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Evolutionary Biogeography Requires Imagination

Biogeography – the study of the distribution of species – has been an important part of evolutionary theory, and has often been used as evidence for evolution.  Some recent findings about plants and animals should give scientists caution about trying to divine too much evolutionary history from locations of present-day organisms and fossils.     […]

Specious Theories Obey the Law of Inertia

Last March, scientists publishing in Geology falsified the so-called “Permian Extinction,” calling it a “non-event.” (see 03/09/2009).  Not only was there no smoking gun of a catastrophe in the rocks, the scientists said that the “claims of rapid vertebrate recovery… also must be called into question.”  Our commentary at the time wondered how long it […]

Flying Fossils Found

A population of insects called “living fossils” has been located in Australia.  These tiny insects, called ancient greenling damselflies, have no living relatives.  Their closest relatives disappeared from the fossil record 250 to 300 million years ago in the geological column, according to The Age and Heidelberg Leader.  The wingspan of the insects is only […]

Tiktaalik Demoted to Has-Been

The highly-publicized tetrapod missing link or “fish-a-pod” that made headlines in 2006 (05/03/2006) has been dethroned by new findings in Poland.  Trackways said to be 18 million years older than Tiktaalik, showing digits and alternating steps, were announced today in Nature.1  The authors said, “They force a radical reassessment of the timing, ecology and environmental […]

Robot Designers Strive to Match Animals

Engineers feel great satisfaction when their robots can match just some of the feats of animals.  What does that say about the design of the animals? It’s a bird, it’s a plane:  The first “hummingbird robot” was unveiled by Japanese researcher Hiroshi Liu (Chiba University) in a press release published by PhysOrg.  The hand-sized device […]

In Brains, Size Is Not All that Matters

Two recent science articles indicate that scientists should be careful before inferring intelligence from brain size (picture).  PhysOrg reported on work to uncover the genetic basis of microcephaly – reduced brain size in humans.  “The cerebral cortex in particular has undergone a dramatic increase in surface area during the course of primate evolution,” the article […]

Clever Animals Inspire Lookers – And Engineers

Incredible animals provide endless delights with their antics.  Even microorganisms are capable of amazing feats.  Sometimes these living things inspire inventors, too. Coconut octopus:  Tool use was supposed to be a late marker of primate intelligence as chimpanzees were evolving upward to manhood.  That’s so 1890.  Now that we know crows can use tools (05/26/2009), […]

Insect Wing Photocopied for Good

Biomimetics is the new science of imitating nature – but why not save a step, and just copy the design directly?  That’s what Aussie and British researchers did.  They wanted a self-cleaning surface that could repel moisture and dust, so they made a template of an insect wing.  And why not?  “Insects are incredible nanotechnologists,” […]

Soft Muscle Tissue Found in Fossil Salamander

More soft tissue has been found in a fossil – this time in a salamander said to be 18 million years old.  The article on PhysOrg called it “the highest quality soft tissue preservation ever documented in the fossil record.”     Unlike the previous discoveries of fossil tissue inside bone or amber, the recognizable […]

How a Biotoxin Evolved

What do shrews and lizards have in common?  Not much, but two species developed the same toxin in their digestive enzymes, giving them both a poisonous bite.  Science Daily said a harmless digestive enzyme became overactive through three related changes.  “What had been a mild anticoagulant in the salivary glands of both species has become […]

To Advance Science, Imitate Nature

Biomimetics – the imitation of nature – continues to be one of the hottest areas in science.  Here are a few of the latest findings coming from the world of living creatures. Fish robot:  National Geographic News shows a photo of the latest thing in underwater robotics: a robotic submarine modeled after the Amazonian knifefish.  […]

No Evolution in 58 Million Years

“Plant fossils give first real picture of earliest Neotropical rainforests,” announced a press release from University of Florida.  The fossils from Colombia show that “many of the dominant plant families existing in today’s Neotropical rainforests – including legumes, palms, avocado and banana – have maintained their ecological dominance despite major changes in South America’s climate […]

How to Copy a Butterfly Wing

Here’s what you have to do to copy a butterfly wing without destroying it: create compounds using Germanium, Selenium and Stibium.  Combine thermal evaporation and substrate rotation in a low pressure chamber.  Immerse in an aqueous orthophosphoric acid solution to dissolve the chitin.  If you are lucky, you can copy the delicate nanostructure of a […]

Stone Tools May Be Crocodile Stomach Stones

“Were crocodiles responsible for the stones we call tools?” is the title of a surprising letter to the editor in Nature last week.1  Patrick Dempsey (the archaeologist, not the actor) raised a possibility that paleoanthropologists and the journals have been making a big mistake for a long time.  He asked, “Could Nature have been unknowingly […]

Nature’s Designs Are Engineers’ Finds

Nature is a treasure trove of technology.  Though engineers have garnered inspiration from nature since the Wright brothers and before, it seems that in recent years there has been a gold rush to follow nature’s lead. Wet glue:  Worms may not be very inspiring to most people, but Science News reported that scientists at the […]
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