The orchid mantis is so well camouflaged that it wasn’t discovered until 1879! A British explorer was studying flowers in Indonesia when he saw what looked like a flower eating a butterfly. Peering closer, he realized that it was actually an insect that looked exactly like an orchid!
Orchid mantises are usually yellow, white, orange, or light purple to match the flowers they pretend to be. These insects search for hunting spots on leaves and flowers. When one finds a spot, it grabs on with its back pair of legs and sways slightly to imitate flowers in the breeze. Then it waits for its meal to come right to it!
The six-volume “Astonishing Animals” series examines the physical and behavioral adaptations of a variety of animals which help them to survive. Each title is comprised of 13 chapters as well as a table of contents, a glossary, an index and a brief list of books and websites for further investigation. Animals featured in the series are representative of all of the major groups and range from the microscopic tardigrade to the seven-metre-long beaked whale. Some of the animals will be familiar to readers while others are quite rare and unique. Besides the main body of the text, there are Fact File boxes which, with the exception of the title about animal celebrities, tell where the animal is found, its habitat, size and diet. (In the case of Animal Celebrities, the Fact File box states the animal’s date of birth and death, where it lived, and its “hobbies”.) As well, smaller “Wow!” text boxes provide interesting trivia, some examples being that a 270-kg octopus can squeeze through a 2.5 cm opening and that chimpanzees’ nests contain lower levels of bacteria than human beds. An attractive layout and abundant, eye-catching colour photographs add to the series’ visual appeal.
Animal Disguises discusses the ways in which animals use camouflage or mimicry to protect themselves from predators. Colour, pattern and texture, as well as seasonal colour change and an animal’s ability to change colour, are covered in this title. Voice mimicry is also mentioned, an example of which is the fork-tailed drongo whose ability to imitate a meerkat’s warning cry earns him many a free meal when the meerkats run for cover, abandoning their food. One interesting fact is that an octopus can display two different colours and patterns at the same time, one on the top and the other on the bottom, to convey two different messages. Other animals featured in this title include owl butterflies, orchid mantises, walking sticks, thorn bugs, leafy seadragons, Arctic foxes, screech owls, chameleons, stonefish and copperhead snakes.
Enjoyable and engaging, with just enough information to pique the reader’s interest, the “Astonishing Animals” series does a good job of introducing readers to some incredible animals.
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, Manitoba.