Accelerated evolution

This was always going to be a hectic week, but a major cock-up by a Dutch airline(I won’t mention any names) (Keeping Luggage in aMsterdam) (cough) means that I have a less stressful morning today, but has instead moved that stress to the next couple of days.

It does give me chance to share this article which I saw through Brian Micklethwait’s blog, though.

Author Matt Ridley details several (or more) examples of apparent accelerated evolution in fauna living in urban environments. Ridley uses this as the basis of a potential argument for the removal of restrictions on building in the green belts surrounding our cities.

Suburbs are already richer in wildlife than most arable fields in the so-called green belt, making environmental objections to housing development perverse.

I’m not about to join his side in that discussion, especially given the lack of any citations in his article (although to be fair, it was a column for The Times originally, not a scientific paper). Simply because there are new subspecies emerging in our towns and cities surely doesn’t mean that we should willfully eradicate their country cousins.

Or unwillfully for that matter, I suppose.

The city is a harsh environment, with many evolutionary pressures, and they are what are driving this accelerated natural selection.

Blackbirds first showed up in London in the 1920s, later than in continental cities. Studies in France and the Netherlands found that urban blackbirds were rapidly diverging from rural ones. They tend to have shorter beaks and wings, longer intestines and legs, as well as higher-pitched songs. They may soon count as a separate species, just as town pigeons are very different from their rock-dove cousins.

Some of them are related to streetlights and traffic noise, but a worryingly large number appear to be associated with the toxins found in our habitats. And while it’s remarkable, impressive, incredible that bird and fish are adapting so quickly and readily to these potential problems, we should note that the wider picture is wholly unpretty.

We’re not evolving anywhere nearly as quickly as our urban wildlife.

Still, these provisos and warnings aside, it’s both fascinating and amazing to me how we’re shaping the lives of the wildlife around us, and the plan is definitely to do a bit of further reading on this.

For the science.

Atheist Mafia

Thanks to this tweet from Alexander Nakrassov:


I’ve finally worked out where those mysterious, quietly-spoken, yet vaguely threatening calls to the lab, saying things like:

The peppered moth. You’ll acknowledge why the darker variant is predominant in urban environments now compared to 200 years ago… if you know what’s good for you.


Whales’ flippers contain the same basic bone arrangement as bats’ wings. If you want the homologous structures of your upper limbs to remain intact, it might be an idea for you to simply accept this as evidence of evolution. Capisce?

…have been coming from. Damn those atheist mafia terrorists.

The thing is though, every time you agree to their threats, you’re simply contributing to them naturally selecting that behaviour to terrorise some other poor scientist into accepting evolution as fact.

No wonder they seem to be using it more and more effectively.

Science Gun

I like the idea of a Science Gun.


We scientists like things to behave as they are expected to, because… well… that’s how they’re expected to behave. It’s simply unfair that we observe and document these organisms for hundreds of years and then one of them suddenly decides to break the mould, just trying to be clever. That’s what evolution is for, and that doesn’t happen overnight, Mr Emu.


If you’re going to hang around amongst rocks partially covered in purple algae (and who I am to say that you can’t?) and you don’t want to get eaten by something else hanging around amongst rocks partially covered in purple algae, you’d best make yourself look like a rock partially covered in purple algae, right?


This little guy was so confident in his camouflage that he sat perfectly still under our scrutiny until we actually poked him (gently, obviously). Only then did he break cover and dart amongst some other rocks partially covered in purple algae, where he lived to hide another day.

Spotted in Cape Agulhas during the weekend’s low tide.

Heat > Blog

It’s too hot to blog today. Somewhere around 40 of your South African Celciusses.
I can’t even think, let alone document any of those thoughts which I’m not having.

Thanksfully, once again, someone else is doing it for me. Today, it’s WTF, Evolution?,

Honoring natural selection’s most baffling creations.
Go home, evolution, you are drunk.

Like this:


And the wonderful commentary that goes with it:

“I feel awful. I think I partied a little too hard last night. I have got to stop doing that.”

“Well, yeah, you’re not exactly 21 million years old anymore. Here, have an aspirin.”

“Thanks. I just wish I remembered what I — oh. Oh no.”


“I think I may have made some animals last night.”

“Oh, I’m sure you didn’t.”

“Then why do I have ‘variable neon slug’ written on my hand? Oh god, what does that even mean?”

That, as you will no doubt be well aware, is a wonderful example of Nembrotha kubaryana.

I think it’s rather pretty. Well done, drunk Evolution.