おもしろい! 進化のふしき 「ざんねんないきもの辞典」 今泉忠明 (監修者) Encyclopedia of the World's Most Unfortunate Animals edited by Tadaaki Imaizumi

Sometimes I love to challenge myself to read a book in the language of my adopted country – Japanese. Although it takes me a while to finish, I find that it helps me improve my vocabulary and my comprehension. Recently I picked up a book titled Zannen na Ikimono Jiten. Zannen can be translated as “too bad”, or “unfortunate”. Ikimono directly translates to “things that are alive”, thus “animals” and jiten translates to “encyclopedia”. The English title would be The Encyclopedia of the World's Most Unfortunate Animals.

My wife, who is not an avid reader, was also interested in reading this book. Upon its release, it shot up the Japanese bestseller lists in a very short amount of time and is enjoyed by both children and adults. The writing is easy to understand,  incorporating a lot of humor, and the book is filled with cute illustrations.

The book is separated into four parts. The first part gives a little history about evolution, how animals have evolved or changed to survive as a species. One of the examples given is the giraffe.

One of their ancestors was born with long legs which helped them run away from predators. But the giraffe with long legs had a hard time drinking water and once again became easy prey for the carnivores. Then, another one of their ancestors was born with an extremely long neck. This made drinking water easier and the species survived.

The second part talks about how many of the animals have evolved. There were many that evolved in a most unfortunate way or at least, we as humans, may find strange. Did you ever wonder why hippos spend most of their time in the water? As large as they are, the skin of the hippo is quite sensitive, even more so than a human baby. They can get sunburnt just by standing out under the sun. Or did you know that the brain of an ostrich is smaller than its eyeballs? Or the tuatara (a type of lizard), which has a third eye on its forehead, but can not see out of it clearly – most unfortunate!

Part Three explains how some unfortunate animals evolved to stay alive. For example, the stinkier a skunk is, the higher its probability of finding a mate. Or how about the sea cucumber that spits out its intestines to protect itself from being eaten by larger fish? The sea cucumber has the ability to regenerate its innards – a most unfortunate way of staying alive.

And finally we have a section about the unfortunate abilities of various animals. For example, consider the stink bug whose own smell can be so overpowering, that it will faint from its own odor. Or a flea which has the ability to jump very high, however cannot stand on its own feet – most unfortunate.

There are so many tidbits of interesting animal information which not only makes for great reading but can be used as great conversation starters! You can tell your friends or people you just met, “Hey, do you know why koalas spend most of their time sleeping? Because they eat eucalyptus leaves which contains a lot of toxins. But toxins are toxins and the eucalyptus leaves have almost no nutritional value so they need to store up energy. They do that by sleeping all day.” Even if you are not an animal lover, you will love reading about the “unfortunate” evolutions of many of these living things!~Ernie Hoyt