Books: Life Below the Ankles
by David L. Hu
HOW SNAKES WORK: Structure, Function and Behavior of the World’s Snakes. Harvey B. Lillywhite. xiv + 242 pp. Oxford University Press, 2014. $49.95.
Right below our ankles lies a whole—and wholly different—world. Here, with a shift in perspective and scale, grass grows as tall as trees and rocks are as large as boulders. The landscape is so dense that animals can virtually swim in it, wiggling through oceans of grass and debris. Roughly 150 million years ago, a group of four-legged reptiles began to adapt to this rich lower world, evolving increasingly long and slender body plans until they were entirely limbless. From that point, there was no going back. In the switch to life without legs, these creatures also acquired a complete anatomical redesign, inside and out. The result was the animals we know as snakes.
Harvey B. Lillywhite’s How Snakes Work explores the ways these animals thrive in the dark, disordered landscape of the forest floor. That emphasis on how sets the book apart, as Lillywhite, a field biologist specializing in snake physiology, focuses on the fantastic tricks and tactics essential to life at ankle level. The result tickles the imagination. Using photographs, detailed explanations, personal stories, and scholarly references, the author convincingly transports the reader into this lower world, introducing a whole cast of strange creatures and their even stranger behaviors…
(read more: American Scientist)
image: Eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)