Evolutionary Outsourcing – Using Symbionts as Vitamin Factories

This entry is part of a recurring series called Use It Or Lose It that looks at those things that didn’t make the evolutionary cut and have been lost in modern species. ‘Eat your carrots, they’re good for your eyesight’ was a common refrain at the dinner table when I was growing up. As an adult I now know this was a child-friendly explanation that Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness, and this can be prevented…

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Evolutionary Outsourcing – Using Symbionts as Vitamin Factories

This entry is part of a recurring series called Use It Or Lose It that looks at those things that didn’t make the evolutionary cut and have been lost in modern species. ‘Eat your carrots, they’re good for your eyesight’ was a common refrain at the dinner table when I was growing up. As an adult I now know this was a child-friendly explanation that Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness, and this can be prevented…

Continue reading


Garden of Deceit

An alpine meadow. Lurking among the flowers are ‘pseudoflowers’ that are involuntarily formed by plants infected by a pathogenic fungus. Photo source: Wikipedia. It’s an idyllic summer scene in the Canadian Rockies: silent snow-capped peaks watching over bumblebees haphazardly buzzing to and fro over an alpine meadow strewn with bright yellow buttercups. A closer look at this garden of golden blossoms reveals imposters among the familiar cheerful buttercups. Here and there are plants with dense…

Continue reading


Garden of Deceit

An alpine meadow. Lurking among the flowers are ‘pseudoflowers’ that are involuntarily formed by plants infected by a pathogenic fungus. Photo source: Wikipedia. It’s an idyllic summer scene in the Canadian Rockies: silent snow-capped peaks watching over bumblebees haphazardly buzzing to and fro over an alpine meadow strewn with bright yellow buttercups. A closer look at this garden of golden blossoms reveals imposters among the familiar cheerful buttercups. Here and there are plants with dense…

Continue reading


Invertebrate Insecurities

Millipedes have a variety of chemical and physical defence systems to protect themselves from predators, some of which are more impressive than others. Photo available here. You can’t find my file? It’s Milton Millipede – two L’s. What’s that you say? Make myself comfortable? It’s hard to be comfortable lying here on this couch – my mother always told me if she caught any of my four hundred feet on the furniture there would be…

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Invertebrate Insecurities

Millipedes have a variety of chemical and physical defence systems to protect themselves from predators, some of which are more impressive than others. Photo available here. You can’t find my file? It’s Milton Millipede – two L’s. What’s that you say? Make myself comfortable? It’s hard to be comfortable lying here on this couch – my mother always told me if she caught any of my four hundred feet on the furniture there would be…

Continue reading


Full-on Fulmar Invasion

A zodiac departing a research vessel in Engelsbukta on Svalbard. Photo by Marie L. Davey. The fjord is glassy, an impossible shade of blue-green, reflecting mountains and puffy clouds back at a blue arctic sky. I am on an arctic research expedition in the Svalbard archipelago, and our zodiac is tracing a rapidly disappearing white trail across the water. Students and teachers alike are reclining in the warmth of the polar summer’s sunshine, lost in…

Continue reading


Full-on Fulmar Invasion

A zodiac departing a research vessel in Engelsbukta on Svalbard. Photo by Marie L. Davey. The fjord is glassy, an impossible shade of blue-green, reflecting mountains and puffy clouds back at a blue arctic sky. I am on an arctic research expedition in the Svalbard archipelago, and our zodiac is tracing a rapidly disappearing white trail across the water. Students and teachers alike are reclining in the warmth of the polar summer’s sunshine, lost in…

Continue reading


Getting Around

Europe may have seen a historic heat wave this August, but the Biophiles kept cool by heading due north to the Svalbard archipelago, a group of islands 1000 km off the Norwegian mainland and at 78° latitude, well above the arctic circle and accessible only by plane or by boat. The opportunity to teach a university course in Arctic biology has brought me back to Longyearbyen, the tiny arctic town that was my home during 2013.…

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Getting Around

Europe may have seen a historic heat wave this August, but the Biophiles kept cool by heading due north to the Svalbard archipelago, a group of islands 1000 km off the Norwegian mainland and at 78° latitude, well above the arctic circle and accessible only by plane or by boat. The opportunity to teach a university course in Arctic biology has brought me back to Longyearbyen, the tiny arctic town that was my home during 2013.…

Continue reading