Friday, August 02, 2019

Naish on Shuker's Encyclopedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (Note on an important review)

It's a little odd to make a blog post just to point to someone else's review of someone else's book, but Dr. Darren Naish's very thorough review of an amazing book by Dr. Karl Shuker deserves it. Plus, I get mentioned.  Darren also noted something I'd been wondering about: a report from Brazil of a catfish that had taken to a land-based existence, mentioned in Shuker's earlier work and cited by me in Rumors of Existence. I know, it's all getting kind of circular, but the point I wanted to quote here was "The incredible semi-terrestrial catfish discovered in Manaus by Peter Henderson still has yet to be formally described..."  I believe it still hasn't.  A shame.  

Here's the actual topic, Karl's Encyclopedia of New and Rediscovered Animals.

And here's my review of that. 
(Please pardon some formatting problems, I'll be back to fix those.)

Building on two of Shuker's earlier works, The Lost Ark and The New Zoo, 
the Encyclopedia  deserves its title. This is a mammoth collection of scientific 
achievements from 1900 to the present. 
It's information-packed, sumptuously illustrated, and just plain fun.
Shuker does not, of course, try to include all discoveries, since the 
beetles alone would merit a  library. He goes for creatures which are 
relatively large or scientifically important, and those are 
more than sufficient to fill this large-format 368-page book. S
huker is a highly knowledgeable writer  (as you'd expect from a Ph.D. 
who's been poking into the odd corners of zoology for four decades). 
He discusses both species and important subspecies (including those 
where there is some dispute  about taxonomy: it's not clear whether 
Rothschild's giraffe is a subspecies, species, or just a local variation.) 
The zoologically inclined reader will enjoy every page of this romp 
through monk seals,  giant stick insects, megamouth sharks, monitor 
lizards, and other discoveries simply too numerous to mention.
One thing Shuker does not do is set all the material into a context by 
showing any species  discovery curves or discussing just how many 
ew vs. known species are being found. He does,  though, amply 
demonstrate his main theme: that discovery didn't end with the "golden 
age"  of the 1800s - indeed, it's continued at a steady and often 
surprising pace right up to the present day.

Being a Shuker work, this book has plenty of mysteries along with 
the definite discoveries.  Some are well-known: some, like a slow loris 
with a thick bushy tail, not yet recognized although  it's been held in captivity
 and photographed, surprised even a well-read aficionado like myself. 
Likewise, some of the stories of discovery, like the coelacanth's, have 
been told many times  (though Shuker always tells them well), but how 
many know the tragic tale behind the discovery of Flecker's sea wasp 
jellyfish, or how Rudie Kuiter saw a flounder swimming along and discovered 
it was the most amazing mimic in nature: an octopus pretending to be a 
flounder? Shuker also includes stories of animals which didn't quite 
live up to their hype as new species,  like Mexico's onza (not a new 
species of big cat, just an odd puma.) He closes with a few words 
on possible future discoveries, a note on taxonomy, and a bibliography 
running 33 pages.There are hundreds of images here to go with the text, 
ranging from photos to Bill Rebsamen's  wonderful color illustrations.
This is one of the classic books, not just of cryptozoology 
but of modern zoology and  conservation biology. Readers will love it 
enough to revisit it many times. 
It's a great achievement.

December 16, 2012