Review: Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: the Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change by Thor Hanson


Review by Amy Halvorson Miller

This past fall a co-worker of mine met conservation biologist and author, Thor Hanson, at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s trade show. He gave an engaging talk about his new book, Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: the Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change and she brought back a signed copy for me.

Hanson looks at how rapidly changing ecosystems are affecting plant and animal species already. However, his examples don’t all lead to extinction and despair. He reminds us that the earth is constantly changing and shows just how in many places, life can quickly adapt to rising temperatures, increasing storms, and drier droughts. The crisis of climate change is acknowledged, but not emphasized. We learn how the biology we already understand points to what we can expect.

The disruptions which a warming planet bring can place species in situations for which they have not evolved. Changing Camas flower bloom times affect pollinators. Fence lizards and other heliotherms, who regulate body temperature by basking in the sun, can lose time for feeding and reproducing when they are more often seeking shade. Brown pelicans, on the move northward for better conditions, create new competition for food sources. These are just a few examples of the complex changes Hanson observes first hand and presents in his clear and enthusiastic writing.

Life doesn’t only move or adapt to these complex changes. For example, Hanson describes how Anole lizards in the Caribbean are evolving to survive increasingly severe and frequent hurricanes by growing stronger front legs and larger front foot pads for gripping, combined with shorter back legs for reduced drag. These physiological changes simply help the lizards hang on tight in a storm.

I won’t give away all the fascinating examples Hanson explores in his narrative style. He includes several science topical histories, illustrations, as well as personal stories. A glossary, detailed notes, and a bibliography for further reading make this solid environmental writing for educators and laypeople.

Feed your curiosity about how life all over the globe is responding to climate change. Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid is an accessible book which will leave you more knowledgeable and hopeful about the resilience of plant and animal life. May we learn from our non-human neighbors and endeavor to adapt and change along with the planet. And, a step further, alter our behaviors which contribute to it. As Hanson puts it, “Understanding [the lives of plants’ and animals’] challenges and responses may not make us worry less about the crisis, but it does help us to worry smart.”