How Seeing Snakes in the Grass Helped Primates to Evolve

Vision is a window onto the world, its qualities determined by natural selection. Evolution has favoured the modification and expansion of primate vision. Compared with other mammals, primates have, for example, greater depth perception from having forward-facing eyes with extensively overlapping visual fields, sharper visual acuity, more areas in the brain that are involved with[…]

Lucy’s Shattered Bones: Our Ancestors Lived a Dangerous Life in Trees

Humans stand out among all the mammals as being the only species to totter about on two feet. We are the bipedal apes. A ground breaking study of the bones of a 3.2 million year old human ancestor (‘Lucy’) revealed that she died from the crushing impact of a fall from high in the trees. This exciting[…]

Sex Education with Andreas Vesalius in the Early Modern World

Looking beyond an initial impression to dissect what is happening beyond the surface in particular historical contexts. On the first day of my class, ‘Witches, Workers, & Wives,’ I showed students an image from Book 5 of Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (On the fabric of the human body in seven books).At first glance, my students[…]

Plausibility of Current Models of Abiogenesis (Origin of Life)

Study has led to a much deeper understanding of what we mean when we speak of “life”. By Matt Brauer In my one post I mentioned in passing the feature article appearing in November’s issue of PLoS biology. In that paper, Richard Robinson describes some of the difficulties faced by researchers into the Origin of Life. The origin of replicating[…]

The Emotional Lives of Animals

Grief, friendship, gratitude, wonder, and other things we animals experience. Scientific research shows that many animals are very intelligent and have sensory and motor abilities that dwarf ours. Dogs are able to detect diseases such as cancer and diabetes and warn humans of impending heart attacks and strokes. Elephants, whales, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and alligators use[…]

Darling, I Love You … From the Bottom of My Brain

The irrelevance of the heart to love has been amply demonstrated by cardiac transplant surgeons. In William Shakespeare’s comedy Merchant of Venice, the play’s heroine Portia sings: Tell me where is fancy bred,Or in the heart or in the head. If you look at Valentine’s Day cards, it’s clear fancy is bred in the heart and not in[…]

What’s in a Name?: The Taxonomy and Phylogeny of Early Homo

Hominin systematics, encompassing both taxonomy and phylogeny, has significant implications for how the evolution of species and traits are understood and communicated. Abstract Hominin systematics, encompassing both taxonomy and phylogeny (Strait, 2013), has significant implications for how the evolution of species and traits are understood and communicated. Following a recent influx of fossils (e.g., Brown et[…]

Ancient DNA Changes Everything We Know about the Evolution of Elephants

DNA studies reveal that African elephants belong to a very successful and widespread family. For a long time, zoologists assumed that there were only two species of elephant: one Asian and one African. Then genetic analyses suggested that the African Elephant could be divided into two distinct species, the African Forest and African Savannah elephants. Now[…]