Did you know that the most familiar categories of animals, like mammals, birds, and amphibians, account for just 4% of the roughly 1.5 million species on our planet? Animal Earth: The Amazing Diversity of Living Creatures, a new book by zoologist Ross Piper, focuses on that oft-forgotten 96% of species. In 540 full-color photographs, Piper documents the bizarre and beautiful creatures that inhabit our world but are often too tiny or obscure for us humans to see.
“The sea may as well be another planet, we know so little about it. It is home to a mind-boggling array of bizarre creatures,” Piper tells Co.Design. From zombie worms and Christmas tree worms to whirligig beetles and sea angels, the creatures pictured in this volume are stranger and more exquisite than anything Dr. Seuss or Miyazaki or Terry Gilliam has yet invented. “Many animals look utterly alien, but, fundamentally, they are the same as you an I, just variations on a theme,” Piper says.
There’s a toxic sea slug that resembles a cluster of fried eggs with purple horns. The eyes of whirligig beetles are divided into two, enabling them to see above and below the water simultaneously. Some varieties of the “Priapulids,” or “penis worms,” lie hidden in the sediment with spiny tentacles poking discreetly above the surface, which then snatch small prey animals to capture them. And the translucent sea angel is actually not so angelic: it has retractable tentacles and chitinous hooks for grasping its prey. Evolution is a designer with a twisted sense of humor.
“My own fascination with animals began with insects. They’re the most diverse creatures on the planet–so far just over 1 million species have been identified and there are millions more species out there waiting to be discovered and described,” Piper says. “We’ve only just scratched the surface of understanding the natural world and I hope this book inspires other people to take a better look at our planet and its amazing inhabitants.”
The patterns, colors, and shapes found in the animal kingdom have influenced designers and artists for time immemorial, from Anton Gaudi’s seashell and skeleton-inspired architectural structures to Monet’s water lilies. The photographs here provide a fount of inspiration for both the creatively and scientifically inclined. Published by Thames and Hudson, Animal Earth is available for $45 here.