Showing posts with label carl zimmer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label carl zimmer. Show all posts

Monday, June 4, 2012

Blink Blink: It's Firefly Season

With so many of us busy as bees on a daily (and nightly) basis, it is easy to find ourselves overlooking the small wonders in our own backyard. Sure, we notice the unusually colorful migratory birds and chat with neighbors about the raccoon breaking into trash cans, but rarely do we stand or sit still long enough to admire how the littlest species (littlest yet visible to the naked eye, that is) communicate with one another and how we can communicate with them.

Insect interactions are incredibly complex and warrant fields and fields of study far more engaging than this little blog post can accommodate, but the call and response mating rituals between fireflies can be observed and contemplated by interested backyard bug-lovers after a few moments reading up on the topic in Carl Zimmer's 2009 New York Times article: Blink Twice If You Like Me

In the article Dr. Sara Lewis, an evolutionary ecologist at Tufts University, offers insight on the insects and a few patterns to look for when the fireflies emerge - at that perfect evening hour to coincide with winding down - and throughout their fascinating nightlife. Take a few moments to take a closer look and you may observe the following:

  • Each firefly species has its own pattern of flashes, discernible by the number of pulses (flashes) and seconds of delay in between.
  • Fireflies flashing in the air are males. The females stay down in the grass observing and looking for the flash patterns of males of their own species.
  • Female fireflies will sometimes respond with a single flash of their own, always at a precise interval after the males.

If this topic captivates you as much as it does me, you may want to check out this Tufts Now news article about the 2011 findings in Correlated Evolution of Female Neoteny and Flightlessness with Male Spermatophore Production in Fireflies (Coleopetera: Lampyridae) and start practicing the double blink of the male Photinus greeni on your penlight.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Firefly Season

Just had my first firefly encounter this season and was instantly reminded of that great NY Times article published a few years ago: Blink Twice If You Like Me.  In it, Carl Zimmer highlights research on flash patterns and mating rituals done by Dr. Sara Lewis, an evolutionary ecologist at Tufts University. I highly recommend reading or re-reading it.

Fun fact to remember: Fireflies flashing in the air are all males. The females sit down in the grass observing, looking for flash patterns of males of their own species. They will sometimes respond with a single flash of their own, always at a precise interval after the male’s.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Origin of Flowers

(Photo courtesy of Troy Carter)

Carl Zimmer wrote a great article for the NY Times about the evolutionary burst of flowering plants. It's way cool and an incredible reminder that few things in this world happen by mistake. Find it here. Here's the article's conclusion:

In the first flowers, the endosperm ended up with one set of genes from the male parent and another set from the female parent. But after early lineages like Amborella and water lilies branched off, flowers bulked up their endosperm with two sets of genes from the mother and one from the father.

Dr. Friedman, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, has documented the transition and does not think it was a coincidence that flowering plants underwent an evolutionary explosion after gaining an extra set of genes in their endosperm. It is possible, for example, that with extra genes, the endosperm could make more proteins.

“It’s like having a bigger engine,” Dr. Friedman said.

Other experts agree that the transition took place, but they are not sure it is the secret to flowers’ success. “I don’t know why it should be so great,” Dr. Doyle said.

As Dr. Friedman has studied how the extra set of genes evolved in flowers, he has once again been drawn to Goethe’s vision of simple sources and complex results.

Flowers with a single set of female DNA in their endosperm, like water lilies, start out with a single nucleus at one end of the embryo sac. It divides, and one nucleus moves to the middle of the sac to become part of the endosperm.

Later, a variation evolved. In a rose or a poppy, a single nucleus starts out at one end of the sac. But when the nucleus divides, one nucleus makes its way to the other end of the sac. The two nuclei each divide, and then one of the nuclei from each end of the sac moves to the middle.

Duplication, a simple process, led to greater complexity and a major change in flowers.

“Nature just doesn’t invent things out of whole cloth,” Dr. Friedman said. “It creates novelty in very simple ways. They’re not radical or mysterious. Goethe already had this figured out.”