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Evolutionary Mutualism Flutters

A story on Science Daily is decorated with a butterfly collection.  Amazonian butterflies studied by an international team were chosen to test Darwin’s theory of mutualism – a kind of symbiosis in which two species benefit one another.  The test yielded a surprise.     The idea going in was that sister species would evolve […]

Go to the Ant, Thou Farmer

We humans boast too much.  Agribusiness?  Ants have it down to a science.  “One of the most important developments in human civilisation was the practice of sustainable agriculture,” stated Science Daily.  “But we were not the first – ants have been doing it for over 50 million years.  Just as farming helped humans become a […]

Far-Out Science

The following list of bizarre stories coming from science news outlets is jarring on two fronts: it shows how little scientists understand, and calls into question what counts as science these days.  Some stories illustrate one or the other; some both. Roar of the aurora aura:  Both Saturn and Mars turned up auroras that are […]

Turtle Vaults Over 65 Million Year Evolutionary Hurdle

The Scots are bragging about their latest missing link – a swimming turtle.  The BBC News could hardly contain the excitement over this claim to evolutionary fame: “The new species forms a missing link between ancient terrestrial turtles and their modern, aquatic descendants,” the article said.  But along with celebration, there were admissions of ignorance: […]

Polishing Darwin’s Icons

Finch beaks, peppered moths, transitional forms – the standard props for evolution have been scrutinized ad infinitum for decades.  Can anything new be said about them?  Find out in these recent articles. Peppered moths:  The peppered-moth story just about collapsed when investigators realized that the famous pictures that adorn textbooks were staged, because the moths […]

Lizard Hair and Other Fables

In some science reports, it’s hard to tell where the data stops and the speculation begins.  In any case, evolutionary theory usually arrives in time to take credit for whatever happened in the unobservable past (cf. 08/24/2007). Bad hair joke:  Live Science wants you to blame your bad hair days on lizards.  Why?  Because according […]

Snails Walk on Water

Why is that scientist staring at a snail?  He’s watching a miracle: walking on water.  This is not our exaggeration: Matt Kaplan on National Geographic News entitled his article, “How Snails Walk on Water Is a Small Miracle.”  If we can figure out the trick, we might be able to make little robots do it […]

Tooth Evolution Theory Lacks Bite

The hardest substance in your body is your teeth.  The varieties of teeth among vertebrates is astounding, from the tiny incisors in a mole to the bone-crushing scimitars on a T. rex.  Many fossils are known only from their teeth.  One would think teeth are the best-studied objects in evolutionary theory, but a recent paper […]

A Turtle Missing Link: Are We Missing Something?

Everyone knows the iconic drawing of the parade of human evolution (see 09/23/2008 commentary); now, its turtle counterpart is making the rounds.  An article on New Scientist shows the march of progress from lizard to turtle.  The title says, “Fossil reveals how the turtle got its shell.”  Something is missing from the article, though: a […]

Ant What it Used to Be

A new species of subterranean ant discovered in Brazil is so weird, biologists have classified it as the sole representative of a new subfamily.  The alien creature has been whimsically named Martialis heureka: “the ant from Mars.”  An article about it in Nature News said, “It adds a new branch to the ant family tree […]

Butterfly Wings Xeroxed

If you can’t build it, copy it.  Scientists have had a hard time reconstructing the photonic crystals that make butterfly wings shimmer with light (01/29/2003), so they made, in effect, a carbon copy.  PhysOrg described how scientists at Penn State made impressions of the regularly-spaced geometric shapes from a butterfly wing and transferred it to […]

Fully Gecko 40 Million Years Earlier?

Amber, or fossilized tree sap, usually contains remnants of insect parts.  One piece, mined in the jungles of Myanmar, contained the foot of a gecko – alleged to be 100 million years old.  That’s 40 million years older than the previously claimed oldest gecko fossil.  This critter may have skittered under the feet of dinosaurs.  […]

Plant Perfume Manipulates Pollinator Behavior

You’re a plant, stuck in the ground.  Around you are organisms with wings flitting freely about.  You need to get them to land on your flowers, but not linger too long.  How do you do it?  Attract them with sweet smells, but send them away with a bitter aftertaste.  That’s how the tobacco plant manipulates […]

Can Worms Outsmart Humans?

Worms may seem creepy to some people, but they possess some amazing abilities.  How many of you had to struggle through calculus class, for instance?  Worms know it by heart, reported Greg Soltis at Live Science.  Their brains instinctively apply the logic of calculus to input signals from sensory inputs.  A University of Oregon biologist […]

Animal Patterning Keeps Scientists Puzzle-Solving

Here’s a fascinating area of research for a budding young scientist: the development of animal patterns.  Look at the dazzling wing patterns on butterflies in an illustration on Science Daily or consider a zebra’s stripes.  How do such patterns emerge from a single fertilized egg?  “Although this has been studied for years,” said a researcher […]
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