Extreme Weapons: A Natural History

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 9-16-2020


biology, war, weapons, beetles, battleships


Every animal has a weapon of one sort or another, but the overwhelming majority of weapons stay small. Yet, sprinkled through the tree of life are species where weapons become extreme. Occasionally, human-manufactured weapons also evolve to extremes. Emlen reveals that the same critical conditions trigger arms races in both cases, and the most crucial prerequisite is duels. A journey that begins with biology becomes the story of all weapons, as Emlen discusses beetles and battleships, crabs and the Cold War.

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Dr. Douglas J. Emlen is professor of biology at the University of Montana, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of the U. S. Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering. His book Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle won the Phi Beta Kappa science-book-of-the-year award in 2015. His textbook Evolution: Making Sense of Life (co-authored with award-winning journalist Carl Zimmer), is presently adopted by more than 250 universities and colleges. His research has been featured in newspapers, radio, and on TV. His first narrative nonfiction book for young adults, Beetle Battles: One Scientist’s Journey of Adventure and Discovery appeared on shelves this past December.