The best books on Ethology

3 authors have picked their favorite books about Ethology and why they recommend each book.

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King Solomon's Ring

By Konrad Lorenz,

Book cover of King Solomon's Ring

This German zoologist discovered “imprinting” in birds and was often photographed waddling in his backyard, followed by a gaggle of goslings who mistook him for their mother. Lorenz was convinced that avian species experience emotions like love and grief, describing the mating rituals of jackdaws in terms touchingly evocative of human sweethearts. “Remarkable and exceedingly comical is the difference in eloquence between the eye-play of the wooing male and that of the courted female: the male jackdaw casts glowing glances straight into his loved one’s eyes, while she apparently turns her eyes in all directions other than that of her ardent suitor. In reality, of course, she is watching him all the time!”


Who am I?

I called my dog Chinook my spiritual guide. He makes friends easily and doesn’t hold a grudge. He enjoys simple pleasures, taking each day as it comes. On his own canine level, he shows me that it might be possible to live without inner conflicts or neuroses: uncomplicated, genuine and glad to be alive.”  Chinook inspired my first book, The Souls of Animals, which explored the capacities for love, creativity, and compassion we humans share with other species. As an ordained minister (Harvard Divinity School), I believe we desperately need to rediscover our spiritual affinity with other living creatures if we are to save our small planet.


I wrote...

Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet

By Gary Kowalski,

Book cover of Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet

What is my book about?

The love we share with our pets is pure and unconditional. The grief we experience when they die is correspondingly profound. As a parish minister who helps families cope with bereavement (and an animal lover who has accompanied two fine dogs to the end of the trail), I know the terrain of mourning firsthand and offer guidance for the journey. When to opt for euthanasia. Talking to children about death. Creating rituals to celebrate your pet’s life. Coping with guilt and negative emotions. Exploring what world religions teach about animals and the afterlife. What dreams and myths reveal for healing the heart. Writing this book helped me say farewell to my beloved dog Chinook. I hope that reading it can help you, too.

Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas

By Aaron Blabey,

Book cover of Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas

This book is so delightfully silly! Poor little Brian tries to convince the other piranhas that they’d probably love to try some fruit—but alas, they would rather eat feet, or knees, or…well…bum! It’s definitely a book that feeds your inner sea monster!


Who am I?

I am writing this list because I am a sea monster. I’m the sort of sea monster who loves merpeople, pirates, sharks, dolphins, octopuses, shipwrecks, and…did I miss anything? Oh yes, piranhas. Some people have pointed out that I look like a regular adult human, but really it’s just a trick of the light. I like to make stories, draw pictures, and build miniature environments for stop motion animated films. My typical day is spent gluing miniature flowers to miniature rocks, or screwing miniature chairs to miniature floors. It’s the sort of job that makes you feel like magic is around every corner. Because it is, probably.


I wrote...

Can I Give You a Squish?

By Emily Neilson,

Book cover of Can I Give You a Squish?

What is my book about?

My book takes place in the warm waters of a kelp forest, where Kai, a little mer-boy, loves to give squishes! But not everyone is a fan of Kai’s spirited embrace, which he discovers soon after squishing a pufferfish, who swells up in fright! Kai feels awful; but with the help of his underwater friends, he figures out another way to show his affection, and then everyone demonstrates their preferred ways of being greeted. Because, as Kai realizes, “Every fish likes their own kind of squish.”

What I see in each of the books on this list is everything I could possibly have hoped to put into mine--magical underwater adventures, wonderful world-building, and best of all: compelling and lovable characters.

Locked in Time

By Dean R. Lomax, Robert Nicholls,

Book cover of Locked in Time: Animal Behavior Unearthed in 50 Extraordinary Fossils

This is about dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts, but it’s unique and unusual. Author Dean Lomax has run to ground some of the most extraordinary fossils ever found, and artist Bob Nicholls turns them into stunning reconstructions. Here you can read about a beetle within a lizard within a snake, a giant beaver that made huge corkscrew burrows 3 meters deep, the mammal that ate dinosaurs, insects caught in the act of mating, and dinosaurs with cancer. What I like is that, weird and wonderful as each story may be, each is based strictly on the fossils and reasonable interpretations of those fossils. Dinosaurs may spark the imagination, but as scientists, it’s important to show people how we come to our conclusions, and that needs evidence and reason in a discussion.


Who am I?

I’ve been mad about dinosaurs and ancient life since I was seven. I have been amazingly lucky to be able to develop a career as a professional palaeontologist and to be able to research and talk about the subject. We were first to show the original colours of dinosaur feathers, and this discovery provides a perfect way to open the discussion about how palaeontologists know what they say they know. In my books, I seek to amaze, amuse and inform. I have written many books, including pop science, textbooks, technical-scientific works, and books for children, and every year brings new discoveries to be transmitted to the world.


I wrote...

Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World

By Michael J. Benton, Bob Nicholls (illustrator),

Book cover of Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World

What is my book about?

Dinosaurs are not what you thought they were - or at least, they didn't look like you thought they did. This is a new visual guide to the world of the dinosaurs, showing how rapid advances in technology and amazing new fossil finds have changed the way we see dinosaurs forever. Stunning new illustrations from paleoartist Bob Nicholls display the latest and most exciting scientific discoveries in vibrant colour.

For the first time, we can claim that each illustration shows dinosaurs as they really were, each aspect of their skin or feathers, colours and patterns based on fossil evidence interpreted with the latest technology. Only 25 years ago, in 1996, the first dinosaur with feathers, Sinosauropteryx, was reported from China. Since then, thousands of amazing new specimens have come to light, and laboratory methods have improved enormously. Who says palaeontology is a dead, old discipline!

Animal Architects

By Amy Cherrix, Chris Sasaki (illustrator),

Book cover of Animal Architects

Each spread in this memorable book offers beautiful illustrations and a feast of information for curious kids. Featured animals include prairie dogs, trapdoor spiders, satin bower birds, coral, and others. The text focuses on these species as builders—of cozy homes, traps for prey, special spots to attract mates, and more. Starting with the book title on the cover (the reader can see how it was “built” with cross-hatch lines guiding letter placement!), I was totally engaged. So much information, so well shared! I fell in love with the teeny, tiny harvest mouse.


Who am I?

I am an award-winning children’s author who has always been fascinated by the natural world. My many published children’s books include ones about animals and ocean life. Scholastic Book Clubs and the Children’s Book of the Month Club have featured my work, and translations of my fiction and nonfiction titles can be found in several languages, including Spanish, Japanese, and Hebrew. My National Geographic title Ocean Counting was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and Walrus Song has been named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.


I wrote...

Walrus Song

By Janet Lawler, Timothy Basil Ering (illustrator),

Book cover of Walrus Song

What is my book about?

Walrus Song is a lyrical nonfiction picture book about a unique arctic mammal. Dive right in with noisy Walrus as he plays with puffins, lounges on ice, devours clams, and makes lots of noise! Honk, honkkkk! HOOO, HOOOOT! Squee! Squee, SQWEEE! Toot, TOOT! 

Did you know that a walrus can eat more than four thousand clams in a feeding frenzy? That some walruses weigh more than a car? That walrus tusks sometimes grow more than 3 feet long? Timothy Basil Ering’s stunning art takes you right into Walrus’s arctic world to learn more in Walrus Song.

Furry Logic

By Matin Durrani, Liz Kalaugher,

Book cover of Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life

Among the biggest frustrations in my life are the moments I call “commuter questions”. These are the sorts of ponderings that pop into my head when I’m making the 90-minute drive from my home to the university where I teach, and when — safe driver that I am — I can’t simply hop online to hunt for an answer. Inevitably, by the time I’ve found a parking spot on campus, the question has disappeared from my mind. But where do those questions go? Well, apparently, they somehow wind up in Bristol, England, where science writers Matin Durrani and Liz Kalaugher are based. In Furry Logic, Durrani and Kalaugher address in-and-out-of-your-head questions like “Can mosquitoes fly in a rainstorm?” and “How do eels generate electricity?” And the answers are delightful. 


Who am I?

I spent the first decade of my journalistic career focused on calamity, malevolence, and suffering. By my early thirties, I wasn’t just struggling to feel happy about the world — I was struggling to feel anything at all. It was an encounter with awe — a visit to an aspen colony in central Utah that is the world’s largest known singular organism — that jarred me from this increasingly colorless world. As an author, teacher, researcher, and radio host, I strive to connect others with a sense of wonder — and I feel very fortunate that so many other science communicators continually leave me feeling awestruck for this amazing world.  


I wrote...

Superlative: The Biology of Extremes

By Matthew D. LaPlante,

Book cover of Superlative: The Biology of Extremes

What is my book about?

Superlative is the story of extreme evolution — and what we can learn from it about ourselves and our planet. It’s a tale of crazy-fast falcons and super-strong beetles, of tiny animals and enormous plants, of whip-smart dolphins and killer snakes. For a long time, scientists ignored these evolutionary outliers. Now, researchers are coming to see great value in paying close attention to superlative species. 

Animals in Translation

By Temple Grandin, Catherine Johnson,

Book cover of Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior

Like her book Thinking In Pictures, Animals In Translation is about how Temple Grandin solved problems, like ways to improve animal handling in slaughterhouses, by putting herself literally in the position of the animals and ‘seeing’ how it could change the way they were treated, making it less distressing for them. This then is about visual communication, not verbal as words themselves are only part of the communication process, with tone of voice and body language being the greater part of it. Speaking for myself, I found language problematic as what someone said might be contradicted by what they did or the tone of their voice.


Who am I?

What qualifies me to compile this list of books, probably goes back to my childhood and the confusion I felt about human society and its conflict in word usage, compared to actual meaning. This fascination with psychology and linguistics, culminated in me reading perhaps hundreds of books, some of which are included here. My mother described me as a quiet baby and a child who would only say something, if they thought it was important, possible indicators of autism and the little professor syndrome of silent observation and study.


I wrote...

Logic List English: Rhyming Word etc. - Vol 1 A

By Tony Sandy,

Book cover of Logic List English: Rhyming Word etc. - Vol 1 A

What is my book about?

Logic Lists English as a series of eight books, strips language naked, pointing out it is a simplified code, made obvious in the film Windtalkers, starring Nicolas Cage. The native speakers used their own language to relay military secrets, which the enemy couldn’t understand as they didn’t know the linguistic rules being used.

The first volume, Rhyming Words, uses a vertical grid, to show common combinations of consonants (Br- / Bl- ) and vowel sounds horizontally (A / E / I / O / U). It is set out in this way as columns for teaching purposes in the classroom, repeating the sounds firstly, then later writing out the patterns shown. This format ensures changes in language are accommodated over the years as sounds won’t really alter, even if the spelling does.

Practical Feline Behaviour

By Trudi Atkinson,

Book cover of Practical Feline Behaviour: Understanding Cat Behaviour and Improving Welfare

Cats often don’t get enough space in books about pet behaviour. This is the easiest-to-read scientific book about cats that you will ever need. Students, make sure it is in your university library. It cuts the information into easy chunks and yet keeps all the references that you might need to follow up. Trudi is a top cat behaviourist in the UK with a background as a veterinary nurse, so she really, really understands what makes cats tick.


Who am I?

I am a writer and journalist who went back to study cats after my retirement. I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. I was out of date and overconfident that experience could beat knowledge. I needed knowledge as well as experience. So I took a degree and a masters. These books will help anybody who wants to improve their knowledge of cats. Rescuers, pet owners, and behaviour people: we need to stay up to date and learn more if we want to help cats lead happy lives.


I wrote...

A Cat's Guide to Humans: From A to Z

By Celia Haddon, George the Cat,

Book cover of A Cat's Guide to Humans: From A to Z

What is my book about?

George reveals the truth about what cats think about humans – and it’s not all good news for humans! Don’t let your cat read this book. It might get ideas on how to manage and control you better. It is full of tips about training humans. 

Animals at Night

By Anne Jankéliowitch, Delphine Chedru (illustrator), Eve Bodeux (translator)

Book cover of Animals at Night: A Glow-In-The-Dark Book

I admit it, I’m a sucker for glow-in-the-dark books. I still have the glow-in-the-dark stars on the bedroom ceiling from when my own kids were small. This book has gorgeous glow-in-the-dark illustrations (it works best if you happen to have a blacklight bulb) but also has a lot of great information, facts, and thought-provoking questions about the lifestyles of nocturnal wildlife of all shapes and sizes. A fun reading experience for parents as well as kids!


Who am I?

As a writer, I’m especially fascinated by plants and animals that no one loves. My books are intended to get kids excited about science and help them appreciate the wonders of the natural world. Many years of fieldwork, leading children on nature walks, have given me firsthand experience in introducing students to the terrors and joys of nature. I especially enjoy the beauties of the night, from fireflies to coyote howls to star-gazing!


I wrote...

Wait Till It Gets Dark: A Kid's Guide to Exploring the Night

By Anita Sanchez, John Himmelman (illustrator),

Book cover of Wait Till It Gets Dark: A Kid's Guide to Exploring the Night

What is my book about?

It’s night. It’s dark. It’s time to go indoors—or is it? The outdoors at night can be a scary place, but this book will help young readers investigate the mysterious nature of night.

To explore the night, it would be great to have eyes like an owl, the sensitive nose of a deer, and feet that can move as silently as a fox. Humans aren’t quite as good as nocturnal animals at navigating the darkness, but we can come surprisingly close. Our senses are much sharper than we realize, if we learn how to use them. Some scientists are even researching the sensory abilities of human hair! Each chapter of the book spotlights a different nocturnal creature. And while learning about animals’ adaptations for navigating the world of night, young readers discover their own surprising abilities.

Never Cry Wolf

By Farley Mowat,

Book cover of Never Cry Wolf

Assigned by the Canadian government to study the wolves presumed to be decimating northern Manitoba’s caribou herds, the young biologist spends a year learning (with the help of two Eskimo hunters) that the greatest predator on the planet is two-legged. Criticized for his admission that he “never let the facts get in the way of the truth,” Mowatt embellishes his tale with wry humor, as when he shares his recipe for mouse soufflé: “Skin and gut the mice, but do not remove the heads …” The details, factual or not, all serve the message: “The wolf never kills for fun, which is probably one of the main differences distinguishing him from man.”


Who am I?

I called my dog Chinook my spiritual guide. He makes friends easily and doesn’t hold a grudge. He enjoys simple pleasures, taking each day as it comes. On his own canine level, he shows me that it might be possible to live without inner conflicts or neuroses: uncomplicated, genuine and glad to be alive.”  Chinook inspired my first book, The Souls of Animals, which explored the capacities for love, creativity, and compassion we humans share with other species. As an ordained minister (Harvard Divinity School), I believe we desperately need to rediscover our spiritual affinity with other living creatures if we are to save our small planet.


I wrote...

Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet

By Gary Kowalski,

Book cover of Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet

What is my book about?

The love we share with our pets is pure and unconditional. The grief we experience when they die is correspondingly profound. As a parish minister who helps families cope with bereavement (and an animal lover who has accompanied two fine dogs to the end of the trail), I know the terrain of mourning firsthand and offer guidance for the journey. When to opt for euthanasia. Talking to children about death. Creating rituals to celebrate your pet’s life. Coping with guilt and negative emotions. Exploring what world religions teach about animals and the afterlife. What dreams and myths reveal for healing the heart. Writing this book helped me say farewell to my beloved dog Chinook. I hope that reading it can help you, too.

Behave

By Robert M. Sapolsky,

Book cover of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

René Descartes must have turned over in his grave a few more times after renowned neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky added this book to the growing body of research-based scholarship exposing the falsity of the Cartesian dualism between mind and body.  What makes Behave so remarkable is Sapolsky’s chapter-by-chapter explanation of how human behavior is shaped by the “utterly intertwined” influences of neurobiology, perception, hormones, neurogenesis in the adult brain, epigenetic influences in the developing brain, genes, culture, and evolution.  Sapolsky then uses this multifactorial approach to understand key behavioral challenges: us versus them distinctions, hierarchy, morality, empathy, religion, free will, and war. In each case, Sapolsky shows how the science he has reviewed can elicit more of the best behavior and less of the worst.   


Who am I?

As a young sociologist, I shunned explanations of human behavior informed by psychology and biology, but over the years my research showed me that individual predispositions and capacities influence social structure, as well as the other way around.  Books like those I recommend helped me recognize how evolutionary dynamics gave rise to our intensely social nature and so explain many social processes.  And as I began this intellectual journey, events in my own life ripped off the psychological seal I had constructed over my childhood experiences of maternal abandonment and paternal suicide and finally enabled me to make sense of them. We can improve our individual and societal health by increasing our understanding of our fundamental social needs.   


I co-edited...

Social Neuroscience: Brain, Mind, and Society

By Russell K. Schutt (editor), Larry J. Seidman (editor), Matcheri Keshavan (editor)

Book cover of Social Neuroscience: Brain, Mind, and Society

What is my book about?

Human beings evolved in the company of others and flourish in proportion to their positive social ties. To understand the human brain, we must situate its biology in the wider context of society. To understand society, we must also consider how the brains and minds of individuals shape interactions with other human beings.

In Social Neuroscience, leading researchers in the fields of neurobiology, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology provide a state-of-the-art interdisciplinary explanation of the mutually reinforcing connections between brain, mind, and society. With a special focus on mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, the book’s chapters highlight the profound implications for human health of emotional damage due to severe social deprivation, neurological deficits resulting from parental abuse, cognitive deficits after neighborhood violence, and the gains in cognition and functioning that can result from systematic socially-oriented rehabilitation programs.

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