During the age of the mammoth, a hominin roaming southern Italy stumbled into a hole in the karst landscape. Out of reach of sun and predator, he starved to death, his body decaying and his bones slumping into a pile, mineral-rich waters ultimately calcifying and fusing them into the surrounding limestone. Locked in the limestone, his skeleton would remain there until 1993, when cave explorers found his face--upside down--staring back at them. Read more →
The orange marbled orb-weaver spider (Araneus marmoreus) looks like a lovely round pumpkin. I found this beautiful specimen (bravely!) crawling around my chicken pen in North Wilkeboro, NC in 2011 during the late summer or early fall. It wasn't pleased with my attempts to photograph it, although I don't know why: it's quite attractive! Read more →
Glaucus atlanticus (commonly known as the sea swallow, blue angel, and blue dragon) is a small, blue, pelagic sea slug. As I discussed in my post on why gastropods are awesome, this nudibranch can feed on cnidarians (like jellyfish) and harvest their nematocysts (stinging cells)—so this gorgeous slug not only looks like a Pokemon, but it can actually copy other creatures' moves!
Tetrapods are four-limbed vertebrates that evolved from lobe-finned fish during the Devonian (395 million years ago), invading the land and ultimately leading to today's the amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Read more →
Amniotes are tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates) whose eggs contain amnions, an adaption that keeps them from drying out on land; they first appeared during the Carboniferous. There are two main groups, synapsids and sauropsids (anapsids, diapsids, and euryapsids), which differ in their evolutionary history and their skull morphologies (specifically, the types of fenestrae or "holes" in the skull). For a much more detailed look at the evolution and taxonomy of aminotes, check out Palaeofiles from the University of Bristol.
One of the highlights of studying at Duke was walking through the Duke Gardens and observing the daily habits of the many ducks that frequent the pond in the Asiatic Arboretum. I came to realize that they all had very active lives and interesting relationships. Read more →
Although I often miss the mountains, one of the benefits of living in North Carolina's Coastal Plain is the tree frogs. During my summer at Duke's Marine lab in Beaufort, we would often return to our apartment to find the building and our door absolutely covered in frogs; in the morning, they'd be all over the car, and we'd have to pull them out of the tires. They don't seem to be quite as prevalent in Greenville, but there are plenty (they seem to like sitting on the porch, where they can taunt the cat). During a trip to Washington, NC, we ran across this stunning green little guy, and I decided to find out what he was. Read more →
Everybody knows that coral are essential for marine biodiversity. Most people don't know, however, that they are also secretly brutal bad asses. As cnidarians, corals and anemones (anthozoans) are related to the feared jellyfish (medusazoans). The common thread that unites cnidarians is the presence of stinging cells. Read more →