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Reviewed by:
  • Trash Animals: How We Live with Nature’s Filthy, Feral, Invasive, and Unwanted Species ed. by Kelsi Nagy and Phillip David Johnson II
  • James K. Detling
Trash Animals: How We Live with Nature’s Filthy, Feral, Invasive, and Unwanted Species. Edited by Kelsi Nagy and Phillip David Johnson II. Foreword by Randy Malamud. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. xvi + 314 pp. Notes, index. $24.95 paper.

This edited volume contains seventeen essays, each by a different author who shares his or her own personal experiences with, and insights about, an animal that is viewed by many as trash: worthless, destructive, ugly, disgusting, filthy, or invasive (or some combination thereof), but certainly unwanted and disposable. But one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Each author describes a different “trash animal” and discusses how they discovered inherent value in an animal despised by many. It is the editors’ hope that, by seeing such inherent values in animals that might otherwise be deemed ecologically or economically worthless, we will view these animals differently, and our ethics of engagement with them will follow. Not all the essays were written specifically for inclusion in this volume; nine of the seventeen were first published elsewhere and are reprinted here. Nevertheless, the themes and conclusions are quite consistent throughout.

While Trash Animals does not focus specifically on the Great Plains, many of the animals discussed are either native to the Great Plains or are exotics that have naturalized here. And they are diverse. Included are chapters on insects (Mormon crickets, cockroaches, and prairie lubber grasshoppers), venomous snakes (eastern diamondback rattlesnake), fishes (carp and bullheads), birds (ring-billed gulls, Canada geese, starlings, magpies, and pigeons), herbivorous small mammals (prairie dogs, packrats, and mice), and carnivorous mammals (wolves, coyotes, and feral cats). In many cases, the authors came to appreciate an animal only after initially fearing it but then trying to learn more about it. Kelsi Nagy, for instance, was initially reluctant to lease a farm for her and a friend’s horses because the pasture was inhabited by prairie dogs; she feared her horse might step in one of their burrows and break its leg. Further research relieved her specific fears, showed her how unfounded myths about prairie dogs have created fear and prejudice against them, and led her to a greater appreciation of the important ecological roles that prairie dogs play in Great Plains grasslands.

Many of the “trash animals” discussed in this volume face persecution because—correctly or incorrectly—they [End Page 89] are perceived as doing people harm. Prairie dogs or Mormon crickets, for example, are perceived as “stealing” forage from livestock, wolves and coyotes are viewed as predators of livestock and desirable wildlife, and venomous snakes are seen as lethal to humans and their pets. But animals do not need to harm us, either directly or indirectly, to be considered trash animals. They can be just plain disgusting, such as pigeons whose droppings, Andrew Blechman notes, “can be measured in tons” at some urban nesting sites, or prairie lubber grasshoppers, which Jeffrey Lockwood describes as “reminiscent of … chewed cigar butts,” and which “regurgitate copiously” and “defecate prodigiously” upon being captured. Regardless of their reasons for being considered trash animals by many, the authors find valuable and redeeming features in all the creatures.

As noted in Randy Malamud’s foreword, the writers all try to tell us a story that supplants other stories we’ve heard or inferred about trash animals. In this sense, the authors have been successful in getting us to think about and more fully appreciate the value of these, and all, animals. However, half of the chapters contain only a small handful of references or none at all, so its utility as an entrance into the literature on this topic is limited.

James K. Detling
Department of Biology and Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory
Colorado State University


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pp. 89-90
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