Life in Cold Blood
Frogs and toads, turtles and tortoises, crocodiles and alligators, lizards and snakes. They arose from the first backboned animals on earth three hundred million years ago – long before birds or mammals, even before any flowering plants. Dinosaurs apart, they are the great survivors.
In the world today, as man crowds and denudes the planet and food grows scarcer, they well outlast us. Skin-breathing frogs are threatened by air pollution. But reptiles, deriving most of their energy from the sun and lying low when times are hard, need to eat far less often than do we mammals. They have adopted almost every habitat, and every device for survival, but lie far lighter on the environment.
Yet humans are irrationally prejudiced against them. It is not simply the monkey’s instinctive fear of the snake: ‘cold-blooded’ is a term of dislike – though their blood is not cold at all, merely on occasion cooler than ours. They barely compete with us for food or space. They offer no threat unless trodden on or cornered, and most not even then. (True, crocodiles should be approached with some respect.) The venom of some is simply the most efficient way of subduing their natural food prey. Of all groups, surely the reptiles – so different from ourselves – deserve our better understanding.
- 1 Between Water and the Land
- 2 A Return to the Water
- 3 The Ancient Hunters
- 4 Dragons of the Dry
- 5 Leglessness
- 6 The Cold-blooded Truth
Admirably illustrated, this completes David Attenborough’s great exploration of the world’s main animal groups. He shows us the lives of amphibians and reptiles in all the fascinating detail we have come to expect from him. A treasure trove for everyone – from the child seeing flying dragons or man-eating crocodiles for the first time, to even the professional zoologist realising there is still much to learn.
Professor Philip Rainbow, Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum, London.