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Nursery Earth

The Wondrous Lives of Baby Animals and the Extraordinary Ways They Shape Our World

By Danna Staaf

Foreword by Richard Strathmann

In the animal kingdom, surviving to adulthood is hardly child’s play. Enter the perilous world of animal babies, where Mother Nature is at her most ingenious—and biologists keep finding fresh surprises.

It’s time to pay attention to baby animals. From egg to tadpole, chick to fledgling, they offer scientists a window into questions of immense importance: How do genes influence health? Which environmental factors support—or obstruct—life? Entire ecosystems rest on the shoulders (or tentacles, or jointed exoskeletons) of animal babies. At any given moment, babies represent the majority of animal life on Earth.

In Nursery Earth, researcher Danna Staaf invites readers into the sibling (and, sometimes, clashing) fields of ecology and developmental biology. The tiny, hidden lives that these scientists study in the lab and in the wild reveal some of nature’s strangest workings: A salamander embryo breathes with the help of algae inside its cells. The young grub of a Goliath beetle dwarfs its parents. The spotted beak of a parasitic baby bird tricks adults of other species into feeding it. Mouse embryos can absorb cancerous cell grafts—and develop into healthy adults.

Our bias toward adult animals (not least because babies can be hard to find) means these wonders have long gone under-researched. But for all kinds of animals, if we overlook their babies, we miss out on the most fascinating—and consequential—time in the lives of their species. Nursery Earth makes the case that these young creatures are not just beings in progress but beings in their own right. And our planet needs them all: the maggots as much as the kittens!

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Meet the Authors
Danna Staaf headshot

Danna Staaf

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Richard Strathmann

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Review quotes
“Some animal babies are really cute (kittens), and some are a bit horrifying (larval parasites), but this book shows how all are incredibly interesting. Packed with the fascinating and the fantastic, Nursery Earth is a surprising page-turner, as hard to put down as a new puppy.”—Carl Safina, New York Times–bestselling author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

“I can’t count the number of times the word wow crossed my lips as I eagerly turned to the next page of Nursery Earth. If you’ve ever wondered how nature works, Staaf shows us why you’d best not ignore the beginnings. This book is the finest kind of science writing: heartwarming and perspective-shifting!”—Juli Berwald, author of Spineless and Life on the Rocks

Praise for Monarchs of the Sea

“Cephs rule! [Monarchs of the Sea], like its protagonists, is nimble, fast, surprising, smart, and weird in the very coolest sense of the word. What could be more fun than jetting back in time to primordial seas with the monsters who really ruled our planet? In these pages, Danna Staaf makes every dino-lover and every undersea adventurer’s dream come true. It’s a fabulous read with squishy, slimy delight on every page.”—Sy Montgomery, New York Times–bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus

“This crystal-clear book will open your world to wider horizons and much deeper times. . . . Long before vertebrates evolved anything like higher intelligence, squids and octopuses were on a separate track to versatility, problem-solving, individual recognition, and deceit. Before we can know who we are, we must know who we are here with, and who has come before us.”—Carl Safina,New York Times–bestselling author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

“I loved this book. . . . Staaf’s approach is short and sweet, well-illustrated, and strong on playful narrative.”—Nature

“It is a treat to come across a writer with such specialized training who is able to turn esoteric knowledge into a page-turning read for all audiences. . . . Staaf captures what is rarely seen outside the ivory tower: scientists talking among themselves with a touch of irreverence. Researchers everywhere will surely relate.”—Science

“This engaging book may do for early cephalopods what paleontologists did for dinosaurs in the 1960s: spark a public renaissance of appreciation for these magnificent creatures who once ruled the seas.”—Jennifer Ouellette, author of Me, Myself, and Why and The Calculus Diaries

“Intriguing . . . This in-depth coverage of an often neglected but ecologically vital group will change your view of squid, octopuses, and their relatives.”—New Scientist

“A book like [Monarchs of the Sea] is a reminder that in any scientific narrative, there are always two stories at play. There is the history of the subject you’re studying, and then there is the history of its discovery.”—New Republic

“Fiendishly readable.”—The Inquisitive Biologist

“Fresh and fascinating.”—The Times Literary Supplement

Product Details
Number of pages
Publication date
June 06, 2023