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Book Review: The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar by Matt Simon

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Title: The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar (2016)
Author: Matt Simon
Genres: Natural History, Biology, Science, Non-fiction, Nature, Comedy and Factual
Publisher: Headline
Release Date: 25th October 2016
Rating: ★★★★★
Reviewed by: David

Synopsis

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.

Review

This book tells the tale of many of natures most ingenious and bizarre adaptations to their natural environments, through the lens of Matt Simon.

I received this book as a Christmas present from my Dad who knows that I have a keen interest in biology. It appealed to me straight away as I had nostalgic memories of keeping caterpillars as a young child and then being horrified to see some of them, rather than pupating, giving birth to wasp larvae. I instantly knew that I had to read this book, if only for an explanation of this bizarre event. I wasn’t disappointed.

I absolutely devoured this book once I started reading it. Simon has done an excellent job of writing these short passages focusing on some of the most bizarre animals on the planet. His writing is clearly extensively researched (as evidenced by his impressive reference section) and is chock full of facts and interesting tidbits in addition to the main fact he describes. Not only is it incredibly well researched from a scientific perspective, it is also written in a lively and interesting fashion which really captures the readers interest and makes what could be a dull fact book into a brilliant read. Simon uses his sharp wit to make intelligent and humorous remarks, which always amused me greatly. In addition, he has struck a brilliant balance between factual science writing and his comedic insights, with neither one nor the other taking dominance, which is a difficult skill many cannot utilise.

Simon has also divided this book into interesting categories of adaptations, such as how some animals defend against predators “Turns Out Getting Eaten Is Bad for Survival” or how they find a mate “You Absolutely Must Get Laid“. It was always exciting moving into a new section and being completely surprised at just how incredible and diverse life is on our planet. Indeed, Simon discusses a variety of different species and classes of animals from ants and flatworms to fish and mammals, which kept the book fresh and varied. Simon has also added small bonus sections into every passage, which hold fascinating information in some way linked to the original species in question.

Furthermore, Vladimir Stankovich illustrates this book beautifully with what appear to be pencil sketches of the species discussed within, but that are so life like I was convinced they were photos with some kind of filter on them, until I checked to see if there was an artist.

I would have to say that I could not fault this book. I enjoyed it tremendously and was sad to reach the end of it. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in nature or in biology in general.

Overall, this was a fantastic read and I am looking forward to Matt Simon’s next book Moar Parasites due out in 2018.

This book is a bit of departure from the usual fiction books we normally review on this blog; however as someone with a keen interest in science (particularly biology) I think reviews of books like these could become more of a regular feature, if there is an interest in them. Please feel free to comment below if you would like to see more reviews of this genre. Thanks!

Be sure to check it out on Book Depository using the link here: Loisreadsbooks Book Depository

Find us on Twitter @Loisreadsbooks, on Facebook here, and on Goodreads here

Until next time,

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar by Matt Simon

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