Face to Face

Social animals need to recognize one another. Individuals are important where relationships exist for any duration, and in any community with a social hierarchy. Yet zoologists seemed surprised to learn that all social species innately possess skills that meet the need. (Aren’t humans supposed to be superior at this sort of thing?!)

Fiddling Fungi

Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737) is generally considered the greatest artisan of stringed instruments. His violins – Stradivarius – are particularly legendary. Working wood to one’s will so that it produces a superb sound is an almost mystical craft. The choice of wood is crucial. Stradivari’s secret was having a friend in fungus.

Microbes at War

Microbes participate in various cooperative social behaviors, similar to macroorganisms, though the intimacy of their cooperative endeavors often exceeds those of larger organisms. Symbiosis among different microbial species evolved as a means to optimize the special skills that each species can contribute. Microbes cooperate to better exploit resources, resist stressful environments, protect themselves and their territory against other microbes, and to wage war.

From Egg to Croak

All tadpoles turn into frogs, but not all frogs are turned from tadpoles. Half of the 4,800 known frog species start life as eggs laid in water, hatch into aquatic tadpoles, then metamorphize into frogs. The other half do something else. Frog life cycles are incredibly diverse.

The Descent of Scent

“To create a little flower is the labour of ages.” ~ British poet William Blake (1757 – 1827). Angiosperms (flowering plants) evolved 140 million years ago. A significant step in plant evolution, angiosperms encompassed the latest innovations: leaves, pollen, flowers and fruit. Angiosperms may have got their edge over simpler seed-bearers by developing drought-resistant features and rapid reproduction. But as Blake pointed out, the labor of the ages had hoary roots.

Survival By Theft

Several species of rodent hoard food, typically saving seeds and nuts in multiple buried caches. Sometimes hoarding can have inadvertent benefit, particularly if coupled with unscrupulous wily ways.