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Phidippus audax

The little black jumping spider tickles its way up my forearm. I turn my head to get a better look as it climbs over the knob of my elbow. It stops, sticks its two front legs up in the air, and stares at me. At least I think it does. With all those glittery eyes it’s hard to tell where it’s looking.

Is the spider reacting to me? Legs up could merely be its resting position. It could be stretching out tight muscles after a long crawl or preparing for an acrobatic jump from my arm to a nearby tree. Or it could be trying to steady its balance.

I cock my head to the side. It rocks back on its abdomen but maintains the posture. I slowly extend my finger toward its face. It scuttles backwards a couple steps, then raises its legs again. Three times in a row, my movements triggered a response. It seems to know I’m here.

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Tide Pooling

We gather for the American Society of Naturalists meetings at Asilomar State Beach to argue about life. We share our most specialized natural history discoveries and our broadest theories about the nature of evolution itself. We debate the scale and strength of adaptation, sketch out complex feedback loops connecting ecological and evolutionary processes, and weigh the behavioral and life history strategies which organisms use to deal with fluctuating environmental pressures. Are there observable, unambiguous patterns of convergence and divergence, stasis and change, or is most of what we see the product of historical contingency?

And when the day’s presentations are done, I go tide pooling.

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How are sharks equally related to bony fish and us?

This is one of my favorite evolutionary riddles.

The Chondrichthyes, encompassing sharks, skates, and rays, look like fish. They have gills and swim in the ocean like fish. We call them fish. So they must be fish, right?

Well, It depends on how you define fish. If you assign fish-dom based on things they all share, i.e. floppy slimy creatures who live underwater, breathe through gills, and swim with pairs of fins instead of limbs, then sure, sharks are fish and humans aren’t. However, if you define fish like we do in evolutionary biology, humans, dogs, tortoises, parrots, and sharks are friends, not food right alongside Dory and Nemo.

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Why don’t bees have lungs?

For my brilliant friend, Iris, who rightly calls my scientific perspective two parts beautiful and inspiring and one part absolutely horrifying, and who really, really likes reminding me that bees don’t have lungs.

On April 15th, 2019, the world watched in horror as a thousand years of sacred innovation and artistry collapsed in ash and rubble. Thankfully, no humans were harmed in the fire, but people were concerned about the honeybee colonies that lived high atop the rooftops of Notre Dame de Paris. How could they possibly survive the smoke and ash pouring from the crumbling spires?

When the skies finally cleared, the city breathed a sigh of relief at the familiar sight of bees buzzing around the eaves of the cathedral. The bees were unharmed. It seemed like a miracle from Ambrose, patron saint of bees and their keepers.

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