ARTICLE: The katydid that was: the tananá, stridulation, Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin

A new article in Archives of Natural History (April 2014):

The katydid that was: the tananá, stridulation, Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin

Claudio J. Bidau

Abstract The Amazonian bush-cricket or katydid, Thliboscelus hypericifolius (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae: Pseudophyllinae), called tananá by the natives was reported to have a song so beautiful that they were kept in cages for the pleasure of listening to the melodious sound. The interchange of letters between Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin regarding the tananá and the issue of stridulation in Orthoptera indicates how this mysterious insect, which seems to be very rare, contributed to the theory of sexual selection developed by Darwin.

Episode 2 of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is all about evolution

You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about or seen the first two episodes of the reboot to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (originally aired on PBS in 1980), Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (on FOX and National Geographic networks). While all of it so far has been a treat to watch and Tyson is charming in his enthusiasm for science, the first episode (FOX/Hulu) came under fire largely by historians for its cartoon depiction of how Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition in 1600 for his cosmological views (painting him a martyr for science and perpetuating the long-discredited “conflict thesis”). If you wish to dive into this discussion, see these posts: 1, 2, 3, and 4). Luckily the second episode, all about evolution, steered clear of myth-making in the history of science and presented a solid treatment of evolution (thoughts from PZ Myers, Larry Moran, and Steven Newton/NCSE about the episode).

You can view episode 2 of Cosmos, “Some of the Things Molecules Do,” through FOX or Hulu. Enjoy!

ARTICLE: A Delicate Adjustment: Wallace and Bates on the Amazon and “The Problem of the Origin of Species”

A new article in the Journal of the History of Biology by John van Wyhe:

A Delicate Adjustment: Wallace and Bates on the Amazon and “The Problem of the Origin of Species”

Abstract For over a century it has been believed that Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates set out for the Amazon in 1848 with the aim of “solving the problem of the origin of species”. Yet this enticing story is based on only one sentence. Bates claimed in the preface to his 1863 book that Wallace stated this was the aim of their expedition in an 1847 letter. Bates gave a quotation from the letter. But Wallace himself never endorsed or repeated this story. Many writers have acknowledged that this letter still survives. Yet the wording is different from that quoted by Bates and the letter says nothing of an expedition. It is argued that the sentence given by Bates is not a genuine quotation from this or any other Wallace letter but was modified by Bates to promote his own reputation. More significantly, this leads to the conclusion that there was a very sudden and dramatic shift in the way species were thought of and discussed after Darwin’s Origin of species appeared. Something called “the problem of the origin of species” (and similar variants) never occurred before Darwin’s book but exploded in frequency immediately after it. A profound change in how species origins were discussed happened which no one seemed to notice.

ARTICLES: Disciplining and Popularizing: Evolution and its Publics from the Modern Synthesis to the Present

The journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences has a set of articles in its March 2014 issue that all stem from a conference session for the History of Science Society in 2012:

Disciplining and popularizing: Evolution and its publics from the modern synthesis to the present (Introduction)
Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis

Darwin’s foil: The evolving uses of William Paley’s Natural Theology 1802–2005
Adam R. Shapiro

Making the case for orthogenesis: The popularization of definitely directed evolution (1890–1926)
Mark A. Ulett

Paleontology at the “high table”? Popularization and disciplinary status in recent paleontology
David Sepkoski

Claiming Darwin: Stephen Jay Gould in contests over evolutionary orthodoxy and public perception, 1977–2002
Myrna Perez Sheldon

BOOK REVIEW: Plesiosaur Peril

About a year ago I posted about two children’s books that combine interesting stories, beautiful illustrations, and factual information about dinosaurs and other extinct animals: Ankylosaur Attack and Pterosaur Trouble. Moving on to another group of extinct reptile, Daniel Loxton rounds out this trilogy in the Tales of Prehistoric Life series: Plesiosaur Peril (Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press, 2014, 32 pp.).

Plesiosaur Peril

Again combining beautiful digital illustrations with landscape photography (or should I say, seascape photography) by Loxton and Jim W.W. Smith, this book recounts the “day in the life” of a family of ocean-dwelling Cryptoclidus as they evade the hungry jaws of a much larger plesiosaur, Liopleurodon. Young readers will enjoy the action, while parents will appreciate the theme of family bonds. Educators will enjoy the current paleontological information (paleontologist Darren Naish was a consultant, and he posted on his blog a lot of information about plesiosaurs and the process of working on the book), while everyone will enjoy the beautiful rendering of plesiosaurs, ammonites, ichthyosaurs, and belemnites (squid-like creatures). This trilogy is perfect for science-minded kids, and would be great set of books to have on elementary school library shelves.

Spread from Plesiosaur Peril, from Kids Can Press. Art by Daniel Loxton with Jim W.W. Smith. All rights reserved.

Spread from Plesiosaur Peril, from Kids Can Press. Art by Daniel Loxton with Jim W.W. Smith. All rights reserved.

Spread from Plesiosaur Peril, from Kids Can Press. Art by Daniel Loxton with Jim W.W. Smith. All rights reserved.


BOOK: Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin

This new title is an absolutely beautiful book:

Tim Birkhead, Jo Wimpenny, and Bob Montgomerie, Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 544 pp.

Ten Thousand Birds provides a thoroughly engaging and authoritative history of modern ornithology, tracing how the study of birds has been shaped by a succession of visionary and often-controversial personalities, and by the unique social and scientific contexts in which these extraordinary individuals worked. This beautifully illustrated book opens in the middle of the nineteenth century when ornithology was a museum-based discipline focused almost exclusively on the anatomy, taxonomy, and classification of dead birds. It describes how in the early 1900s pioneering individuals such as Erwin Stresemann, Ernst Mayr, and Julian Huxley recognized the importance of studying live birds in the field, and how this shift thrust ornithology into the mainstream of the biological sciences. The book tells the stories of eccentrics like Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a pathological liar who stole specimens from museums and quite likely murdered his wife, and describes the breathtaking insights and discoveries of ambitious and influential figures such as David Lack, Niko Tinbergen, Robert MacArthur, and others who through their studies of birds transformed entire fields of biology.

Ten Thousand Birds brings this history vividly to life through the work and achievements of those who advanced the field. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews, this fascinating book reveals how research on birds has contributed more to our understanding of animal biology than the study of just about any other group of organisms.