I found the book Civilization and the Limpet at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. It was an especially good day in the science section there because there were a bunch of Stephen Jay Gould books, Richard Dawkins books, and this one. I picked up a bunch but this is the first that I’ve delved into, naturally.
It’s so great! The writer is super charming, and although the book starts with a chapter on urchins, it gets to limpets quite quickly. The first chapter is about how soft-bodied animals can’t know where their bodies are (our brains can process that information because it’s way more finite, since we have a finite number of joints, and they only have so much freedom of movement), and it makes navigating and manipulating the world difficult.
Thus we have two qualitatively different sorts of animal, both successful, but only one capable of manipulating its environment in a manner that has led to computers and the atom bomb. We think that this, our, sort of animal is more successful than the others, which are forever cut off from the possibility of such clever inventions. Yet we are both here in our millions, and only one of us is bashing the ozone layer.
Reflect on this next time that you meet a limpet.
The second chapter gets into sex, and it too is just so great.
Most set up as males as soon as they are old enough to be troubled by maturity This is no big deal. A sexually mature limpet sit, as is the way of limpets, and does nothing, most of the time. Not for him the pursuit of nubile lady limpets. No panting scramble across the rocks, no tiny molluscan feet touching as if by magic. A limpet has nothing, or next to nothing, to fantasize about. It develops sperm at an appropriate time of year, triggered perhaps by rising temperatures and high tides, it tosses the lot off into the sea and lets the little beggars get on with it, no doubt heaving a sigh of relief that it is now all over for another year, so it can settle down to serious matters such as feeding and digestion–a vintage year for algae one can always hope–and growth.
It continues to discuss how limpets change sex over the course of their lives (I’m sure I’ll devote more blog space to that phenomenon in the future, as the complicated sex of lots of animals is a particular pet topic of mine), as is the way of some mollusks, and it continues to charm and delight me. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this book!
Speaking of urchins and limpets, I also stumbled upon a crochet pattern yesterday, called, amazingly, Urchins and Limpets.
The neutral colored motifs are supposed to be the urchins, and the brightly colored motifs are supposed to be the limpets. I would love to crochet this (when I finish the other two gift blanket projects I’m working on) but I’d have the urchin motifs in an appropriate purple, and the limpets in appropriate limpet colors, like so:
The urchin photo (the purple is hard to see but I love their little hidey holes!) is one I took at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, one of my favorite places on the planet, and a great place for finding mollusks (including nudibranchs on a good day!)
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