The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar

The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar

Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems

Book - 2016
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"A bizarre collection of evolution tales . . . the weirder, the better." -- Entertainment Weekly

A fascinating exploration of the awe-inspiring, unsettling ingenuity of evolution from Wired writer Matt Simon, author of Plight of the Living Dead (coming soon from Penguin Books)

On a barren seafloor, the pearlfish swims into the safety of a sea cucumber's anus. To find a meal, the female bolas spider releases pheromones that mimic a female moth, luring male moths into her sticky lasso web. The Glyptapanteles wasp injects a caterpillar with her young, which feed on the victim, erupt out of it, then mind-control the poor (and somehow still living) schmuck into protecting them from predators.

These are among the curious critters of The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar , a jaunt through evolution's most unbelievable, most ingenious solutions to the problems of everyday life, from trying to get laid to finding food. Join Wired science writer Matt Simon as he introduces you to the creatures that have it figured out, the ones that joust with their mustaches or choke sharks to death with snot, all in a wild struggle to survive and, of course, find true love.

Winner of the American Library Association's Alex Award
Publisher: New York, New York : Penguin Books, 2016.
ISBN: 9780143128687
Branch Call Number: 578.47 Sim
Characteristics: xii, 260 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm

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SkokieStaff_Steven Nov 20, 2017

I admit to a weakness for books like “Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom” that showcase charming stories of animals chumming around with animals of other species, such as a rhino with a goat or a cat with a rat. (One wonders how the cat explains this aberrant behavior to his fellow cats. I am reminded of Woody Allen’s quip that the lion shall lay down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.) Such accounts, while heartwarming, do not represent the norm in the animal world as is clear from Matt Simon’s “The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems.” Simon describes 36 animals and one very clever fungus who either behave, well, beastly to their fellow creatures (the Ant-Decapitating Fly, the Tongue-Eating Isopod) or who simply go about their daily business while being exceedingly weird (the Moustache Toad, the Pink Fairy Armadillo). I especially relished Simon’s account of the Pearlfish who swims up a Sea Cucumber’s anus and eats its gonads, and his description of the Assassin Bug, bizarrely bedecked with the desiccated corpses of its insect prey, as resembling “a macabre Santa with a sack of the worst presents a kid could ever ask for.” While Simon does include some basic information about evolution in his book, it is best enjoyed as a very amusing, all-animal edition of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

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