by Whit Gibbons

January 5, 2014

What do the leafy sea dragon, poison hemlock and Amazon rainforest have in common? Each is ranked as No. 1 within a certain category: camouflage, deadly plants, and awesome ecosystems, respectively. The rankings are given in a series of books that bear the Scholastic logo and are published by Rubicon Publishing. The three No. 1 examples mentioned are in books in the nature series.

A leafy sea dragon qualifies for the No. 1 slot in "The 10 Best Animal Camouflages" because even if you picked one up you would not think you were holding an animal. This strange little marine fish, which lives along the western and southern coasts of Australia, survives by looking like a piece of drifting seaweed. Leafy sea dragons can reach lengths greater than a foot but still look like flimsy pieces of floating vegetation.

According to the book, they have no natural predators. Not that they would make much of a meal even if another animal did eat them. One of their peculiar traits, which is also characteristic of their close relatives the sea horses, is that the males carry the eggs until they hatch. Among the greatest threats to leafy sea dragons are pollution of marine waters and the illegal collection and removal of individuals as oddities for aquariums.

More familiar species in the top 10 best camouflages are chameleons (No. 10), snowshoe hares (No. 8), and zebras (No. 6). The cuttlefish, a relative of squids that most people are not well acquainted with, gets the No. 2 camouflage ranking. Each account provides thorough explanations of why the particular camouflage is effective in its environment.

In "The 10 Deadliest Plants," poison hemlock qualifies as No. 1 because it can be fatal to humans who eat any part of it. Certain other plants might be listed as No. 1 by other organisms. For example, No. 9 in the list of deadliest plants, the strangler fig, a parasitic, tree-crushing vine, would be much more threatening to a big tree in the American tropics than would poison hemlock. Strangler figs have been the death of many tropical trees.

Meanwhile, No. 7, the Venus flytrap, might be considered the deadliest of plants to a housefly or ladybug beetle. But rather than nitpick about why poison hemlock is considered the deadliest, enjoy reading about the various plants on the list. For example, two popular flowering plants, azaleas (No. 4) and rhododendrons (No. 2) are included in the top 10 because both can be deadly if consumed by humans.

Ranking remarkable habitats and locations is a tough job, but many would agree that the Amazon rainforest should be No. 1 in "The 10 Most Awesome Ecosystems" book.

This 2 million square miles of tropical rainforest in South America with an enormous river, the Amazon, flowing through it is home to millions of plant and animal species and indisputably awe-inspiring.

Some of the other familiar ecosystems in the top 10 ranking are the Florida everglades (No. 9), Galapagos Islands (No. 8), and Sonoran desert (No. 6). Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world, with its incredible biodiversity is ranked No. 2. As with other books in the series, the excellent color photographs contribute to readers' enjoyment and enlightening facts aid in their understanding of each awesome ecosystem.

Part of the appeal of these books lies in people's liking for lists (especially top-10 rankings) and their fascination with bizarre natural phenomena. And just as people differ about the rankings for sports, movies, and books, not everyone will agree on the top 10 in these books. In a classroom situation, considering the order of the top-10 items in any given category could spark a lively debate.

All the books open with this statement: "Much thought, debate, and research went into choosing and ranking the 10 items in each book in this series." For the books I have seen, that assertion appears to be completely accurate.

If you have an environmental question or comment, email

(Back to Ecoviews)


SREL HomeUGA Home SREL Home UGA Home