evolution

Not Exactly Rocket Science

Tag archives for evolution

A life in the trees is a longer one

An assortment of tree-living mammals In The Descent of Man, Darwin talked about the benefits of life among the treetops, citing the “power of quickly climbing trees, so as to escape from enemies”. Around 140 years later, these benefits have been confirmed by Milena Shattuck and Scott Williams from the University of Illinois. By looking…

Evolving guppies shape their environments

The streams of Trinidad and Tobago are home to the most unexpected of landscape gardeners. They’re guppies – tiny and beautifully coloured fish, just an inch or so long. Without tools or plans, they shape the environment around them, tweaking everything from the numbers of different species to the nutrients in the water. The guppies…

Millions of years before humans invented sonar, bats and toothed whales had mastered the biological version of the same trick – echolocation. By timing the echoes of their calls, one group effortlessly flies through the darkest of skies and the other swims through the murkiest of waters. It’s amazing enough that two such different groups…

If you search for decent definitions of evolution, the chances are that you’ll see genes mentioned somewhere. The American Heritage Dictionary talks about natural selection acting on “genetic variation”, Wikipedia discusses “change in the genetic material of a population… through successive generations”, and TalkOrigins talks about changes that are inherited “via the genetic material”. But,…

Tiger snakes are a group of extremely venomous serpents found all over the southern half of Australia, and on many of its islands. Some were cut off from the mainland by rising sea levels more than 9,000 years ago, while others were inadvertently introduced by travelling humans and have been around for less than 30…

The Northern short-tailed shrew is a small, energetic mammal that lives in central and eastern North America. The Mexican beaded lizard is a much larger reptile found in Mexico and Guatemala. These species are separated by a lot of a land and several million years of evolution, yet they share astonishing similarities. Not only are…

Cast your mind back to June, when a stunning fossil animal called Darwinius (alternatively Ida or “The Link”) was unveiled to the world to tremendous pomp and circumstance. Hyperbolic ads declared the day of Ida’s discovery as the most important for 47 million years. A press release promised that she would “change everything”, headlines proclaimed…

Robots evolve to deceive one another

In a Swiss laboratory, a group of ten robots is competing for food. Prowling around a small arena, the machines are part of an innovative study looking at the evolution of communication, from engineers Sara Mitri and Dario Floreano and evolutionary biologist Laurent Keller. They programmed robots with the task of finding a “food source”…

The turtle’s shell provides it with a formidable defence and one that is unique in the animal world. No other animal has a structure quite like it, and the bizarre nature of the turtle’s anatomy also applies to the skeleton and muscles lying inside its bony armour. The shell itself is made from broadened and…

If you tickle a young chimp, gorilla or orang-utan, it will hoot, holler and pant in a way that would strongly remind you of human laughter. The sounds are very different – chimp laughter, for example, is breathier than ours, faster and bereft of vowel sounds (“ha” or “hee”). Listen to a recording and you…