evolution

Not Exactly Rocket Science

Tag archives for evolution

Sixty-five million years ago, life on Earth was sorely tested. One or more catastrophic events including a massive asteroid strike and increased volcanic activity, created wildfires on a global scale and dust clouds that cut the planet’s surface off from the sun’s vital light. The majority of animal species went extinct including, most famously, the…

Walking on two legs, or bipedalism, immediately sets us apart form other apes. It frees our arms for using tools and weapons and is a key part of our evolutionary success. Scientists have put forward a few theories to explain how our upright gait evolved, but the ‘savannah theory‘ is by far the most prolific.…

What happens when you find a feathered dinosaur that really isn’t meant to have feathers? That’s the question set by a spectacular new fossil that adds a confusing dimension to the origin of feathers. The concept of dinosaurs with feathers is no longer surprising. Birds certainly have them and they are now considered to be…

Earlier this year, I wrote about how the human obsession with size is reshaping the bodies of other species at an incredible pace. Unlike natural predators that cull the sick, weak and unfit, human fishermen prize the biggest catches and throw the smallest ones back in. As a result, fish and other species harvested by…

This is the fifth of eight posts on evolutionary research to celebrate Darwin’s bicentennial. Life can sometimes be a futile contest. Throughout the natural world, pairs of species are locked in an evolutionary arms race where both competitors must continuously evolve new adaptations just to avoid ceding ground. Any advantage is temporary as every adaptive…

This is the fourth of eight posts on evolutionary research to celebrate Darwin’s bicentennial. Charles Darwin was a visionary in more ways than one. In 1862, Darwin was studying a Malagasy orchid called Angraecum sesquipedale, whose nectar stores lie inaccessibly at the bottom of a 30cm long spur (tube). Darwin predicted that the flower was…

This is the third of eight posts on evolutionary research to celebrate Darwin’s bicentennial. In our world, there is (roughly) one man for every woman. Despite various social differences, our gender ratio remains steadfastly equal, so much so that we tend to take it for granted. Elsewhere in the nature, things are not quite so…

Nine years ago, a team of fossil-hunters led by Philip Gingerich from the University of Michigan uncovered something amazing – the petrified remains of an ancient whale, but one unlike any that had been found before. Within the creature’s abdomen lay a collection of similar but much smaller bones. They were the fossilised remains of…

As a species, our unflinching obsession with size is just as apparent in our dealings with other animals as it is in our personal lives. Fishermen prize the biggest catches and they’re are obliged to throw the smallest specimens back in. Hunters also value the biggest kills; they provide the most food and make the…

How life became big in two giant steps

Since the first living things appeared on the planet, the biggest among them have become increasingly bigger. Over 3.6 billion years of evolution, life’s maximum size has shot up by 16 orders of magnitude – about 10 quadrillion times – from single cells to the massive sequoias of today (below right). And no matter what…