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… Read More 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… Read More Why the horned lizard has horns: More than a just-so story
Sexual selection has resulted in some of the most flamboyant and outrageous ornaments in the natural world. The flashy plumes of the peacock tail, regal fringe of the lion’s mane, and vibrant colors of the agamid lizard all advertise males’ merits as mates to females. Although sexually selected traits are regularly observed in mammals, birds,… Read More Love stings: Sexual selection on wasp spots
We tend to view sexual selection as secondary to natural selection, but nothing is second to the imperative to reproduce. Sometimes that means that even precisely engineered traits like echolocation have room to be a little sexier. Could falsetto calls really be a signal of male quality in the Mehelyi’s horseshoe bat? … Read More Are male bats actually making echolocation harder to impress the ladies?
The orb-weaving spiders build webs so spectacular and bizarre that it seemed they must also be one-of-a-kind. As Tauana Junqueira Cunha explains, modern phylogenetic techniques have now unraveled a tangled web of data to reveal the true story.… Read More Untangling the spider’s web
You might have thought eusociality, an extreme form of cooperation that makes a colony of individuals verge on a superorganism, was just for ants and bees. As we learn more natural history, though, we see more and more examples. Here, Jack Boyle explains how scientists created artificial nests so they could observe the social habits of X. saxesenii, an ambrosia beetle normally concealed in tree trunks, to determine whether they meet the three eusociality criteria. … Read More Xyleborinus saxesenii, welcome to the eusociality club!