Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why Evolution Is True and Baby Tapirs Are Cute

Baby tapirs are adorable, and it turns out, all extant varieties of tapir babies, Malay (top) and South American (below), look very much alike -- more alike than the adult tapirs they'll become:

Adults are either self-colored (the American species) or particolored (the Malay tapir). (It’s interesting that both young and adults have white edges to their ears.) The question is, is this coloration of the juveniles an adaptation? Or is it an ancestral feature of no current utility, which makes a brief appearance in the young, but is then lost (like the coat of hair that human babies have in utero)?
You did catch that part about the coat of hair that human babies have in utero, right? If you are reading this, or if someone you know is reading this at you, you had a coat of fur when you were in your mother's womb. You also had a tail. Both disappeared before you were born, or so I will assume for present purposes.

Fascinating details such as the above -- things you might have forgotten or perhaps never learned -- are presented brilliantly, along with expositions of biogeography and scores of other insights touching on biology, in Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True.

Had someone told me I would find a account of evolution that rivals, in clarity or in the power to awe, Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker or The Ancestor's Tale, I would have spat in his face, called him terrible names, placed flaming bags of dog scat on his front porch before knocking on his door, hurled Molotov cocktails into his passing vehicle, and so on -- I have been told I tend to go slightly overboard, and there may be something to that. Nevertheless, had that person been referring to Coyne's superb new book, I would have been in the wrong.

Why Evolution Is True is not to be missed by anyone who wishes to understand life on earth.

1 comment:

ab said...

Dale, the book sounds interesting, same with the human baby hair bit, but you and I have very different definitions for the word "cute"..eee