I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember and I once had a half-baked ambition of being an illustrator, which I quickly discarded when I discovered biology. That never stopped me doodling though.
Someone who noticed this was Ross Piper, a lab-mate during my doctoral degree at the University of Leeds. Years after I left Leeds, Ross contacted me out of the blue and asked me to do the pictures for his forthcoming book Extraordinary Animals.
And so, in late 2006 and early 2007 I almost drove myself crazy with an illustration job of epic proportions. Ross needed 120 black-and-white images of strange creatures, to be rendered in a pointilist style.
Somewhat foolishly I agreed without realising the scale of the task. As the deadline loomed and I raced to meet it, there were many moments where I thought the book had me beaten.
I was doing a full-time job and working on the pictures before my breakfast in the morning and then late into the night for what seemed like eternity. I was staring so closely at a pages filled with tiny black dots that my brain began to invent patches of colour.
It was a crazy time but in the end I made it and I’m really pleased with how they turned out. Here then are some of the 120 pictures I did for the book.
Wingless fly uses bat as taxi
The New Zealand Bat-Fly is a wingless insect that only lives in hollow trees alongside Short-tailed Bats at the Northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island. It feeds on bat droppings so it never worries about where its next meal is coming from. But when the bat-fly colony gets too big, some of the adults will climb onto a bat and grip tightly in the hope that they will be carried to a less crowded roost.
Sea snail devours stunned fish
Cone Shells are relatives of snails that live in tropical and sub-tropical seas. Unlike snails, which feed on plants, Cone Shells are carnivores. They can impale prey species on a hollow, harpoon-like tooth which they then use to deliver a potent nerve poison. Within seconds the prey animal – such as this Clown Fish – is paralysed and can be drawn into the Cone Shell’s stomach to be digested.
Beetles use dead mouse for baby food
Burying Beetles can detect a dead bird or small mammal from eight kilometres away. Without the corpse, they cannot breed. After finding a suitable body — a dead mouse, for instance — adult Burying Beetles will mate and then bury the corpse. The female lays her eggs in the pit and then both adults will shape the decaying animal into a lump of matter. When the eggs hatch, the beetle larvae feed on the dead rodent then burrow through the soil and emerge as adults to complete the cycle.
Extraordinary Animals is now on sale. The 300-page hardback book, with a 5-star rating on Amazon.com, describes 120 animal species whose mind-boggling biology will amaze and inspire readers.
This book will captivate anyone with an interest in animal life. It covers animal behaviour, ecology, evolution, reproduction and interactions between species. Along the way it describes minuscule insects, giant mammals and a host of bizarre parasites.