The Natural History of Canadian Mammals: An Exhilarating Moment after 11 Years of Work

Donna Naughton, author of The Natural History of Canadian Mammals wrote a blog post for the Canadian Museum of Nature about the book’s 11-year journey.

A few weeks ago, I held in my hands the first copy of my new book about Canadian mammals, The Natural History of Canadian Mammals. Although I had seen and carefully perused the proofs, the moment of holding the actual book was exhilarating. A satisfyingly physical representation of 11 years of work.

It is a hefty tome about 230 mm × 280 mm in size and weighing almost 2 kg. The cover shows a sensational photo by the talented pair of Michel Duchaine and Anne-Marie Boyer of a breaching Humpback Whale in the Bay of Fundy.

Illustration of Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou).
Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) by Paul Geraghty, from The Natural History of Canadian Mammals by Donna Naughton. Image: Paul Geraghty © Canadian Museum of Nature

This book project began in 2001 when the Canadian Museum of Nature agreed that it would be a great way to make a wonderful collection of mammal art more accessible to the public. This art had languished largely unused since its creation in the 1970s and 1980s by Paul Geraghty and Brenda Carter under the auspices of C.G. van Zyll de Jong, the then Curator of Mammals.

Donna Naughton works at a table.
Donna Naughton sketches a Bison skull from the museum’s collections. Image: Mark Graham © Canadian Museum of Nature

My goal was to create a book for all Canadians. Up-to-date, comprehensive and readable, supported by maps, skull drawings and track drawings. It would of course include the fine art of Paul and Brenda, and later Julius Csotonyi, who completed the collection.

Because I planned to retire upon completion of the volume, I wanted a resource available to Canadians that would answer the kinds of questions I had been fielding during my 37 years as a research and collections assistant at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Of course, one thing led to another and the content grew. One has to be consistent after all. For example, if I provided information on the reproductive biology of Moose, which may interest many readers, I had to do the same for the Short-tailed Shrew or the Hubbs’ Beaked Whale, which may not be so important to other readers.

Illustration of Narwhals (Monodon monoceras).
Narwhals (Monodon monoceras) by Paul Geraghty, from The Natural History of Canadian Mammals by Donna Naughton. Image: Paul Geraghty © Canadian Museum of Nature

I learned a lot while researching and writing this book, and even more when the expert reviews started rolling in and I had to make numerous corrections. These reviews were invaluable as they were done by experts in each mammal group. Several embarrassing blunders were, thankfully, caught by these reviewers.

The next step of copy-editing was performed by a team from University of Toronto Press and turned out to be remarkably pain-free.

This was followed by a wonderful effort by the book designer Linda Gustafson, who managed to create a concise design that permitted the flexibility of content necessary for a volume like this. Not an easy task.

Illustration of Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis).
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) by Paul Geraghty, from The Natural History of Canadian Mammals by Donna Naughton. Image: Paul Geraghty © Canadian Museum of Nature

The final stage, proofreading, was the most painful of all as it took many hours of difficult concentration. It would have been impossible without the help of my friend Sheila Edwards, who was commonly punch-drunk at the end of each long day, but raring to go the next morning.

A French translation is in the works, and a full French volume should be available in 2013. It is also likely that before the end of 2012, an electronic version will be available for sale—a boon to those who want to carry the information in this rather heavy volume more easily.

I feel that this volume essentially sums up the experience of my career to pass on to the public and future students of Canadian mammals. Now I can set it all aside and enjoy my retirement!

This post has been reblogged with permission from the Canadian Museum of Nature.
See original post here.


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