Mark Denny

I'm a science writer, and my books explain how things work.

. (7) Engineering Animals: How life works

Co-authored with a friend and former colleague from radar days, this book gives an engineers-eye view of animal life, and shows how animals are superbly adapted to do what they do, be it running, listening, flying, seeing, hunting or swimming. It took us 2 years to write, such was the research. We found some amazing examples of good engineering practice in animal design: albatross soaring technique, the hearing of a parasitic fly (the novel design has been patented by human engineers), raptor vision, owl hearing. Did you know that many bird of prey have 2 retinas in each eye? Or that they can magnify images? Dolphin echolocation allows them to image internal features of fishes. Pigeons have at least 7 senses. The long distance record for a nonstop migratory flight is 11,000 km, from Alaska to New Zealand. It takes the birds (Bar-Tailed Godwits) over a week.

This book was voted 4th in a list of top 10 physics books of 2011, by Physics World magazine.



"...this is an engaging journey through animal adaptation for engineers and non-engineers alike." --Cian O'Luanaigh, New Scientist


"From soaring albatrosses to croaking bullfrogs, different creatures exploit various aspects of engineering to help them fly, hunt, or communicate. In a clear and well-illustrated account, former aerospace engineers Mark Denny and Alan McFadzean describe the principles of physics that underlie animals' sense of smell, their use of sonar, and how they flock, signal to each other, and consume energy." Nature 2011-05-19

"A remarkable book...Written in a light and engaging style, but with plenty of references and footnotes, Engineering Animals is perfect for physicists who, like your reviewer, abandoned formal studies in biology at an early age and have always wondered what they missed." Physics World 2011-07-01 (Physics World placed our book in the Top Ten physics books published in 2011). 

"This wonderful book is a joy to read and will be of interest to both engineers and biologists...[Denny and McFadzean] have built upon their training in both engineering and physics to produce a superbly written work; the explanations of engineering principles at the heart of animal design are entertaining, intuitive, insightful, and concise." M. J. O'Donnell (Choice 2012-02-01)

See also the publisher's website


or the Amazon website



Despite their small size, some hummingbirds migrate long distances--from Central America to Canada, for example--and some of these migrations include flights over long stretches of open water (the Gulf of Mexico).



Hunting spiders have 8 eyes. Six of them are fairly primitive, and are located on different parts of their bodies to provide rudimentary all-round vision. The other 2 eyes--the big ones shown here--are astonishingly hi-tech, offering a very different solution to the problem of developing sharp vision than that adopted by primates.