How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry

Author: Christie Wilcox

Publisher: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux

ISBN: 0374712212

Category: Science

Page: 256

View: 5963


A thrilling tale of encounters with nature’s masters of biochemistry From the coasts of Indonesia to the rainforests of Peru, venomous animals are everywhere—and often lurking out of sight. Humans have feared them for centuries, long considering them the assassins and pariahs of the natural world. Now, in Venomous, the biologist Christie Wilcox investigates and illuminates the animals of our nightmares, arguing that they hold the keys to a deeper understanding of evolution, adaptation, and immunity. She reveals just how venoms function and what they do to the human body. With Wilcox as our guide, we encounter a jellyfish with tentacles covered in stinging cells that can kill humans in minutes; a two-inch caterpillar with toxic bristles that trigger hemorrhaging; and a stunning blue-ringed octopus capable of inducing total paralysis. How do these animals go about their deadly work? How did they develop such intricate, potent toxins? Wilcox takes us around the world and down to the cellular level to find out. Throughout her journey, Wilcox meets the intrepid scientists who risk their lives studying these lethal beasts, as well as “self-immunizers” who deliberately expose themselves to snakebites. Along the way, she puts her own life on the line, narrowly avoiding being envenomated herself. Drawing on her own research, Wilcox explains how venom scientists are untangling the mechanisms of some of our most devastating diseases, and reports on pharmacologists who are already exploiting venoms to produce lifesaving drugs. We discover that venomous creatures are in fact keystone species that play crucial roles in their ecosystems and ours—and for this alone, they ought to be protected and appreciated. Thrilling and surprising at every turn, Venomous will change everything you thought you knew about the planet’s most dangerous animals.

Strange Survivors

How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life

Author: One R. Pagan

Publisher: BenBella Books

ISBN: 1944648593

Category: Science

Page: 280

View: 1553


Life is beautiful, ruthless, and very, very strange. In the evolutionary arms race that has raged on since life began, organisms have developed an endless variety of survival strategies. From sharp claws to brute strength, camouflage to venom—all these tools and abilities share one purpose: to keep their bearer alive long enough to reproduce, helping the species avoid extinction. Every living thing on this planet has developed a time-tested arsenal of weapons and defenses. Some of these weapons and defenses, however, are decidedly more unusual than others. In Strange Survivors, biologist Oné R. Pagán takes us on a tour of the improbable, the ingenious, and the just plain bizarre ways that creatures fight for life. Inside this funny, fascinating field guide to nature’s most colorful characters, you’ll meet killer snails, social bacteria, and an animal with toxic elbows. But Strange Survivors is more than a collection of curiosities—it is a love letter to science and an argument for the continuing relevance of this evolutionary battle as we face the threat of resistant bacteria and the need for novel medical therapies. Whether discussing blood-thinning bats and electric fish or pondering the power of cooperation, Pagán reveals the surprising lessons found in some of life’s natural oddities and how the tactics they employ to live might aid our own survival.

Convergent Evolution on Earth

Lessons for the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Author: George R McGhee Jr.

Publisher: MIT Press

ISBN: 0262042738

Category: Science

Page: 336

View: 5416


An analysis of patterns of convergent evolution on Earth that suggests where we might look for similar convergent forms on other planets. Why does a sea lily look like a palm tree? And why is a sea lily called a “lily” when it is a marine animal and not a plant? Many marine animals bear a noticeable similarity in form to land-dwelling plants. And yet these marine animal forms evolved in the oceans first; land plants independently and convergently evolved similar forms much later in geologic time. In this book, George McGhee analyzes patterns of convergent evolution on Earth and argues that these patterns offer lessons for the search for life elsewhere in the universe. Our Earth is a water world; 71 percent of the earth's surface is covered by water. The fossil record shows that multicellular life on dry land is a new phenomenon; for the vast majority of the earth's history—3,500 million years of its 4,560 million years of existence—complex life existed only in the oceans. Explaining that convergent biological evolution occurs because of limited evolutionary pathways, McGhee examines examples of convergent evolution in forms of feeding, immobility and mobility, defense, and organ systems. McGhee suggests that the patterns of convergent evolution that we see in our own water world indicate the potential for similar convergent forms in other water worlds. We should search for extraterrestrial life on water worlds, and for technological life on water worlds with continental landmasses.


The Secrets of Nature's Deadliest Weapon

Author: Ronald Jenner,Eivind Undheim

Publisher: Smithsonian Institution

ISBN: 1588344541

Category: Nature

Page: 208

View: 4494


"The story of venom from ancient origins to modern medicinal use"--

Amazing Animals

Author: Scientific American Editors

Publisher: Scientific American

ISBN: 1250121566

Category: Nature

Page: 170

View: 6665


Humans tend to think that we are unique in our intelligence, social skill and depth of emotion. We tend to forget that we are animals too, and if we’re paying attention, we might see a bit of ourselves in the sheer variety of species, with their myriad behaviors, survival skills, social and communication systems and other traits. For example, it might seem baffling that a certain African termite would build mud homes that can reach 18 feet tall – until we find out that they're not the latest style in insect McMansions, but rather the height works for climate control. In this eBook, we gather recent research on animal behavior, including surprising discoveries of how animals think and feel, from man’s best friend to some of the earth’s oddest creatures. In examining the act of mourning, for instance, mounting evidence indicates that species from dolphins to elephants to cats and dogs experience grief over the loss of loved ones. Killer whales appear to be splitting into separate species over, of all things, cultural differences in food acquisition – currently a hot button issue for our own species. The animal kingdom teems with secret stories of strange and fascinating lives, some of which can help remind us what it means to be human.