The Loom

Archives for November, 2005

An Audubon for the Miocene

Writing about paleontology without illustrations is like directing a movie without a camera. When I wrote my first book, At the Water’s Edge, I had the good fortune to join forces with Carl Buell, who brought walking whales and fish with fingers to life. Now he has come to the other side, with a blog…

Six-Legged History

I’ve got a short piece in tomorrow’s New York Times about the 400-million year history of insects. Some beautiful pictures of the creepers included.

Half a Mil

Getting back home from a Thanksgiving journey full of turkey and queasy toddlers on airplanes, I just noticed that my visit-counter has rolled past the 500,000 mark. I never would have dreamed of such figures when I started this blog, and I just want to take a second to thank everyone who has ever clicked…

The Mosquito and the Bottle

Natural selection is not natural perfection. Time and again, biologists have discovered traits that are both beneficial and harmful. Perhaps the most famous example is the devastating disorder known as sickle-cell anemia. To get sickle-cell anemia, you have to inherit two faulty copies of a gene that helps build hemoglobin, the molecule that traps oxygen…

Back in February I discovered the remarkable work of Australian biologist Bryan Grieg Fry, who has been tracing the evolution of venom. As I wrote in the New York Times, he searched the genomes of snakes for venom genes. He discovered that even non-venomous snakes produce venom. By drawing an evolutionary tree of the venom…

Book News, Part Two

Following up on my earlier post, I wanted to relay one more piece of book news. I’ve been getting some emails over the past couple months inquiring about my book, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea. I wrote it as a companion volume to the 2001 PBS television series, Evolution. Like the series, the book…

Book News, Part One

My latest book, Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins is now available on Amazon.com, and I think it’s getting put on the shelves at bookstores. I’ve only referred to the book here glancingly from time to time, and I wanted to take a minute now to give Loom readers a sense of the book (and…

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

This story starts in 1987, with the skin of a frog. Michael Zasloff, a scientist then at NIH, was impressed by how well a frog in his lab recovered from an incision he had made in its skin during an experiment. He kept his frogs in a tank that must have been rife with bacteria…

The Long, Long Sleep

As a father of two dawn-loving children I don’t get as much sleep as I used to, which makes me wonder sometimes why I crave it so much. A number of scientists who share my curiosity have turned to sleeping animals to find an answer. Sleep appears to be an ancient behavior, perhaps 600 million…

Beware of Crickets Bearing Gifts

The insects scandalously embracing in this picture are decorated crickets (Grylllodes sigillatus), which can be found in the southwestern United States, among other places. The droplet on the male’s tail is–for want of a better word–a gift. After producing this glob he sticks it onto the package of sperm he places on the female. After…