Built by Animals: The Natural History of Animal Architecture
From termite mounds that in relative terms are three times as tall as a skyscraper, to the elaborate nests of social birds and the deadly traps of spiders, the constructions of the animal world can amaze and at times humble our own engineering and technology. But how do creatures with such small brains build these complex structures? What drives them to do it? Which skills are innate and which learned? Mike Hansell looks at the extraordinary structures that animals build - whether homes, traps, or courtship displays - and reveals the biology behind their behaviour. He shows how small-brained animals achieve complex feats in a small-brained way, by repeating many simple actions and using highly evolved self-secreted materials. On the other hand, the building feats or tool use of large-brained animals, such as humans or chimps, require significantly more complex and costly behaviour. We look at wasp's nests, leaf-cutting ants, caddisflies and amoebae, and even the extraordinary bower bird, who seduces his mate with a decorated pile of twigs, baubles, feathers and berries. Hansell explores how animal structures evolved over time, how insect societies emerge, how animals can alter their wider habitat, and even whether some animals have an aesthetic sense.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
In terms of relative size, the mound structures built by the Australian termite species Amitermes laurensis far surpass anything we humans have ever built, and they incorporate ventilation and thermoregulatory systems that leave even our most arrogant designers humbled. They are truly awesome examples of architecture, and must surely be the result of some wonderfully mysterious form of insect intelligence, right? Well, no actually, not necessarily. In fact, it is highly doubtful that they have any overall understanding at all of what they are doing; the same applies to comb-sculpting honeybees, earth-shifting ants, web-weaving spiders, nest-building birds (at least to some extent), and quite possibly even to the scientists' beloved stick-weilding primates. Such behaviour can be explained without this assumption of animal insight. So says Mike Hansell in this refreshingly sober examination of animal building behaviour and tool use. He explains such behaviour as nothing more than an emergent property of simple behavioural rules and the evolution of 'clever materials' (although the 'nothing more' here should not be misunderstood as derisory), and warns that we should be wary of attributing intelligence to animals in such circumstances, however seemingly complex their behaviour. The argument is strong and very well presented (giving this reader the final push needed in finally accepting similar thoughts about animal intelligence), and the author's prose style makes the book a pleasure to read. It would be an exaggeration to equate Hansell with the genius of someone like Dawkins, but parts of the work are certainly Dawkins-esque in character, particularly when Hansell is trying to explain his more complex ideas. Despite what you may assume from my précis of the author's thesis, the book is in no way pessimistic or contemptuous – in fact, on the contrary, his admiration for evolution and the 'simple behavioural rules' thereby produced is evident throughout; he is merely realistic about the conclusions he draws. As with most works of this kind there are some sections that one may find a little strained or lacking in vibrancy, but as a whole this is an enjoyable and strangely inspiring book that I would not hesitate to recommend.
Review: Built by Animals: The Natural History of Animal ArchitectureUser Review - Roger - Goodreads
A wonderful little book, full of delights of natural history on small and epic scale. Hansell does a great job of describing the various things animals build- namely nests, traps, and tools, and ... Read full review