Modern day human evolution is a contentious topic, but an array of recent studies indicate that our species is still evolving.
Animal keepers at the National Zoo’s conservation center recently sent 26 black-footed ferrets to a critter boot camp to help the endangered species learn the necessary skills to survive in the wild.
From an evolutionary perspective, kin are worth assisting in direct relationship to their blood relatedness, or the probability that two individuals share genes. Though it can be difficult at first to think in these mathematically terms, inclusive fitness, parent-offspring conflict and sibling-sibling conflict radically transform our understanding of animal behavior and evolution.
Read more about flies that are sexually aroused by food, tool use among fish, controversial bacteria that may use arsenic in place of phosphorus as the backbone of its DNA, and the nanostructures of ancient bugs in this week’s edition of The Critter Corner.
Endangered pangolins are among the most heavily trafficked wildlife. They are hunted and eaten in many parts of Africa and Asia but are particularly prized in China because their keratin scales are thought to cure a plethora of ailments and enhance sexual prowess. Claims that the protective armor reduces swelling, promotes blood circulation or helps women produce breast-milk are nothing more than nostrums in the scientific community. But, even if they work, conservationists argue that less costly alternatives are available.
Same-sex-relationships among animals seem to be in opposition to our understanding of Darwinian evolution—an organism who fails to secure a counterpart to mate with will not pass on its genes to the next generation. One could then infer that such costly behaviors would slowly be removed from the population through natural selection. However, same-sex bonds are far too common in the natural world to support such reasoning.