*Japanese Text Only
English translation: Encyclopedia of the World’s Most Unfortunate Animals 2 edited by Takaaki Imaizumi
From the man who brought us Zannen na Ikimono Jiten or “The Encyclopedia of the World’s Most Unfortunate Animals” in English, comes the much anticipated sequel Zoku Zannen na Ikimono Jiten or “The Encyclopedia of the World’s Most Unfortunate Animals 2”. As a reminder to non-Japanese readers, zannen can be translated as “too bad”, or “unfortunate”. Ikimono directly translates to “things that are alive”, thus “animals” and jiten translates to “encyclopedia”.
This book begins by introducing us to the different types of evolution many animals have gone through. Evolution of the body. For example, the crocodile may have the strongest bite in the animal kingdom but the strength to open their jaws is really weak that an elderly gentlemen can hold it shut. Evolution of the way of life. A fine example being the dolphin. If the dolphin was to sleep, it would drown. How unfortunate! Evolution of abilities such as the scorpion that shines a blue-green color due to ultraviolet rays but has absolutely no meaning and the scorpion itself doesn’t realize that it is shining.
The first chapter discusses the unfortunate evolution of peculiarities. For example, the meal of the vampire bat. This animal only feeds on the blood of living animals. However, because blood is a liquid, it readily digests and the bat remains hungry so continues to suck more blood. Usually more than half of its body weight. But then the bat becomes too heavy to fly and hops its way back home. How unfortunate! Or the least weasel, which is a very small rodent but will willfully prey on another animal fifty times its weight and sometimes may be eaten in the process.
Here’s something interesting on the evolution of bodies you will learn. Did you know that in a group of clownfish, the largest one will change genders and become a female? Or that the flapjack octopus has very short tentacles and cannot spit any ink? More interesting yet is the nautilus which may have sixty to ninety legs but can’t walk! My goodness, how unfortunate for these animals! One of my favorites is the marine iguana that’s indigenous to the Galapagos islands. They are the world’s only lizard that spends time in the ocean and will “sneeze out” salt after being underwater for a period of time.
Then the book focuses on the evolution of different lifestyles. We all know that squirrels bury acorns so they will have something to eat later. What we are not told is that the squirrel usually forgets where it buried its treasure. We are also taught that koalas only eat eucalyptus leaves. What we learn from this book is that koalas were not born with this ability. Their ability stems from eating the feces of its mother! WHAT? REALLY? It’s their baby food. Apparently, the baby food poop has no odor. But still, poop is poop. What an unfortunate animal.
What about some unfortunate abilities? The pronghorn can run really really fast but doesn’t have a predator to run away from. The little tern is so small that to drive away their enemies, a flock of them will shower their foes with bird droppings! Then there is the armadillo. The strength of its armor can deflect the bullet of a gun. If they manage roll up into a ball, they can protect themselves from all kinds of enemies. But of the twenty or so species of armadillos only two types can actually roll up into a ball. How unfortunate for the other eighteen species. However, this abilitly also makes it easier for humans to catch and to carry home for later consumption. Once again, most unfortunate!
What I learned from reading this series is that life is one continuous evolution. Change may be gradual but necessary in order to survive. Who knows how we as humans will evolve next. Perhaps with global warming, we will evolve to have thicker skin to protect us from ultraviolet radiation. Along with us humans, more animals will evolve and change. If not, they will go extinct and is probably something all animals, us humans included, want to avoid. ~Ernie Hoyt