Tag Archives: book review

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

I read a wide variety of books over the year mostly from the stacks and bookshelves in my house. “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery was exception, a review I ran across that sounded interesting.

I grew up near the Pacific Ocean and collected shells, studied about shells so the word octopus in the title caught my attention immediately. The subtitle indicating this was more than about the octopus, but about consciousness in all creatures intrigued me.

So many people grow up considering octopuses (that is the correct plural) monsters in a class with bats and snakes. After all, they are so alien with their eight legs, lack of a skeleton and constantly changing colors and shapes. They make wonderful monsters in sea tales.

California beach
People play at the edges of the ocean, but rarely venture into its depths. Being creatures of the land, the ocean is a strange and frightening, even deadly place. The creatures living along the ocean’s edges seem alien. Those of the depths are mistaken for monsters. Some creatures like starfish are so simple they have no real brain. Others like the octopus are far more complex. All seem to have some level of consciousness and ability to learn.

What I wasn’t prepared for is how really alien the truth about octopuses is. “The Soul of an Octopus” reveals them to be highly intelligent.

Science has long dismissed other creatures as having no real consciousness, inferior intelligence and lacking real emotions. Anyone who has raised livestock knows this is false. However, having empirical observations and proof are two different things.

Long ago my family had a cat, Chief Grey Foot, with a sense of humor. She would tease my mother’s Irish Setter Sam and race away with Sam in hot pursuit. Chief would stop, letting Sam roar by, climb the fence and sit there laughing at the dog now frantically looking for her. How do you prove a sense of humor in a lab?

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
“The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery challenges the reader to examine and reassess what consciousness is expanding it to include other creatures.

How do you prove intelligence? My high school gave all students an IQ test at the beginning of the year. It was well known that students in inner cities scored much lower on these tests than those of us in the suburbs.

A group devised an IQ test using vocabulary familiar to those in the inner city. This reversed the results. The IQ test was biased toward those with a certain vocabulary.

How do you test intelligence for a creature far different than a person? A large octopus with a head the size of a watermelon can squeeze through a hole the size of an orange. It sees only black and white with its eyes and colors with its skin. It tastes with the suction cups on its arms. An octopus’ reality is the ocean, not land.

Reading “The Soul of an Octopus” has made me rethink both “The Carduan Chronicles” and the Planet Autumn series I am working on. How do I, a human, put myself into the consciousness and reality of alien creatures?

Challenge your long held beliefs about consciousness and read “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery.

America’s Snake: Timber Rattlesnakes

On my way to town one day I topped the rise out of the creek valley to find a car backing up swerving all over the road. The driver stopped and said he was after a cottonmouth.

What the driver had seen was a black rat snake.

After reading “America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake” by Ted Levin, this driver is in the majority.

timber rattlesnakes book

This book on timber rattlesnakes is an excellent book. It is thorough but understandable.

I will admit snakes are not my favorite animals. They are not cute. They are not cuddly. What they are is useful.

In spite of this people seek out and kill snakes especially venomous ones like timber rattlesnakes. They make up lies to justify the slaughter.

These shy retiring snakes don’t seek out people to bite. People are too big to eat, the primary purpose of their venom. It takes food and energy to produce venom and the snakes don’t want to waste it.

Timber rattlesnakes can control whether or not they use venom so almost a quarter of bites are dry, or have no venom involved. What is crazy is more than a quarter of all timber rattlesnake bites involve someone, usually male, who has been drinking, goes looking for and aggravates a snake, even picking it up and kissing it!

timber rattlesnakes drawings

Drawings are throughout the book. They are detailed and very nice. They show the various aspects of timber rattlesnakes being discussed in the text.

The book is heavy going in some places. It is not technical but does go into the venom, the anatomy and the life cycles of timber rattlesnakes. It centers on the snakes of New England especially Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York as the author lives in Vermont and is most familiar with that area.

The parts of the book involving the people studying timber rattlesnakes were interesting. Levin’s descriptions of the woods and talus slopes where the snakes live can be beautiful.

One part really caught my interest. Lyme disease is a hot item. I know someone who lives with it as it is not always treatable.

Many people believe deer are the problem as so-called deer ticks really black-legged ticks carry the parasite. The true problems are mice and shrews, favorite hosts of these ticks and carriers of the parasite.

Guess what timber rattlesnakes eat? Guess what black rat snakes eat?

timber rattlesnakes group

Timber rattlesnakes like forming social groups. Many times the group is made up of siblings both male and female.

In the Middle Ages cats were condemned as witches’ familiars and killed. The result was a population explosion of mice and rats carrying the Black Plague.

The Ozarks has had a bumper crop of seeds and acorns this year. Next year will see a bumper crop of mice, chipmunks, shrews and other Lyme disease carriers.

A town in New England has timber rattlesnake dens near it and a Lyme disease prevalence of about 13 per 100,000 people in a year. The nearby town that killed off all its rattlesnakes has 129 cases in a year.

You don’t have to like snakes to appreciate their help. All you have to do is stop killing them so they can give their help.