Monday, October 4, 2010

Guest post: Nathaniel Marunas, co-author of Worst Case Scenario, Gross Junior Edition (ages 8 - 12)

Today we have the pleasure of welcoming Nathaniel Marunas, the co-author of  The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook Junior Edition: Gross. This is an entertaining book that draws 4th and 5th graders to it like flies to a pile of ... you get my drift. Without further delays, here are the details and then some thoughts from Nathaniel.

The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook 
Gross Junior Edition
by David Borgenicht, Nathaniel Marunas,
and Robin Epstein
San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2010
ages 8 - 12
available from Amazon and your public library
Hi, my name is Nathaniel Marunas and I am the co-author of The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook Junior Edition: Gross, just published by Chronicle Books. It is a disgusting, informative, and hilarious tour of the most repulsive things kids (and adults) face on a regular basis, from breakdowns in personal hygiene to some of the grossest animals and diseases known to humankind. Most importantly, it teaches kids of all ages how to keep their cool when everyone around them is losing his or her lunch. Maybe I’m biased, but I think the book should be required reading in every household, especially those with pets and kids. You know who you are.

Researching the book, I learned an astonishing amount of stomach-churning information about things most people never think about (and for good reason). For instance, what is the composition of a fart? Can you actually blow your eyes out by trying to hold in a sneeze? And what is the smelliest animal on Earth? For answers to these questions and many more, you’ll have to check out the book, but there was a lot of other amazing and revolting stuff that didn’t make it in. In particular, I didn’t get to discuss even a tiny fraction of the mind-fryingly disgusting parasites and symbiotes that populate our world.
Nearly every species on the planet is tied in some intimate and hurl-inducing way to some other species, from the vast colonies of bacteria that live on and in our bodies (as much as 9 pounds of bacteria per adult, by some estimates) to the blood-sucking, food-stealing, poop-dwelling animals that can be found almost everywhere you look. Some work with their hosts, some are on the selfish side, and some have complex relationships with their biological partners. One sea-borne parasite is a worm that, when it enters a particular kind of fish, devours the fish’s tongue and replaces it with its own body, in effect becoming the fish’s tongue. This enables the worm to feed on what the fish eats. Gross, right?

Now that I’m attuned to the weird world of parasitic behavior, I’m always on the lookout for new examples. I was obsessed for a while with the many species of parasitic wasps, some of whose strategies are downright mind-blowing. One species of wasp lays its eggs inside a caterpillar, which is then doomed to a particularly unpleasant fate. When the eggs hatch, the larvae partially eat the caterpillar, then leave the caterpillar host and create cocoons nearby. The caterpillar then arches up and protects the wasp cocoons until metamorphosis is complete and the adult wasps emerge. After the wasps take off, the mind-wiped caterpillar eventually expires from starvation.

Recently I’ve been fascinated by the symbiotic relationship between the carrion beetle and the mite. Like maggots, carrion beetles feed on, and lay their eggs, in carrion. They are part of the complex system of nature’s undertakers, which work together to dispose of dead animals. Unlike flies, though, carrion beetles only eat and deposit eggs in meat, whereas flies can also use poop for these purposes. This is a plus for the flies because there’s a lot more poop in the world than there are corpses. Another advantage enjoyed by flies is that they are much faster and nimbler than beetles and so are quicker to arrive on the scene. What’s a carrion beetle to do?

To compensate for its disadvantages, the carrion beetle carries around a colony of mites on its back. Even though the additional bulk slows down the beetle even more, it is worth the effort because the mites eat fly eggs and maggots (the larval stage of the fly). As soon as the beetle settles in for a meal and to lay its eggs, the mites jump off and go to work. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. Except the flies, maybe, but they can always look for the nearest pile of excrement for safe harbor. Incredible, right?

If you’ve read this far, you are probably the kind of person who will enjoy The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook Junior Edition: Gross. It’s full of queasy information and practical advice for how to keep your wits about you when the going gets gross. And fair warning: It’s also full of bathroom humor, and everyone could use a little of that from time to time. Especially your kids. Just saying.

—Nathaniel Marunas, Brooklyn, NY

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