6th Extinction Pop Up Rats

Pop-up bestiary book peers into the post-apocalypse

Contributed by
Oct 13, 2018, 3:28 PM EDT

Giant roaches that grow bigger than footballs and thrive on radiation; predatory, dog-sized pigeons that carry their young in pouches; and plants that transform into worms and migrate to find food: these are the creatures that would inherit the Earth, or at least the part of it near Chicago, according to a new pop-up book that envisions life after the next mass extinction.

Beyond the Sixth Extinction: A Post-Apocalyptic Pop-Up explores a evolution-informed bit of imaginative speculation about how hardy existing species might adapt in the wake of a human-created environmental disaster that brings on the next wave of biological transformation. Set in the year 4847, it artistically posits all kinds of fast-adapting post-apocalyptic horrors — in a hefty package that lets you see, in broad abstract strokes, the scale of the creepy creatures it envisions.

Candlewick Press on YouTube

6th Extinction Pop Up Rex Roach

Candlewick Press via YouTube

The work of pop-up book creator Shawn Sheehy and illustrator Jordi Solano, Beyond the Sixth Extinction relies on the ideas laid out by self-taught paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey in his 1996 book The Sixth Extinction, which cautions against environmentally destructive human activity. 

“I myself wonder which species might survive and flourish in a new environment if humans are successful in instigating a profound die-off,” Sheehy explains on his web page. “I wonder what anatomical adaptations they might acquire in their proliferation.”

Based on existing life forms “that have high survival ratings,” Sheehy says, the book targets the area around Lake Michigan as nature’s fast-acting evolutionary laboratory. Thriving on human-created detritus from the big die-off, today’s sewer rats grow tentacles and attach themselves to the walls of abandoned nuclear reactors, and fungi cluster around forsaken landfills, where they’ve adapted to inhale methane gas.

Even if people aren’t around to be freaked out by these grotesque animals in the book’s imaginary hellscape, at least life, in some form, goes on. “Creatures like these might provide the ultimate in urban renewal,” suggests Sheehy.