bad acid trip.”
“That might be overkill, but all right. I guess you really like this one. I bet it’ll be especially beautiful once it metamorphoses into a butterfly, huh?”
“What? Oh, no, this one doesn’t turn into a butterfly. It’s a hairy brown moth.”
Ctenophores: Because sometimes Evolution only feels like making the mouth.
the southern elephant seal:
“You know that elephant seal I made? The one with the awesome floppy nose?”
“Yes, evolution, that was a pretty good nose.”
“And you know how it kept getting parasites up inside it?”
“I heard that was an issue.”
“I fixed it.”
“You fixed it? What did you do, give the elephant seal more protective mucus? A better immune system? Stronger nose hairs?”
“Nope! That all seemed too hard. I just made a nose-picking bird.”
“A nose-picking bird.”
the saiga antelope:
isn’t evolution spectacular??? i love this book more than i can say, and i urge you to check it out when it is published, because it is a hoot and a half.
most of the pictures i used in this review were not from the book itself; they were just from the nooks and crannies of the internet, but the writing itself is from the book.
thanks for all the nightmares, evolution!!!