Friday, March 10, 2006

And now for something completely different

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats, 3rd ed., by Gerald L. Wood, FZS. It was published in 1982, and unfortunately there have been no more editions.

Quick rant: when I was a kid, the Guinness Book of World Records was similar in size and heft to a Bible (if hardcover) or a Tom Clancy novel (if paperback). The microscopically thin pages were covered with tiny type--each letter was about the size of a cockroach's butthole. The book contained basically every fact worth knowing in the entire world. From the Millennium Knife with its 2000 blades to the 600-pound twins on motorcycles, it was all in there, and each entry was about the size of a short termpaper.

The so-called Guinness Book published today is a thin, garish shadow of its former self. It's all glossy color pictures and about 8 words per page, full of shit like the 8-yr-old who juggled plates for five hours or the Amazing Man Who Didn't Cry During Schindler's List. It's fucking pathetic, a total victory of form over content. Why can't those dillholes at Guinness at least come out with a real, Bible Version Guinness Book of World Records to sell alongside the Where's Waldo version? Or, hey, come out with one every five years. I don't care, I just want a real Guinness Book of World Records that isn't two decades out of date. I want London to grow up with a compendium of all the world's information, not fucking coloring book full of losers whose claim to fame is that they can stack cups really fast. Can I get a witness?

Anyway, the Book of Animal Facts and Feats is awesome. I don't mean "the guy behind the counter at McDonald's gave me an extra pickle" awesome, I mean "the first time I saw Aliens awesome". I expected to learn a few things, but as a trained zoologist and the owner of several older (Bible) editions of the GBoWR I thought that I had lost the ability to be shocked by the animal world. I was wrong, many, many times over. From time to time I will post shocking excerpts here for the edification of all.

Here's the first, about the improbably life spans of headless butterflies, from p. 172.

"In 1926 Father Cambouet, a missionary in Madagascar and a noted entomologist, reported to the Academy of Sciences in Paris that decapitated butterflies live longer than those which are left intact. He said he had found that when certain caterpillars were decapitated in such a way as to cause the minimum loss of blood, they could continue the natural course of their development and, after passing through the chrysalis stage, emerge as perfectly healthy but headless butterflies. Scientists who have studied this phenomenon since have come to the conclusion that headless butterflies are longer lived because they lead a much less active life. A perfect butterfly quickly spends its strength in activity, whereas its headless companions, living more placid lives, wear out their vital forces at a slower rate and thus attain a comparatively ripe old age."

Does anyone know if the headless butterflies, er, fly? Or are they more like buttersits?

UPDATE, OCT. 1 2007: More headless butterfly news. Also, it turns out that this post is the number one hit on Google for 'headless butterflies'. I may be an expert in more than one field!

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Blogger Mike Taylor said...


You are so, so right about the Guinness Book of Records. I remember as a child spending many happy hours perusing our 1976 (IIRC) edition of the GBR, continually fascinated by nuggets of fascination. A couple of years ago, someone gave me a new GBR -- 2002ish -- and it was almost enirely free of information. What a travesty. I've ofted toyed with the idea of trying to find a second-hand 1976 edition. Now, instead, I've ordered the GB Animal Facts. Thanks for the tip.

By the way, if you ever feel in need of a good cry, have a look at the GBR web-site:

4:22 AM  

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