Note: There’s going to be a lot of “this book does this thing kind of poorly… but it does have a redeeming feature to buoy it back up!” I really wouldn’t write about it if it was so mediocre – I don’t have that much time – and if it was outright horrible, you’ll see no trace of it from me here, because I prefer to showcase examples I consider interesting and well-written in whatever topic it is that the material is about. Now, onto Poison!
I picked this one up while refilling a display around the library (after reading this book, you might think twice before nonchalantly picking up something small like this book with black and red colouration) – proof that our displays are working marvelously, as I took home about 3 or 4 other items about ocean critters that day – and was thinking it’d be a great follow-up to Venomous by Christie Wilcox. Alas, Poison: Sinister Species with Deadly Consequences is actually rather less informative, though perhaps I should have gathered as much by the size of the book and the overall feel of it. I say it is less informative only because it strives less to provide a comprehensive introduction to poisonous animals, than to introduce readers interested in the like to various insects, animals, and other creatures that can pack a punch if you get on their bad side – the great thing about this list for me personally was that I didn’t know about many of the animals introduced here: who knew there were poisonous birds?
It’s amazing what tiny little creatures such as the blue-ringed octopus or a little caterpillar in the rainforest can do to you (paralyze you completely and induce hemorrhaging, respectively), without even your realization that you’ve been bitten or pricked! Where Wilcox really shines in Venomous, though, is when she goes beyond show-and-tell and explains what goes on when you graze the back of that caterpillar with its bristly spine: contrary to what might be expected, this little caterpillar actually causes all the coagulants in your blood to become otherwise engaged so that they’re nowhere to be found while the rest of your blood is running rampant. Hence the hemorrhaging.
Venomous is engaging and serves as a great introduction into the world of venom and the creatures that produce them. Wilcox takes you through a variety of different types of venom, organized more or less by chapter, telling you what they do to their (unfortunate/maybe-brought-it-upon-themselves) victims, connecting their incredible abilities to theories as to why certain creatures should have developed the venoms that they did. In fact, Wilcox goes further and delves – relatively lightly, nothing to be afraid of even if you’re not scientifically minded – into the science of what different venoms do. What you get, in effect, is something along the lines of this: what creature generates what sort of venom, which does what to which animal by targeting which areas, likely influenced by which evolutionary pressures. Wilcox breaks it down so that you understand what’s going on – which neurotransmitters are involved? what areas of the body does it affect and why? why might these creatures have evolved as they did? – as you make your way through the rest of the book, keeping all the information intact by making connections throughout.