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American Scientist

Mike Hansell

Built by Animals

When we see animals using tools or behaving in a way similar to humans, we are likely to see is as a mark of intelligence, but we are sometimes prone to take for granted the structures which animals create. In Built by Animals: The natural history of animal architecture Mike Hansell argues that we should be more impressed with what animals can build.

The book tells of termite mounds which can become huge, complex structures, without needing anyone to design and oversee their building. But termites aren't the smallest builders, even single celled organisms may build a protective wall around themselves. Hansell argues that tool use - for instance picking up a stick and using it to obtain food - shouldn't necessarily be seen as more advanced than building traps to obtain food, as a spider does with it's web. There is a chapter on how evolution affects the structures built by animals, and the book ends with a look at bower birds, which put a great deal of effort into building the best looking bower.

The book is full of interesting information, but I often found myself wanting to read more about one of the animals mentioned - Hansell has a tendency to move quickly from one example to another, although I felt that this improved as the book progressed. There are also references allowing the reader to follow up on any topic of interest. info
Paperback 268 pages  
ISBN: 0199205574
Salesrank: 1467109
Published: 2009 Oxford University Press
Marketplace:New from $23.62:Used from $4.00
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Paperback 288 pages  
ISBN: 0199205574
Salesrank: 692747
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 2009 OUP Oxford
Marketplace:New from £10.00:Used from £1.86
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Paperback 256 pages  
ISBN: 0199205574
Salesrank: 1692070
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 2009 Oxford University Press
Amazon price CDN$ 43.15
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 41.65:Used from CDN$ 6.49
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Product Description
From termite mounds and caterpillar cocoons to the elaborate nests of social birds and the deadly traps of spiders, the constructions of the animal world can amaze and at times even rival our own feats of engineering. But how do creatures with such small brains build these complex structures? What drives them to do it?

In this fascinating volume, Mike Hansell looks at the extraordinary structures that animals build--whether homes, traps, or courtship displays--and reveals what science can tell us about this incredible behavior. We look at wasp's nests, leaf-cutting ants, caddis flies and amoebae, and even the extraordinary bower bird, who seduces his mate with a decorated pile of twigs, baubles, feathers, and berries. We discover how some animals produce their own building materials, such as the silk secreted by spiders to weave an array of different web and traps, or the glue some insects produce to hold their buildings together. And we learn how a vast colony of social insects can create nests which may penetrate up to twenty feet into the ground and house millions of individuals--all built by tiny-brained animals repeating many simple actions as they roam randomly around the structure. Hansell also sheds light on how animal buildings have evolved over time, how insect societies emerged, how animals can alter their wider habitat, and even whether some animals have an aesthetic sense.

Built by Animals offers a colorful account of a facet of animal behavior that will delight anyone interested in the natural world.

Now Available in Paperback