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How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry

How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry
Sami Bayly
Lothian Children’s Books, $19.99, 2023

I’ve got a couple of young nephews who are going to love How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry. Despite the masses of great information this book contains about all sorts of weird and wonderful species, I’m pretty sure they’ll zero in on the bird-dropping spider and bird poo frog.

As the bird-dropping spider says of himself and the bird poo frog, “We don’t want to attract interest from predators, so we evolved to appear like bird droppings. Almost no one wants to eat poo!”

I enjoyed how the book was broken up to convey the different forms of camouflage creatures use – which include appearance, smell, sound, behaviour and location – to find food, send out warning signals and avoid predators.

In terms of appearance, I learned that the veiled chameleon has tiny cells in its skin called chromatophores, which hold colour and shrink or expand according to the chameleon’s mood. Rather than changing colour to blend in, they use colour to communicate and also change colour to adjust their body temperature.

In terms of smell, I learned that the stinkhorn fungus is native to Australia and aptly named. Its pong will stay on your skin for hours if you’re unlucky enough to touch one accidentally.

In terms of sound, I discovered northern flicker chicks will make the sound of a hive of bees and the burrowing owl will make the hissing and rattling of the prairie rattlesnake to scare off predators.

In terms of behaviour, I discovered how orchid mantises trick their prey by appearing as orchid flowers waiting to catch the insects buzzing around as they pollinate.

In terms of location, I saw how dead leaf butterflies change the colour and size of their wings to match the leaves around them and lichen huntsmen blend in with lichen-covered surfaces making them almost invisible to prey and predators.

Author, Sami Bayly, is a natural history illustrator and the illustrations in this book are luscious.

The pink orchid mantises on their dark green leaves float in a delicate lime-green and blue background.

The chameleon’s rough skin is studded with purple, yellow, green, orange and brown, surrounded by ferns, and complemented by a deeper, emerald-green backdrop.

The speckled wings of the peppered moths are outspread on a creamy tree trunk dotted and splashed with greens and browns a little like paperbark. There’s a clever, inset rectangle that shows the moth with one wing resting on the lighter bark and the other on the darker bark to clearly illustrates the moth’s evolutionary colour change due to pollution from industrialisation.

In the book’s introduction, Bayly explains her reasons for creating Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry and how camouflage and mimicry differ: “In this book, I’m going to explore a group of unusual animals who are all masters of disguise. Some animals have clever ways to blend in with their surroundings. This is known as camouflage. Other animals can make themselves look like something else, such as another animal, plant or object. This is called mimicry. These animals didn’t always do these things. They developed these abilities slowly, over time. To find out how this happened – why an animal might transform themself to look like a leaf, for example, or why another might release a smelly pong in certain situations – we need to think about evolution.”

Teacher’s resources online encourage research activities which explore evolutionary adaption and consider the impact on creatures of climate change. I was also glad to see a discussion point which asks children to think about the impact of forest clearing, wildlife trade and other threats which are depleting many species.

Bayly has published a lot of books for younger readers that focus on animals and nature, and won awards for them. How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry is the second title in the How We Came to Be series, which began with Surprising Sea Creatures.

I’m sure this new book, which so artfully reveals so many concealed aspects of animals, insects, plants and fungi, will appeal to creatures great and small – and especially to those who are in primary school.

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