The Truth About Animals

Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife


By Lucy Cooke

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Mary Roach meets Bill Bryson in this "surefire summer winner" (Janet Maslin, New York Times), an uproarious tour of the basest instincts and biggest mysteries of the animal world

Humans have gone to the Moon and discovered the Higgs boson, but when it comes to understanding animals, we've still got a long way to go. Whether we're seeing a viral video of romping baby pandas or a picture of penguins "holding hands," it's hard for us not to project our own values — innocence, fidelity, temperance, hard work — onto animals. So you've probably never considered if moose get drunk, penguins cheat on their mates, or worker ants lay about. They do — and that's just for starters. In The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke takes us on a worldwide journey to meet everyone from a Colombian hippo castrator to a Chinese panda porn peddler, all to lay bare the secret — and often hilarious — habits of the animal kingdom. Charming and at times downright weird, this modern bestiary is perfect for anyone who has ever suspected that virtue might be unnatural.



“How can sloths exist when they’re such losers?”

As a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society I get asked this question a lot. Sometimes “losers” is further defined—“lazy,” “stupid” and “slow” being perennial favorites. And sometimes the query is paired with the rider—“I thought evolution was all about survival of the fittest”—delivered with an air of bemusement or, worse, a whiff of superior species smugness.

Sloths are, in fact, one of natural selection’s quirkiest creations, and fabulously successful to boot. Skulking about the treetops barely quicker than a snail, and being covered in algae, infested with insects and defecating just once a week might not be your idea of aspirational living, but then you’re not trying to survive in the highly competitive jungles of Central and South America—something the sloth is very good at.

The reputation of the sloth was sufficiently besmirched that I felt compelled to found the Sloth Appreciation Society. (Our motto: “Being fast is overrated.”) I gave a talk on the unexpected truth about this much maligned creature to festivals and schools. This book grew out of those talks and the need to set the record straight—not just for the sloth, but for other animals as well.

When seeking to understand animals, context is key. We have a habit of viewing the animal kingdom through the prism of our own, rather narrow, existence. The sloth’s arboreal lifestyle is sufficiently extraterrestrial to make it one of the world’s most misunderstood creatures, but it is by no means alone in this category. Life takes a glorious myriad of alien forms, and even the simplest require complex understanding.

I love sloths. What’s not to like about an animal born with a fixed grin on its face and the desire to hug.

Evolution has played some splendid practical jokes by fashioning implausible creatures with an absence of logic and precious few clues to explain itself. Mammals like the bat that want to be birds. Birds like the penguin that want to be fish. And fish like the eel, whose enigmatic life cycle sparked a two-thousand-year search for its missing gonads. Animals do not give up their secrets easily.

CONSIDER THE OSTRICH. In February 1681, the brilliant British polymath Sir Thomas Browne wrote a letter to his son Edward, a physician at the royal court, requesting a rather unusual favor. Edward had come into possession of an ostrich, one of a flock donated to King Charles II by the king of Morocco. Sir Thomas, a keen naturalist, was fascinated by this big foreign bird and eager that his son send him news of its habits. Does the bird sleep with its head under its wing? Is it vigilant like a goose? Does it delight in sorrel but recoil from bay leaves? And does it eat iron? This final query, he suggested helpfully to his son, might be best uncovered by wrapping the metal first in pastry since “perhaps it will not take it up alone.”

Browne wanted to test an ancient myth that ostriches were capable of digesting absolutely anything, even iron. According to the medieval German scholar Sebastian Müenster, the ostrich’s taste for the strong stuff was such that the bird’s dinner “consists of a church-door key and a horse shoe.” As ostriches were bestowed on the courts of Europe by the emirs and explorers of Africa, generations of enthusiastic natural philosophers encouraged the foreign fowl to consume scissors, nails and a glut of other ironworks.

On the surface this experimentation appears to be lunacy, yet dig a little deeper and there is a (scientific) method to the madness. Ostriches can’t digest iron, but they have been observed swallowing large, sharp stones. Why? The world’s biggest bird has evolved into a rather unusual grazing animal, whose usual diet of grasses and shrubs is tough to digest. And unlike their fellow plant munchers from the African plains, the giraffe and antelope, ostriches lack a ruminating stomach. They don’t even have teeth. Instead, they must tear the fibrous grasses from the ground with their beak and swallow them whole. They employ the quarry of jagged rocks in their muscular gizzard to do the job of grinding down this stringy dinner into more digestible pieces. They can clunk around the savannah with up to a kilogram of stones in their stomach. (Scientists fancy this up and call them gastroliths.)

Again, understanding the ostrich is about context. But so too we must understand the context of the scientists who have been prodding and poking for the truth about animals for centuries. As such, Browne is just one of a great cast of idiosyncratic obsessives. There’s the seventeenth-century physician who tried to spontaneously generate toads by placing a duck on a dung heap (an old recipe for creating life). There’s also an Italian Catholic priest who wielded a mean pair of scissors in the name of science, whether tailoring tiny, bespoke underpants for his animal subjects or removing their ears.

Scientists in more recent times have also chosen to pursue bizarre, and often misguided, methods in their search for truth—like Ronald K. Siegel, the twentieth-century American psychopharmacologist whose curiosity compelled him to get a herd of elephants very drunk indeed, with suitably demented results. Every century has its eccentric animal experimenters, and there will no doubt be many more to come. We humans may have split the atom, conquered the moon and tracked down the Higgs boson, but when it comes to understanding animals we still have a long way to go.

I’m fascinated by the mistakes we’ve made along the way and the myths we’ve created to fill in the gaps in our understanding. They reveal much about the mechanics of discovery and the people doing the discovering.

I’ve found that taking a dissecting knife to our greatest animal myths often exposes a charming logic, transporting us to times of wondrous naivety, when little was known and anything was possible. Why on earth wouldn’t birds migrate to the moon, hyenas switch sex with the season and eels spontaneously generate out of mud? Especially when the truth is no less incredible.

I STUDIED ZOOLOGY in the early 1990s at New College, Oxford under the great evolutionary biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins and was taught a method of thinking about the world based upon the genetic relationships among species—how their degree of relatedness influences their behavior. Some of what I was taught has already been surpassed by recent advancements, which show that the way in which a genome is read at a cellular level is at least as important as its content (which is how we can share 70 percent of our DNA with an acorn worm and yet be so much more fun at a dinner party). Each generation—mine included—thinks it knows more about animals than its predecessors, yet we’re still often wrong. Much of zoology is little more than educated guesswork.

With modern technology we are getting better at our guessing. As a producer and presenter of natural history documentaries, I’ve traveled the world and gained privileged access to some of the most dedicated scientists battling for truth at the front line of discovery. I’ve met an animal IQ tester in the Maasai Mara, a peddler of panda porn in China, the English inventor behind a sloth “bum-o-meter” and the Scottish author of the world’s first chimpanzee dictionary. I have chased after drunk moose, nibbled beaver “testicles,” savored amphibian aphrodisiacs, jumped off a cliff to fly with vultures and attempted to speak a few words of hippo. These experiences have opened my eyes to many surprising realities about animals and the progress of animal science. This book is my effort to share these revelations with you, and to rebrand the animal kingdom with fact, not fiction. I have gathered together the biggest misconceptions, mistakes and myths we’ve concocted about the animal kingdom, whether the purveyor was the great philosopher Aristotle or the Hollywood descendants of Walt Disney, and create my very own menagerie of the misunderstood. Open your mind to their incredible tales and get ready to discover the truth about animals.


Genus Anguilla

There is no animal concerning whose origin and existence there is such a number of false beliefs and ridiculous fables.

—Leopold Jacoby, “The Eel Question,” 1879

Aristotle was obsessed with eel genitals. He may have been the first true scientist and the father of zoology, and he certainly made acute scientific observations about hundreds of creatures, but he was outfoxed by eels. No matter how many the great Greek thinker sliced open, he could find no trace of their sex. Every other fish he’d examined on his island laboratory of Lesbos had easily detectable (and often quite delectable) eggs and conspicuous, albeit internal, testicles. But the eel appeared to be entirely sexless.

When Aristotle came to writing about this slimy enigma in his pioneering animal almanac in the fourth century BC, he was forced to conclude that the eel “proceeds neither from pair, nor from an egg” but was instead born of the “earth’s guts”—that is, it spontaneously emerged from mud; he thought the worm casts we see in wet sand were embryonic eels boiling out of the ground. He folded the origins of the eel into his theory of spontaneous generation, which he applied liberally to an eclectic collection of critters—from flies to frogs—whose proliferation seemed inexplicable.

According to Aristotle’s Historia Animalium, certain lower animals “are not produced from animals at all, but arise spontaneously: some are produced out of the dew which falls on foliage… others are produced in putrefying mud and dung, others in wood, green or dry, others in excrement whether voided or still within the living animal.”

Aristotle’s theory is bizarre, but no more so than the truth. These slippery characters keep their secrets especially well hidden. The so-called common freshwater eel, Anguilla anguilla, starts its life as an egg suspended in the depths of an underwater forest in the Sargasso Sea, the deepest, saltiest slice of the North Atlantic. As a wisp of life no bigger than a grain of rice, it embarks on an odyssey to the rivers of Europe lasting up to three years, during which it undergoes a transformation as radical as a mouse turning into a moose. It then spends decades living in the mud and fattening itself up only so it can repeat the grueling nearly four-thousand-mile journey back to its obscure oceanic womb, where it spawns in the shadowy recesses of the continental shelf and then dies.

THE FACT THAT the eel doesn’t become sexually mature until the very tail end of its long, peculiar life, after its fourth, and final, metamorphosis, has helped to obscure its origins and bestowed it with a mythical status. Over the centuries, unraveling the mystery has pitted nations against each other, driven man to the remotest reaches of the seas and tormented an eclectic cast of eel enthusiasts including obsessive gonad hunters, gun-toting fishermen, the world’s most famous psychoanalyst—and me.

As a child, I too was rather obsessed with eels. When I was about seven, my father sunk an old Victorian bathtub in the garden, and converting this sterile vessel designed for human ablution into the perfect pond ecosystem became my principle pastime. Every Sunday my dad would accompany me to the ditches of Romney Marsh, a wetland in the South of England close to my hometown of Rye. There I would spend happy hours trawling for any form of life with an improvised underwater animal trap he’d fashioned for me out of a pair of old net curtains. At the end of the day we’d return triumphant, heady with the zeal of Victorian explorers, our underwater booty sloshing around in the back of his aged mini pickup, ready to be identified and introduced to my watery kingdom. The animals came two by two: marsh frogs, smooth newts, sticklebacks, whirligig beetles and pond skaters all joined the party in my bath. But no eels. My trusty net collected them, but attempting to transfer their slimy bodies into the bucket was like trying to hold on to water. Every time I grabbed one, it’d escape, slithering off to safety overland—more like a snake than a fish out of water. Catching one became my holy grail.

What I didn’t know was that, if I had succeeded in my mission, the eels would have brought an end to my pleasant pond party by eating all the other guests. Eels spend the freshwater phase of their life like extreme prizefighters bulking themselves up for a championship bout in preparation for the long swim back to the Sargasso to breed. To achieve this, they will eat anything that moves—including each other.

Their rapacious appetite was exposed in a gruesome experiment conducted by a pair of French scientists in Paris in the late 1930s. The researchers placed a thousand elvers—young eels, about three inches long—in a tank of water. The fish were fed daily, but even so, a year later there were only seventy-one eels left, now three times as long. Another three months on, after what a local journalist reported as “daily scenes of cannibalism,” one champion was left: a female measuring a foot in length. She lived four more years all on her own, until she was accidentally bumped off by the Nazis, who inadvertently cut off her supply of worms during their occupation of Paris.

This horror story would have shocked past generations of naturalists who believed the eel to be a benign vegetarian with a particular weakness for peas—they were said to leave their watery world and seek out their favorite juicy legumes on land. Such accounts came courtesy of the thirteenth-century Dominican monk Albertus Magnus, who, in his book De Animalibus, noted: “The eel also comes out of the water in the night time where he can find pease, beans, and lentils.”

The eel’s hippie diet was still in currency in 1893, when The History of Scandinavian Fishes embellished the monk’s “observations” with delicious sound effects. The eels that invaded the Countess Hamilton’s estate gobbled up her legumes “with a smacking sound, like that made by sucking pigs when they are feeding.” Though perhaps lacking the requisite manners, the dowager’s eels were a suitably discerning school that “only [ate] the outer soft and juicy skin surrounding the pods” and discarded the rest. While it’s true that eels can survive for a remarkable forty-eight hours out of water, thanks to their slimy, breathable skin—an adaptation that allows them to pond-hop in search of water in times of drought—reports of their lip-smacking, pea-stealing antics were quite delusional.

While the eel’s greedy freshwater years lead to an impressive increase in size, the great Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder’s assertion, made in his epic tome, Naturalis Historia, that eels from the river Ganges grew to be “thirty feet long” was a cocky overstatement even in this well-worn genre of lies.

Izaak Walton, author of a seventeenth-century fishing bible The Compleat Angler, showed a bit more restraint when describing an eel caught in the river Nene of east England that he claimed “was a yard and three quarters long.” Walton was keen to fend off any doubters, adding, perhaps a little too quickly: “If you will not believe me, then go and see it at one of the coffee-houses in King street Westminster” (where it was no doubt happily sipping cappuccinos and regaling customers with stories of its youthful adventures at sea).

More measured measurements come from Dr. Jorgen Nielsen of the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen, who had examined the corpse of an eel from a rural pond in Denmark. He told Tom Fort, author of The Book of Eels, that the prizewinning specimen punched in at just over four feet. Unfortunately, the slippery monster had met an untimely death when the pond’s owner caught it menacing his beloved ornamental waterfowl and came at it with his shovel.

The eels I caught were not much more than the length and thickness of a pencil. They were no doubt nearer the start of their freshwater life, which can last anything from six to thirty years. Some eels have been known to live much longer. A Swedish specimen nicknamed Putte, caught as an elver near Helsingborg in 1863 and kept in a local aquarium, passed away aged eighty-eight. Her death was mourned with extensive media coverage, her record-breaking age having afforded her the kind of celebrity status not normally available to a long, slimy fish.

The eel in Adriaen Coenen’s almanac of fish (1577) is a veritable monster that measures a whopping “40 feet” long (having grown a further ten feet since being described by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder).

Such aged eels have invariably been denied their natural instinct to migrate back to the sea by being kept captive, often as pets. An eel may seem an unconventional choice for an animal companion—not a lot of fun to be had in the snuggling department—but the Roman orator Quintus Hortensius was said to weep at the death of his, “which he kept long, and loved exceedingly.”

THE EEL’S FRESHWATER EXISTENCE may be long and gluttonous, but it is just one of the fish’s many lives, albeit the only one obvious to me and countless other naturalists over the centuries. It gives no clues about the rest of its life cycle—its birth, reproduction and death, which are shrouded by the sea—spawning an intense international quest, lasting some two thousand years, to locate the eel’s missing gonads.

Aristotle was one of the first to be stymied by the genesis of this apparently sexless fish, but he was hardly alone. Several hundred years later Pliny the Elder trialed his own imaginative ideas about eel propagation by proposing that they reproduced by rubbing themselves against rocks: “the scrapings come to life.” Hoping to have the last word on the matter, the Roman naturalist concluded with an authoritative flourish: “This is the only way they breed.” Alas, Pliny’s asexual friction was nothing but fiction.

Fantastic rumors of the eel’s reproduction bred like rabbits over the ensuing centuries. Eels were said to emerge from the gills of other fishes, from sweet morning dew (but only during certain months) and from enigmatic “electrical disturbances.” One mysterious “reverend bishop” told the Royal Society he had seen young eels that had been born on the thatching of a roof. The eggs, he claimed, had been stuck to the thatching reeds and incubated by the heat of the sun.

Not all ecclesiastical naturalists were so open-minded about such fishy tales. In his History of the Worthies of England, Thomas Fuller poured scorn on the belief widely held in the fenlands of Cambridgeshire that the illicit wives and bastard children of priests were saved from damnation by taking the form of an eel. “No doubt the first founder of so damnable an untruth hath long since received his reward,” he said.

The scientific geniuses of the Enlightenment swept aside such fanciful fables with significantly less silly—but no more accurate—theories of their own. In 1692, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the Dutch pioneer of microscopic worlds who discovered both bacteria and blood cells, erred towards credibility with his hypothesis that eels, like mammals, were viviparous, that is, their eggs were fertilized internally, with the females giving birth to live young. Van Leeuwenhoek at least embraced contemporary scientific method by basing his supposition on actual observations. He had stared down his magnifying lens and watched what appeared to be baby eels in what he assumed was the fish’s uterus. Unfortunately, these were actually parasitic worms squatting in the eel’s bladder, and had in fact been observed and dismissed as such by Aristotle nearly two thousand years before.

The eighteenth-century Swedish botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus also said that eels were viviparous, claiming to have seen what he believed to be baby eels inside an adult female. Surely no one would argue with the great father of taxonomy—a man so pedantic he even latinized his own name. But the awkward truth was that Linnaeus hadn’t actually dissected an eel but an eel imposter, a similar-looking beast now known as the eelpout—an unusually viviparous yet altogether unrelated species of fish. Which is not to say his critics had their facts any straighter. One authority who reviewed Linnaeus’s work took him to task for a case of mistaken identity—but, influenced by Aristotle, proclaimed the young eels discovered by the Swede to be parasitic worms, sending the live-birth doctrine into a vortex of inaccuracy and confusion.

Into this lofty academic fray stepped a plucky outsider. In 1862, a Scotsman by the name of David Cairncross announced to the world that he, a humble factory engineer from Dundee, had finally solved the riddle of the eel. “The reader may at once be informed that… the progenitor of the silver eel is a small beetle.” His enthusiastic, if scientifically baffling, theory—the product of sixty years of ongoing experiments, by his own reckoning—took the form of a short book, The Origin of the Silver Eel.

Cairncross began his treatise with an apology for his lack of any interest in learning the rules and norms of contemporary science. “I could not be expected to be acquainted with the names and terms used by naturalists in their classifications of the different animals, my knowledge of such books being limited,” he noted. His unconventional but highly convenient solution was to “employ names and terms of my own,” which included a reimagining of animal classification into three nonsensical classes that would have made the great Linnaeus turn in his grave.

Cairncross’s story begins at the tender age of ten, when the curious lad observed a number of “hair eels” (his term) in an open drain. “Where can they come from?” he wondered. A friend related to him a common folk belief that young eels “fall from the tails of the horses while drinking; and the water brings them to life.” The young Cairncross scoffed at this highly improbable explanation, before conjuring up his own, equally implausible idea inspired by a number of dead beetles languishing in the bottom of the same drain. Maybe the two animals were connected?

This drain-based miniature drama haunted the Scot for two decades. Then one summer, the adult Cairncross spotted a familiar-looking beetle in his garden in Dundee. He watched it intently, attempting to read its thoughts as it walked with determination towards a puddle and plunged in. The beetle, he reported, then “looks about a bit” before exiting its bath “in a very troubled state.” How Cairncross arrived at his diagnosis of the beetle’s mental state is not known. But the book’s only illustration provides the reader with valuable assistance in comprehending the insect’s next extraordinary move: entitled “the beetle in the act of parturition,” it shows Cairncross’s unlikely hero lying on its back with what appears to be a pair of lassoes emerging from its backside. The beetle, according to the Scotsman, was giving birth to two fish.

This was the eureka moment for Cairncross. He now dedicated himself to furthering his investigation by cutting open beetles, removing “hair eels” and keeping them alive for various, albeit rather limited, periods of time. He freely admitted that his theory “may seem strange” but reassured himself by looking at the behavior of “members of the vegetable kingdom.” If one species of tree can be grafted onto another, “Could not therefore the Great Creating Gardener graft a foreign nature on that of an insect?”

Just in case you had any problems visualizing how a beetle might give birth to a pair of eels, The Origin of the Silver Eel included this charming illustration in an attempt to authenticate the author’s wild claims. Nice try, Cairncross, but I’m still not convinced.

All manner of Frankenstein animals have been conceived in modern labs: human ears have been grafted onto mice and glow-in-the-dark fish have been created with a judicious sprinkling of jellyfish genes. But the “Great Creating Gardener” had no hand in planting them.

Had Cairncross posed his question to the scholarly community, they would have declared that his “hair eels” were yet another case of pesky parasitic worms and not the fish in an early stage of development. But the factory manager knew not of peer review. He presented his exceptional findings not to the Royal Society for serious scrutiny, but instead to a pair of farmers he bumped into one day who were perplexed by the quantities of silver eel in a ditch on their land. So he explained his theory that this profusion of eels had emerged from a beetle’s bum. “They believed me,” he announced with pride, “and rejoiced in the solution of the mystery.”

BEAVERING AWAY IN intellectual isolation for sixty-odd years, Cairncross was unaware of the radical progress being made in the hunt for the fish’s gonads. Far from Dundee, Europe’s scientific intelligentsia were gripped by “the eel question,” and they were about to reach a climax—of sorts.

Leading the charge were the Italians, who embraced the quest to locate the eel’s missing sex organs as an unlikely source of civic pride for their troubled nation. Early modern Italy was a divided mess, with huge swathes dominated by a succession of warring foreign powers and its many independent states far from unified.


  • On the New York Times Book Review's Paperback Row
  • One of the New York Times Book Review's "17 Refreshing Books to Read This Summer"
  • "Her pace is quick, her touch is light, and through her wealth of research we can reach new heights of wonder."—New York Times Book Review
  • "Funny and fascinating, this book will change the way you see wildlife."—Bustle
  • "A surefire summer winner...even Cooke's simple facts are funny."—New York Times Book Review
  • "Endlessly fascinating."—Bill Bryson, author of A Walk in the Woods, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and In a Sunburned Country
  • "Lucy Cooke's modern bestiary is as well-informed as you'd expect from an Oxford zoologist. It's also downright funny."—Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, The Selfish Gene, and The Ancestor's Tale, and emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford
  • "Cooke, founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, raises the profile of many poorly understood animals, revealing surprising, and often hilarious, truths that are much better than the fictions."—Scientific American
  • "[A] deeply researched, sassily written history of 'the biggest misconceptions, mistakes and myths we've concocted about the animal kingdom,' spread by figures from Aristotle to Walt Disney." —Nature
  • "Cooke's extensive travels, research and delightful sense of humor make The Truth about Animals a fascinating modern bestiary."—Seattle Times
  • "In the end, the history of zoology reveals as much about our human foibles as about the animals we study. And this book will leave readers more enlightened about both."—Science News
  • "Lucy Cooke's new book makes Playboy seem as tedious and tame as a phone book...In her delightful reading of natural history, [Cooke] is both scientist and standup comic...Trained as an academic, Cooke's writing style is anything but--rather, it's bawdy, irreverent, guiltless, sometimes locker-room-ish and comedic. She makes you feel she's having fun as she pounds out the words...The Truth About Animals is a great read and fascinating fun."—Winnipeg Free Press
  • "Lucy Cooke takes equal delight in natural oddities and in people's long struggles to understand them. Part history, part biology, and wholly entertaining, The Truth About Animals is a quirky and edifying romp."—Thor Hanson, author of Buzz, Feathers, and The Triumph of Seeds
  • "[An] intriguing and amusing survey of some unusual facets of animal behavior...Cooke puts scientific errors, some of them hilarious, into historical context."—Booklist
  • "[A] lighthearted but scientifically rigorous exploration...A pleasure for the budding naturalist in the family--or fans of Gerald Durrell and other animals."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Readers keen on animals and natural history in general should find Cooke's discussion fascinating and educational."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Lucy Cooke's [The Truth About Animals] was a joy from beginning to end. Who could resist a writer who argues that penguins have been pulling the wool over our eyes for years, and that, far from being cute and gregarious, they are actually pathologically unpleasant necrophiliacs?"—The Guardian (UK)
  • "Each of Cooke's thirteen breezy yet fact-stuffed chapters traces the origins of a long-standing myth about a species or class of animal."—Times Literary Supplement (UK)
  • "The eclectic stories come thick and fast, with an equally varied human cast dedicated to uncovering the truth, scientifically or otherwise. Cooke illuminates and mickey-takes in equal measure, and the truth as she tells it is not only unexpected but often bizarre, bawdy and very, very funny. "—BBC Wildlife (UK)
  • ​"As surprising as it is diverse. Consummate natural history writing: illuminating, remarkable - and very, very funny."—Alice Roberts, author of The Complete Human Body and The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being
  • "The rising star of natural history ... is she the new David Attenborough?"—The Times (UK)
  • "TOP AUTUMN BOOK PICKS: Lucy Cooke's fascinating book is full of mind-boggling stuff. Cooke takes much pleasure in throwing in all manner of amazing facts."—Reader's Digest (UK)
  • "A riot of facts....Cooke scores a series of goals with style and panache."—The Times (UK)
  • "Beautifully written, meticulously researched, with the science often couched in outrageous asides, this is a splendid read. In fact, I cannot remember when I last enjoyed a non-fiction work so much."—Daily Express (UK)
  • "Lucy Cooke unravels myths that will make you laugh out loud. Her knowledge of all things, furry, slimy and scaly is jaw-dropping."—The Sun (UK)
  • "BOOK OF THE WEEK: Highly amusing and enlightening new book [from] brilliant zoologist Lucy Cooke."—The Idler (UK)

On Sale
Apr 30, 2019
Page Count
352 pages
Basic Books

Lucy Cooke

About the Author

Lucy Cooke is the author of The Truth About Animals, which was short-listed for the Royal Society Prize, and the New York Times bestselling A Little Book of Sloth. She is a National Geographic explorer, TED talker, and award-winning documentary filmmaker with a master’s degree in zoology from Oxford University. She lives in Hastings, England. 

Learn more about this author