A good book can have a powerful effect on its reader, provoking tears at the end of a love story or goosebumps during a suspenseful mystery. Exploding Ants (ages 9-12) by Joanne Settel, Ph.
D., will undoubtedly evoke a visceral response from the reader this book will give you the creeps! The creepy-crawly creeps, that is, for it explores various, often disgusting, ways that animals adapt in order to survive.
Readers, beware: Exploding Ants is not for the faint of heart. A professor of biology, Dr. Settel was very thorough in her research of the unusual and grotesque measures animals take to find food, shelter, and safety. She uses simple, vivid words and phrases to explain the big picture: survival of the fittest. Almost every part of every living animal, from skin to dung to mucus, can provide food for some other species. Exploding Ants will primarily delight youngsters in the yuck is cool phase, explaining and providing actual photographs of such phenomena as a butterfly larva masquerading as a bird dropping to avoid being eaten by predators. Not gross enough? Bet you didn't know that tongue worms make their homes in the mucus inside of a dog's nose. And then there are Settel's famous exploding Camponotus ants, which launch a suicide mission when attacked by a predator. These fearless ants will burst open and spew a deadly poison that kills both themselves and their enemies. To be fair, not everything in Exploding Ants is gross. Settel includes several more palatable examples of adaptations as well, like honey ants that store sweet nectar in their bodies to feed their colony when food is scarce, or the male frigatebird that inflates an elastic red pouch on its throat when courting a mate. Exploding Ants will help young readers recognize the value of all creatures great and small, cute and slimy. Ideally, the book will contribute to a new generation of nature lovers, one infatuated not only with cuddly critters but also with the less charismatic and less visible species. As Settel proves, they are equally fascinating.
Lisa Horak is a freelance writer who lives in Annandale, Virginia.