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Super Crocs & Monster Wings: Modern Animals’ Ancient Past

by Claire Eamer

Yukon writer Claire Eamer raises two questions here for young readers: First, what did the extinct ancestors of today’s animals look like? Second, what forces of nature have conspired over time to make some creatures look as they do today? The answers to these questions form the basis for Eamer’s excellent book, one that will delight any young reader interested in evolution, palaeontology, and geology.

In 96 brilliantly illustrated pages, Eamer covers a wide range of transformations. The information is well organized: after a comprehensive introductory chapter that establishes the book’s evolutionary framework and defines basic terms and concepts, Eamer devotes a chapter to each of her six selected species – the dragonfly, armadillo, camel, beaver, crocodile, and sloth – and concludes with a final chapter of speculation about the future of animal evolution. There’s also a bibliography, a comprehensive index, and a useful section on recommended further reading.

Along the way, Eamer provides excellent descriptions of key aspects of the scientific and scholarly underpinnings of her subject, such as the timelines geologists use, research techniques in palaeontology, and a discussion of various scientific hypotheses about what triggered mass extinctions. As well, Eamer provides lively “Fun Facts” for each of the species she examines, including interesting tidbits on animal physiology, population, and interaction with humans. (Did you know, for example, that beavers produce a substance in their scent glands called castoreum that was once used for headaches and fevers?)

About the only criticism that could be levelled at Super Crocs & Monster Wings is that it’s too short: the book barely scratches the surface of a complex, entertaining subject. On the bright side, perhaps young readers can hope for a sequel.