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
When we think about animal relationships, some endearing examples of devoted couples come to mind: emperor penguins that faithfully guard their hatchlings for weeks while they wait for their mate to return; love birds (not surprisingly) that groom and feed each other during courtship, and some species of monkeys that intertwine their tails as they … Continue reading I’ll have what she’s having: Manipulation in chimpanzee copulation calls
We’ve all been there. Completely stuffed, can’t stand the sight of more food, and in desperate need of a nap. A few weeks ago, I reached this state after attending a decadent brunch buffet. Imagine a seemingly endless number of tables covered with poached eggs, crisp slices of bacon, and waffles oozing with … Continue reading Nectar microbes: undercover manipulators of flower scent and pollinator behavior
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
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, … Continue reading 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?
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.