On Wednesday, we asked about examples for teaching evolution. Confusedious talked about the lineage of whales–a wonderful illustration of the way evolution is not necessarily linear. The pressures of survival can encourage adaptations that bring a species out of the water, and then eventually send them back again. Some of the interim forms are… startling. The alligator-like Ambulocetus natans doesn’t look like anything you’d want to get close to, even with binoculars.
MASI’s own Henderson linked to a piece on the rapid evolution of a lizard species, after being transplanted to a new environment. Although evolution can also take place gradually, punctuated equilibrium suggests that faster change isn’t at all uncommon.
J. B. S. Haldane (he of the pre-Cambrian rabbits) was once asked what his studies of evolution had taught him about the Creator. Haldane gave the question due consideration, then announced: “He has an inordinate fondness for beetles.” They make up about a quarter of all the species on Earth, so he had a point. An Inordinate Fondness is a monthly blog carnival that covers beetles in all their glorious variation. Unrelated to the blog, there is also a book and a Flickr set. Researchers at Harvard are working on putting together the full beetle family tree–click through for the stunning photos on the first page, if nothing else.
The Evolving Planet Exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum is one of the best places to get a feel for the scale and pattern of evolution. It’s set up as a story, walking you from the origin of life through its many eras and extinction events, all the way up to the development of modern humans. The Burgess Shale animation in Thursday’s post is from that exhibit. The whole thing starts with this plaque:
That would make a great business card, convenient for handing out to people who think “theory” means “vague hunch.” Or maybe it belongs on stickers, for putting inside the covers of high school biology texts.