Author: Dean R. Lomax, Robert Nicholls
Title: Locked in Time
This time, I have something different for you: a journey through millions of years, full of wonderful, saddening, and/or quite creepy discoveries, and ranging from nearly the beginnings of fossil records to the time of the Ice Age. While probably most of us were at some point in our lives fascinated with dinosaurs, ammonites, mammoths and smilodons, not many chose this childhood fascination as their adult passion. Dean R. Lomax did, and both this fascination, and this passion, are clearly noticeable in his book, which is as entertaining as it is informative.
“Have you heard about the parasitic crustacean that replaces the tongue of its fish host? Yes, you read that correctly. Amazingly, there are many living species of these tiny isopod crustaceans (called cymothoids) that, during their juvenile stage, sneak inside the gills of several types of fish (such as snapper and clown fish). As adults, males stay attached to the gills, whereas the female resides inside the mouth. Once in place, she severs the tongue by cutting off its blood supply before firmly attaching herself to the remaining stub as a functional replacement tongue! Despite losing its tongue to this hijacker, the fish continues to live a pretty normal life, and the parasite grows along with its fishy host, making a home and even starting a family (after mating in the mouth).” (p. 210)
Well, I never said the information included isn’t icky and that it doesn’t freak me out! It is utterly fascinating, nonetheless :D.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to be so beguiled by this book. I was first drawn to it because it promised illustrations of prehistoric animals in unusual situations (and yes, there’s even one memorable illustration of a pooping member of the extinct Borophaginae family, the bone-crushing dogs from North America, and another of a peeing diplodocus – and as a side note, I didn’t know ostriches pee!); I never expected it would rekindle my own fascination with paleontology and fossils. The illustrations by Robert Nicholls are great; they serve as companions to the cases described in the text, and make the accompanying photographs of fossils more evocative and more comprehensible, turning a jumble of bones into a poignant scene from the past. There’s an abundance of both the impeccable, large illustrations (sometimes spanning two pages) and the photographs, and I only regret that I didn’t have the physical book in my hands and had to resort to looking at the pictures on my phone.
But the illustrations are the companion piece; the text is what matters, and this text is both very approachable and easily understandable – clearly directed at the general audience – while remaining scientific. Moreover, it succeeds in imparting highly erudite, often unfamiliar knowledge on laypersons such as me. Lomax is an easy narrator, deftly weaving personal reminiscence and passion among the paleontological facts. It also helps that the facts he chooses are quite astonishing – varying from relatable to unusual or outright unique, from funny to disgusting, from those reminiscent of old tragedies to those showcasing moments of happy tenderness between animals extinct for millions of years.
Of course, with fossils there’s always a lot of room for conjectures and honest mistakes; our beliefs color the facts, especially when the facts are scarce. However, Lomax rarely strays from the path of confirmed, broadly accepted knowledge (at least among paleontologists; I bet many of these little snippets would be new to you!), and Locked in Time remains a scientific book at its heart – while being highly entertaining at the same time. We learn about dinosaur babysitters; fateful fights between a pteranodon and a predatory fish; mammals hunting dinosaurs; dinosaurs with cancer; enormous snakes feasting on tiny sauropod hatchlings; resting and sleeping theropods; evidence of ancient social behavior forever encased in stone; giant burrowing sloths bigger than elephants; even some hair-rising parasites (such as aptly named Xenomorphia resurrecta, a parasitic wasp, whose larvae developed inside fly pupae, eating them alive) and insect farts immortalized in amber. Yes, there is a lot of information about bodily functions of various creatures in this book, clearly certain fascinations stay with some people longer than with others. But, to be fair, you’re bound to get bonus points if you ever use that knowledge in conversations with kids (any kids, really, don’t have to be yours)!
My my, my repertoire of awkward starts to social conversations just got so much bigger! 😀
I had a blast with this book. It’s a wonderful reminder for those who like me had been bitten by the fossil/dinosaur bug in their childhood, but it’s also a great starting point for those who feel that paleontology might be interesting and yet are afraid of the dry scientific language of most adult paleobiology books. Also, if you’re tempted to read more, Locked in Time offers a nice bibliography at the end.
And a last quote, one that very aptly summarizes both the age of life on Earth and our own place within it:
“Before dinosaurs even appeared, trilobites were fossils under their feet.” (p. 110)
I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.