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Fantastic Creatures And Their Future

The mother of all diversity: nature. Her most fantastic creatures and how they’re faring now.

An octopus (octopus vulgaris) lifts one of its tentacles in his bassin at the zoo in Basel, Switzerland Wednesday Aug. 12, 2009. (AP)

An octopus (octopus vulgaris) lifts one of its tentacles in his bassin at the zoo in Basel, Switzerland Wednesday Aug. 12, 2009. (AP)

The absolute wonders of nature can be painful to describe sometimes lately, when we have to consider them alongside our headlines of mass extinction and climate change.  And yet, if we don’t stare in wonder at nature’s fantastic creations, we may start to discount the importance of saving them.  Even start to disbelieve they’ve ever existed.

A new 21st century “bestiary’ takes us again to some of the most incredible creatures on the planet.  And meditates on their meaning.

This hour, On Point:  the book of barely imagined beings, from goblin shark to yeti crab to water bear.

- Tom Ashbrook


Caspar Henderson, writer and environmental journalist. His new book is “The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary.” (@casparhenderson)

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Review of Books: The Footed Void — “The closer you look at an octopus, the more you see. Consider its anatomy: the “head,” a sack resembling a human scrotum that can shift through the entire color spectrum; the three hearts pumping blood that contains copper rather than iron; the eyes so very like human ones and yet radically more elegant in design. In a celebrated poem Ogden Nash begs the octopus to tell him if its limbs are arms or legs.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Imagining the World — “The Anthropocene, as we are learning to call our present epoch, is a time of rapid transformation. Perhaps the only thing that can be said with any confidence is that the rate of change is faster than at any time in human history and perhaps the history of life itself. Atmospheric and ocean chemistry is changing, and species are being driven to extinction faster than at any time in millions of years.”

Excerpt: ‘The Book of Barely Imagined Beings’ by Caspar Henderson

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    The octopus is an amazing creature ! I seem to remember that the octopus has more neurons but less white matter than a human brain, Is this true ? I have wondered how many ‘tweaks’ nature would have to make to this molluscs, to make it the dominate creature on Earth. Someone clue me in, please.

    Also :molluscs versus mollusk, what is the difference ?

    Opinion: There are too many of us. Time for a great awakening.

    • Shag_Wevera

      Are you one of the army of the twelve monkeys?

      • Wm_James_from_Missouri

        Nah, we’re not an army. More like an association of kindred spirits looking for transcendence wherever we can find it.

  • Ed75

    One sees God’s sense of humor in these creatures. Wonderful.

    • gemli

      God is a laugh riot.  I though billions of souls burning in hell for all eternity was funny, but the octopus tops them all.

      • DrewInGeorgia

        The Platypus gets my vote.

        • jefe68

          Mine too. And the proboscis monkey, that looks like Jimmy Duranti is a hoot as well.

      • Acnestes

         Have you seen the blobfish?

      • Ed75

        True, nothing funny about that at all. But Hell wasn’t part of God’s creation at first, he had to create it for the fallen angels. God wills the salvation of all people, but we have to cooperate, and it’s possible for us, by our actions, to show that we don’t want to live with God. (Indeed – the divine comedy. See St. Faustina ‘The Diary’.)

  • Stacy21629

    Why is it that something beautiful is attributed to “mother nature” but a disaster is an “act of God”?

    If this earth is your mother, I walk on your mother.  

    • gemli

      Every atom in your body came from the ground you’re standing on.  Those atoms were created in other suns that exploded billions of years ago.  A sun is destroyed, and we are created as a result.  Whether we call things “mother nature” or “god” is all metaphorical poetry.  

      God generally gets the responsibility for disasters because until recently humans couldn’t effect misery and destruction on the scale of a Katrina or a Sandy.  Not to take anything away from god.  He’s all powerful, but he sat back while millions of men, women and children were sent to gas chambers, and he sits back today while they whither away with die with disease.  Not too motherly. Still, you gotta love the guy.  Or else.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      Funny what happens when you disrespect things (like the ground you walk on, the air you breath, and the water you drink). There’s a concept that may warrant some additional attention on your part, it’s called Equilibrium.

    • Acnestes

      “Act of God”, is essentially a figure of speech and doesn’t actually refer to God.  Ask your insurance agent.

  • Wahoo_wa

    I would include a political moderate.

  • Wahoo_wa

    11:13….aaaaaaaaannnnndddddd here we go into crazy town.

  • http://www.facebook.com/larryfiehn Larry Fiehn

    There is no beast in bestiary (or in bestiality, either).
    It’s properly pronounced  BESS che airy.
    So..there’s a BESS…but no beast!
    I always enjoy the shows.

    • nj_v2

      Nice catch. I believe Tom was still mispronouncing it after the second break.

    • Michele

       It can be pronounced either way or either way ;)

  • TimeIsNotOnOurSide

    I wonder if Mr. Henderson could say a few words about duck-footed platypuses. They’re widely admired and can be obtained stuffed in shops in Australia. One of those was my daughter’s secret friend 30 years ago….

  • Jim

    I totally agree with the lady caller… i love the squid… and how it swims… 

    Yes,.. for the sake of our future generation… i hope we can restrict fishing. the marine eco system is just too fragile and important to be destroyed by mankind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/garrettlbrown Garrett Brown

    How about the Mantis Shrimp with 15 visual cones in their eyes! Seeing 74 percent more of the electro-magnetic spectrum than us humans. Wow.

    • jefe68

      That is amazing, and I’ve wondered what that would look like.

  • Allison Stedman

    Haven’t we evolved enough past the belief in a god? Worship something tangible for Pete’s sake! Mother EARTH is what cares for you and gives you sustenance. If you do believe in a god, you should be the first one in the line of defense of the creatures it created.
    That was supposed to be a reply to Stacy21629 ;-)

  • Allison Stedman

    I digressed in the previous comment, save ALL the animals!! They are all wondrous and magnificent and worthy of sharing this beautiful Earth.

  • andrea5

    This is an important show about an important topic. The natural world is filled with miracles, which we all too often ignore. The rate of habitat destruction and extinction is both frightening and appalling. My best wishes to everyone who is working to help save a species out there.

  • nj_v2

    Charismatic macro-fauna are not the only organisms deserving of awe and admiration. 

    It’s been know for a while that mycorrhizal soil fungi live in symbiosis with roots of most plants. The fungus, in essence, extend the plant’s root system, absorbing nutrients from the soil, and the plant gets carbohydrates from the fungus. 

    More recently it was learned (somewhat by accident) that some of these mycorrhizae not only extend for hundreds of acres in woodland soils, but connect individual trees of different species. And, not only that, but the tree/fungus system is “smart” enough to selectively shunt more resources to individual trees that need them more, from the trees that need them less!

    • burroak


  • http://insertcleverdomainnamehere.tumblr.com/ Travis Johnson

    Oh, do we have some great stories about cephalopods at the Monterey Bay Aquarium… (full disclosure: I work there)

  • burroak

    Nature: she never ceases to dazzle the senses! Yet, humans still find ways to pollute her beauty.

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