How the Snake Lost its Legs

SnakeLewis I Held Jr

Cambridge University Press, £24.99

If you've ever wondered how the butterfly got its spots, how the swordtail got its sword or how the elephant got six toes, then this is the book for you.

How the Snake Lost its Legs provides scientific yet easily understandable explanations of the evolutionary development of many organisms' unique adaptations to life.

Professor Held describes mysterious concepts with clarity and wit, explaining evolutionary developmental processes in easy-to-follow and exquisite detail. This is not a textbook, but delivers a wealth of information, much more so than any research study, with excellent figures and generous reference to scientific literature.

It's organised into six chapters, the first five focused on individual animals such as the fly, butterfly, snake and cheetah. Each subchapter is phrased as a question, with Held describing in meticulous detail the developmental processes behind a distinctive anatomical structure. By the end of each subchapter, you will be able to explain, for example, why the fly can rotate its penis 360° (and probably be able to draw a diagram too).

The final chapter is a smorgasbord of other interesting and peculiar evo-devo questions, such as the development of the seahorse's shape and the narwhal's tusk, and why the rhinoceros has a horn. These brief answers are only a few sentences long, but jam-packed with fascinating explanations.

This is a must-have resource for any student, teacher or non-biologist, securing a well deserved spot on any researcher's bookshelf, or providing endless fun facts to repeat whenever you're at the pub.

Elspeth Houlding AMSB