logo for University of Iowa Press
A Naturalist amid Tropical Splendor
Alexander F. Skutch
University of Iowa Press, 1987

In this reflective account of life in the tropics, Alexander Skutch offers readers both his observations and his interpretations of what he has experienced. In the many chapters about birds and their behavior, he describes a dove that defends its nest with rare courage, castlebuilders who create elaborate nests of interlaced twigs, oropendolas that cluster long woven pouches in high treetops, and an exceptionally graceful hummingbird who fails to pay for its nectar by pollinating the flowers that yield it. Skutch also describes curious plants and their flowers, including a birthwort that holds its pollinating flies captive and fern fronds that twine high up trunks in the rain forest.

With penetrating clarity, Skutch considers the significance of all this restless activity: he examines the origins of beauty and our ability to appreciate it, the foundations of tropical splendor, the factors that help us feel close to nature or alienated from it, and the possibility of consciousness and emotion in animals. He also addresses the quandary of the biologist contemplating painful experiments on animals rather than learning by direct observation, and he asserts that our capacity to care for the world around us is the truest criterion of our evolutionary advancement.

Skutch brings a thoughtful, unequaled voice to the description of the world he has grown to know and understand, a world considered forbidding by most northerners and still largely unexplored.


logo for Harvard University Press
Nerve Cells and Insect Behavior
With an Appreciation by John G. Hildebrand, Revised edition
Kenneth D. Roeder
Harvard University Press, 1998

The strike of a praying mantis's forelegs is so fast that, once they are set in motion, the mantis cannot control its aim. How does it ever manage to catch a fly? A moth negotiating the night air hears the squeak of a hunting bat on the wing, and tumbles out of harm's way. How?

Insects are ideal subjects for neurophysiological studies, and at its simplest level this classic book relates the activities of nerve cells to the activities of insects, something that had never been attempted when the book first appeared in 1963. In several elegant experiments--on the moth, the cockroach, and the praying mantis--Roeder shows how stimulus and behavior are related through the nervous system and suggests that the insect brain appears to control behavior by determining which of the various built-in activity patterns will appear in a given situation. This slim volume remains invaluable to an understanding of the nervous mechanisms responsible for insect behavior.


front cover of The Nesting Season
The Nesting Season
Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy
Bernd Heinrich
Harvard University Press, 2010

Why are the eggs of the marsh wren deep brown, the winter wren's nearly white, and the gray catbird's a brilliant blue? And what in the DNA of a penduline tit makes the male weave a domed nest of fibers and the female line it with feathers, while the bird-of-paradise male builds no nest at all, and his bower-bird counterpart constructs an elaborate dwelling?

These are typical questions that Bernd Heinrich pursues in the engaging style we've come to expect from him—supplemented here with his own stunning photographs and original watercolors. One of the world's great naturalists and nature writers, Heinrich shows us how the sensual beauty of birds can open our eyes to a hidden evolutionary process. Nesting, as Heinrich explores it here, encompasses what fascinates us most about birds—from their delightful songs and spectacular displays to their varied eggs and colorful plumage; from their sex roles and mating rituals to nest parasitism, infanticide, and predation.

What moves birds to mate and parent their young in so many different ways is what interests Heinrich—and his insights into the nesting behavior of birds has more than a little to say about our own.


front cover of The New Chimpanzee
The New Chimpanzee
A Twenty-First-Century Portrait of Our Closest Kin
Craig Stanford
Harvard University Press, 2018

Recent discoveries about wild chimpanzees have dramatically reshaped our understanding of these great apes and their kinship with humans. We now know that chimpanzees not only have genomes similar to our own but also plot political coups, wage wars over territory, pass on cultural traditions to younger generations, and ruthlessly strategize for resources, including sexual partners. In The New Chimpanzee, Craig Stanford challenges us to let apes guide our inquiry into what it means to be human.

With wit and lucidity, Stanford explains what the past two decades of chimpanzee field research has taught us about the origins of human social behavior, the nature of aggression and communication, and the divergence of humans and apes from a common ancestor. Drawing on his extensive observations of chimpanzee behavior and social dynamics, Stanford adds to our knowledge of chimpanzees’ political intelligence, sexual power plays, violent ambition, cultural diversity, and adaptability.

The New Chimpanzee portrays a complex and even more humanlike ape than the one Jane Goodall popularized more than a half century ago. It also sounds an urgent call for the protection of our nearest relatives at a moment when their survival is at risk.


Send via email Share on Facebook Share on Twitter