As someone who likes to play with fire in my cooking, I always have a hearty stock of chili peppers in my kitchen. Depending on the dish, I’ll use anything from canned chipotles, ground cayenne, and paprika to fresh jalapeños and habaneros. All peppers, hot and sweet, are cultivars of five species from the genus … Continue reading Bring on the Heat: The Evolution of Spiciness in Chilies
There is an entire community of pigeon collectors living amongst us. They marvel at the diversity of plumage, color, and patterning that this single species displays. In fact, none other than Charles Darwin himself fancied the pigeon species. These pigeon enthusiasts understand that we can learn a lot from pigeon diversity. In a recent publication, … Continue reading Lessons from the Urban Pigeon
A staple of warm summer nights, fireflies have charmed generations with their magical evening glow. Children setting out to capture them in jars can tell you the trick is to catch sight of each flash of light as the bugs fly around. What we might not realize as children is that fireflies emit their greenish … Continue reading New firefly breeding patterns light the way for changes in color vision
Today’s story begins with Peto’s paradox – the observation that larger animals should have higher cancer incidence than smaller animals, but don’t (1). Fundamentally, cancer is caused by DNA damage. Large animals have many cells and usually also have long lifespans. As a result, their numerous cells duplicate many times and are exposed to a … Continue reading Strength in numbers: extra copies of the TP53 gene helps elephants fight cancer
If it looks like an ant and walks like an ant, it must be an ant, right? Thanks to evolution, this isn’t always the case. Plants and animals can evolve to mimic other species in appearance, behavior, sound, or smell. By doing so, mimics can reap benefits such as increased access to food, enhanced reproduction, … Continue reading If you talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk: mimicry of ant locomotion in jumping spiders
Just as we exploit social media to self-promote, find mates, and flaunt social status, animals use visual, olfactory, auditory, or mechanical displays to communicate with one another. Like a Facebook status, these displays often communicate some internal attribute about the organism. A well-known example of this type of signaling is the vibrant tail-feathers of the … Continue reading I’m looking at the fish in the mirror: a tail of social signaling
Think of a trait, any trait. A bird beak, a butterfly wing, a fish fin. Highly coordinated gene expression networks ultimately produce all traits. Hence, any variation you see in these traits must be due to shifts in gene expression, whether that shift is determined genetically or by some external cue. Evolutionary developmental biologists want … Continue reading Tiny chompers: How a baby Cichlid behavior influences an adaptive trait
Shrikes are basically nature’s version of Vlad the Impaler. While less gory birds feed on nuts and others peck at insects, shrikes impale their prey onto sharp spikes. Once the unfortunate animal is firmly attached and appropriately subdued, shrikes then tear their prey apart. The result is an array of dismantled corpses of lizards, small … Continue reading Why the horned lizard has horns: More than a just-so story
Recently, 40+ bird genomes were sequenced, and we are still just beginning to sift through the data. How did birds lose their teeth? (Yes, teeth.) How did they evolve to learn complex songs? Has flying made their genomes smaller? Get the scoop from Allison Schultz.
Frivolous as it may sound to us, making pretty flowers is serious business for a plant. Fancier flowers often mean more attention from pollinators and greater reproductive success, and the huge diversity of flowers around today shows that the evolution of new flower types has paid off. But how can plants afford to experiment with such an important developmental process? As Becky Povilus explains, they do and they don't.