Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Spirals in Time: the Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen Scales

I've been fascinated by shells since childhood when I memorized a lot of Latin names for the various classes of mollusks. But when I began to read Spirals in Time, I discovered how much more there was to learn.

Enthusiasts have collected shells for several centuries and there have even been speculators betting on the value of rare shells. So it is surprising that much remained to be discovered since my childhood. There are almost microscopic snails called sea butterflies that swim the open ocean and are preyed on by sea angels. There is the Noble Pen Shell, a sort of mussel that anchors itself with a golden thread that can be spun into sea silk. There are cone snails that hunt fish and create marvelous drugs for their fishing harpoons. There is the octopus that clutches a paper-thin argonaut shell – the book has a wonderful photo of that animal. And unfortunately, there is also growing concern that as carbon dioxide increases and the seas become more acidic, the shell makers will no longer be able to build their intricate shelters.

If you want to see more of the shells Spirals in Time tells about, Guide to Seashells of the World by A. P. H. Oliver can help. For a different look at a biological artifact, try Feathers: the Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

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