Nursery Earth: The Wondrous Lives of Baby Animals and the Extraordinary Ways They Shape Our World (Hardcover)
From the author of Monarchs of the Sea, a first-of-its-kind journey into the hidden world of baby animals—hailed as “a gobsmacking delight!” (Sy Montgomery, New York Times–bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus)
It’s time to pay attention to baby animals. From egg to tadpole, chick to fledgling, they offer scientists a window into questions of immense importance: How do genes influence health? Which environmental factors support—or obstruct—life? Entire ecosystems rest on the shoulders (or tentacles, or jointed exoskeletons) of animal babies. At any given moment, babies represent the majority of animal life on Earth.
In Nursery Earth, researcher Danna Staaf invites readers into the sibling (and, sometimes, clashing) fields of ecology and developmental biology. The tiny, hidden lives that these scientists study in the lab and in the wild reveal some of nature’s strangest workings: A salamander embryo breathes with the help of algae inside its cells. The young grub of a Goliath beetle dwarfs its parents. The spotted beak of a parasitic baby bird tricks adults of other species into feeding it. Mouse embryos can absorb cancerous cell grafts—and develop into healthy adults.
Our bias toward adult animals (not least because babies can be hard to find) means these wonders have long gone under-researched. But for all kinds of animals, if we overlook their babies, we miss out on the most fascinating—and consequential—time in the lives of their species. Nursery Earth makes the case that these young creatures are not just beings in progress but beings in their own right. And our planet needs them all: the maggots as much as the kittens!
About the Author
Danna Staaf earned a PhD in biology from Stanford University with her studies of baby squid. She is the author of Monarchs of the Sea and The Lady and the Octopus, and she has written for Science, Atlas Obscura, and Nautilus. She lives in California with her human family, a cat, and a garden full of grubs, caterpillars, maggots, and innumerable other babies.
Richard Strathmann, PhD, is an expert in the diverse patterns of animal development, with a particular focus on marine animals. He finds the beauty and variety of changes from eggs through embryos, larvae, and metamorphosis endlessly entertaining. He joined the faculty of the University of Washington in 1973.
“Every page of Danna Staaf’s Nursery Earth brims with strange wonders. This book is a gobsmacking delight!”—Sy Montgomery, New York Times–bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus
“Some animal babies are really cute (kittens), and some are a bit horrifying (larval parasites), but this book shows how all are incredibly interesting. Packed with the fascinating and the fantastic, Nursery Earth is a surprising page-turner, as hard to put down as a new puppy.”—Carl Safina, New York Times–bestselling author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
“There is certainly a cuteness factor here. . . . [But] beyond the oohs and ahs, scientist Staaf shares significant findings about the connections between the environment and human genes. The miracle of life (and developmental biology, Staaf’s specialty) is the book’s journey, documenting each stage, from egg to juvenile/teenager, with easy-to-understand research and illuminating analogies.”—Booklist
“I can’t count the number of times the word wow crossed my lips as I eagerly turned to the next page of Nursery Earth. If you’ve ever wondered how nature works, Staaf shows us why you’d best not ignore the beginnings. This book is the finest kind of science writing: heartwarming and perspective-shifting!”—Juli Berwald, author of Spineless and Life on the Rocks
Praise for Monarchs of the Sea
“Cephs rule! [Monarchs of the Sea], like its protagonists, is nimble, fast, surprising, smart, and weird in the very coolest sense of the word. What could be more fun than jetting back in time to primordial seas with the monsters who really ruled our planet? In these pages, Danna Staaf makes every dino-lover and every undersea adventurer’s dream come true. It’s a fabulous read with squishy, slimy delight on every page.”—Sy Montgomery, New York Times–bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus
“This crystal-clear book will open your world to wider horizons and much deeper times. . . . Long before vertebrates evolved anything like higher intelligence, squids and octopuses were on a separate track to versatility, problem-solving, individual recognition, and deceit. Before we can know who we are, we must know who we are here with, and who has come before us.”—Carl Safina,New York Times–bestselling author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
“I loved this book. . . . Staaf’s approach is short and sweet, well-illustrated, and strong on playful narrative.”—Nature
“It is a treat to come across a writer with such specialized training who is able to turn esoteric knowledge into a page-turning read for all audiences. . . . Staaf captures what is rarely seen outside the ivory tower: scientists talking among themselves with a touch of irreverence. Researchers everywhere will surely relate.”—Science
“This engaging book may do for early cephalopods what paleontologists did for dinosaurs in the 1960s: spark a public renaissance of appreciation for these magnificent creatures who once ruled the seas.”—Jennifer Ouellette, author of Me, Myself, and Why and The Calculus Diaries
“Intriguing . . . This in-depth coverage of an often neglected but ecologically vital group will change your view of squid, octopuses, and their relatives.”—New Scientist
“A book like [Monarchs of the Sea] is a reminder that in any scientific narrative, there are always two stories at play. There is the history of the subject you’re studying, and then there is the history of its discovery.”—New Republic
“Fiendishly readable.”—The Inquisitive Biologist
“Fresh and fascinating.”—The Times Literary Supplement