My seven-year-old, Ben, is a true naturalist. He is utterly fascinated by all members of the plant and animal kingdom, and never met an arachnid, frog or Venus flytrap that he didn't want to take home and cuddle.
There was a time when I found his fascination adorable, even admirable. For whatever reason, I myself have limited interest in nature, preferring the fuzzy world of fiction over the messy facts of larva and tentacles. So I admired his ability to memorize the body parts of a tarantula, and I saw his voracious appetite for animal books as a positive trait that I should encourage.
But now? I'm over it. Because now, I know too much. From the dozens of books I've read to Ben, I've gleaned more knowledge about animals than I ever could have hoped for, and let me say this: The natural world is a chamber of horrors, with real-life scenarios that leave me stunned, dismayed and longing for Narnia.
Let's start with ants. My God, the ants! Did you know that there are such things as "slave-making ants," which invade other ant colonies and rob them of their pupae? They then bring the pupae to their own nests and force the new ants to feed and forage for the slave-makers. What kind of nightmare is this?
And sharks. Another reproductive horror story. Did you know that sand tiger shark embryos feed on their own siblings inside the womb in a practice known as intrauterine cannibalism? The mother shark gives birth to the last two surviving pups, and those better swim away from the mother quickly, lest she eat them.