Category Archives: biology

World’s rarest whale seen for the first time

I’ve gotten this from several readers, so thanks to all. According to The Province and several other sources, a defunct spade-toothed beaked whale and her calf (Mesoplodon traversii) washed up on the shores of New Zealand in 2010 and have just been identified as the world’s rarest whale in a new paper in Current Biology (full […]

A new book on nature and “The drive-by Dawkins diss”

UPDATE:  Haskell has responded to this blog piece on his own website, “Ramble.” I’ve posted a question, asking him directly if he dissed RD. _______ Reader Diane G called my attention to a piece in the New York Times about David Haskell, an evolutionist and ecologist at The University of the South: “Finding Zen in […]

Readers’ cats: McCoy and Seve (and the violin)

If you know anything about molecular biology, you’ll have heard of Mark Ptashne, who also happens to be an accomplished violinist (see this 1998 “Scientist at Work” piece about him at the New York Times).  In fact, Ptashne’s own website emphasizes violin far more than biology.  Yet his biological accomplishments are formidable. While on the […]

Medicine and Physiology Nobel nabbed by a Brit and a Japanese (and a digression on birds)

I’m just back from a national park in eastern Portugal, where it’s remote, unpopulated, and eerily beautiful. I saw the national bird of Portugal, the azure-winged magpie (Cyanopica cyanus) as well as a group of griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus). The vulture breeds only on vertical rocky cliffs, and we spotted a group of four—or rather my companion […]

Great nature photos: 50 entries in National Geographic’s 2012 photo contest

Alert reader Michael called my attention to a selection of fifty fantastic photos submitted to this year’s National Geographic photo contest; they’re displayed at The Atlantic. It was hard to choose just seven of these to show you, so go over to the Atlantic and see all of them. Almost every one is a gem.  […]

What is it?

Okay, identify this thing. If you’ve already seen it today, you can’t guess. You get no prizes except for my warm approbation. Answer tomorrow.

A new phylogeny of the mammals

A paper in this week’s Science uses a lot of data to construct the most complete phylogeny yet of mammalian families.  Meredith et al. used 26 genes to not only construct the tree, but estimate divergence times.  Their sample comprises 97%-99% of the roughly 150 described mammalian families. Here’s the tree they get (click to […]

Time to put Andrew Brown to pasture

Many of us who have endured the columns of Andrew Brown at the Guardian feel that it’s time for the man to move on.  His opinions lurch all over the place (usually, however, centered on the evils of atheism and the benefits of religion), but the writing is so absolutely dreadful that it’s hard to […]

Living stromatolite found in Ireland!

Since I’ve posted about stromatolites before, I hope that readers remember what they are.  As a refresher, though, they’re the oldest convincing traces of life on earth: fossilized colonies of cyanobacteria (“blue-green algae”) which date back 3.5 billion years ago—only a billion years after the Earth had formed.  While fossilized stromatolites have been found in […]

One of this year’s Nobel Laureates died Friday

This is really sad: according to Nature and Rockefeller University, one of this year’s Nobel Laureates in Medicine and Physiology, Ralph Steinman, whose prize was announced this morning, actually died of pancreatic cancer on Friday. I’m not aware of anything like this happening before. Steinman was only 68.  It’s not just sad that the man […]