Category Archives: Adaptations

“How extremely stupid not to have thought of that.”

The quote above is, of course, from Thomas Henry Huxley; it was his reaction after learning about Darwin’s simple but powerful idea of natural selection.  But I had exactly the same reaction after reading a new paper in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Shevtsova et al. (reference below; free online access). […]

Dipteran of the week

In our continuing series on weird flies, here’s a corker.  At about 1.5 inches long, it’s Africa’s largest fly:  Gyrostigma rhinocerontis, the rhinoceros bot fly.  It’s highly specialized, laying its eggs only on the head of the white and black rhino. The larvae then burrow into the flesh, where they develop in the rhino’s stomach. […]

A whistling caterpillar

Well, it may not be smoking, but it’s whistling.  According to MSNBC science news, researchers have found that the walnut sphinx moth caterpillar (Amorpha juglandis), can make whistling noises by forcing air through its external breathing holes (“spiracles”).  The paper, by Bura et al., is in the December issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology. […]

Behe’s new paper

The latest issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology has a paper by intelligent-design advocate Michael Behe, “Experimental evolution, loss-of-function mutations, and “the first rule of adaptive evolution.” It’s a review of several decades’ worth of experimental evolution in microbes (viruses and bacteria), with an eye toward revealing exactly what kinds of mutations have occurred […]

A remarkable “flying” snake

An article in this week’s New York Times Science Observer column highlights the paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) of Asia, long known to escape predators by hurling itself from a tree and sailing through the canopy to alight on a new tree.  Studies suggest it can travel as far as 300 feet in this way.  […]

The beakiest bird

I photographed a specimen of the South American sword-billed hummingbird, Ensifera ensifera, in the bird collection at the Universidad de Los Andes, using a pen for scale. The bird is found throughout the northern Andes, and is the only species in the genus Ensifera. Most important, it’s the only living bird whose beak (3.5 to […]

The surreal treehoppers

Last week’s Nature highlighted the sculptures of Alfred Keller (1902-1955), and the example, a model of the Brazilian treehopper Bocydium globulare, struck me as one of the weirdest animals I’ve ever seen: Martin Kemp describes Keller’s work: Keller was trained as a kunstschmied, an ‘art blacksmith’. From 1930 until his early death he was employed […]

Wasps: artists or robots?

by Matthew Cobb [Continuing my lazy practice of re-posting material from elsewhere in the blogosphere and bringing it to the attention of WEIT readers, here’s one I posted last week over at Pestival (the insect arts festival – yes, honest!  Go look!)] In case you weren’t listening to BBC Radio 4 at 06:15 am the […]

The evolution of cat coat patterns

Why are some species of kittehs plain, while others have spots, stripes, or more elaborate patterns? A provisional answer comes from a new paper by William Allen et al., “Why the leopard got his spots: relating pattern development to ecology in felids”, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.  The paper’s title, of course, comes […]

Shark jaws

Here are two more photos from my immensely edifying visit to Jim Krupa’s lab at The University of Kentucky.  They show the extreme diversity of morphology that evolution can produce in a single group. The first shows the jaw of what I remember as a tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier.  National Geographic notes that “They have sharp, […]