This incredible animation by Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck chronicles the story of British naturalist, anthropologist, biologist, geographer, and intrepid adventurer Alfred Russel Wallace, who was also Charles Darwin's lesser-known partner on the joint presentation On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection. From Smithsonian Mag:
It was during fits of malaria that Wallace started to come up with the idea of natural selection. He sent his manuscript to Darwin, who puts together a set of notes to be presented alongside Wallace’s. When the Linnean Society of London hears the case for natural selection in 1858, Wallace and Darwin share the credit.
So what happened? Why do we remember Darwin and not Wallace? Well, for one, when Darwin published On the Origin of Species, he barely mentions Wallace at all. And Wallace doesn’t complain. In fact, he loves the book. And with that, he fades away.
Though we doubt the story was quite that simple. Read more about the differences of their ideas, see more of Wallace’s Collection (like these) at London’s Natural History Museum, and check out another of his contributions: the Wallace Line.
Related watching: TED Ed’s Five Fingers of Evolution and How Mendel’s pea plants helped us understand genetics, and previously from Lichtman and Shattuck, a favorite: Whale Fall (After Life of a Whale).
via sagan sense.
In this extraordinary adaptation strategy, Thailand’s Moken sea gypsies can see twice as clearly underwater by controlling the size of their pupils. What was generally considered an automatic reflex for the rest of us is now thought to be something that any child under 5 could learn how to do.
From a study called Superior Underwater Vision in a Human Population of Sea Gypsies by Dr. Anna Gislén:
The Moken may learn to do this due to their extensive use of their eyes in water, where accommodation and concurrent pupil constriction is necessary for them to see the items they gather for food. It should then be possible for all humans to learn to see better underwater. But because sea gypsies have lived by and off the sea for thousands of years, evolution may also have favored those who had intrinsically better underwater accommodative powers. The ability to see well underwater could have become a genetic trait. Another possible explanation is that accommodation underwater is a side effect of the diving response; the parasympathetic nerves that control this reflex also control pupil constriction.
Read more at National Geographic.
In the archives: more swimming and these extreme eye closeups.
From the chopping of ice chunks high on the Mount Chimborazo to hearing firsthand about this family’s traditions, The Last Ice Merchant (El Último Hielero) is an engaging documentary about a man’s dedication to hard work and a way of life that has changed. (And the subtitles are at a good pace for reading out loud to younger kiddos.)
Twice a week for over half a century, Baltazar Ushca has hiked up the slopes of Mount Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador, to harvest glacial ice that covers the highest altitudes of this dormant volcano. In the past, up to forty ice merchants made the journey up the mountain to mine the ice; today, however, Baltazar works alone. Even his brothers, Gregorio and Juan, both raised as ice merchants, have retired from the mountain to find more steady work.
Excellent storytelling by director Sandy Patch. The kid(s) should definitely see this.
There are more documentary clips and more ice in the archives.
Karl Sims is a digital media artist, computer graphics research scientist, and software entrepreneur. His influential artificial life computer animations, like this one from 1994, were programmed as virtual creatures that simulated evolution through genetic algorithms:
This video shows results from a research project involving simulated Darwinian evolutions of virtual block creatures. A population of several hundred creatures is created within a supercomputer, and each creature is tested for their ability to perform a given task, such the ability to swim in a simulated water environment. Those that are most successful survive, and their virtual genes containing coded instructions for their growth, are copied, combined, and mutated to make offspring for a new population. The new creatures are again tested, and some may be improvements on their parents. As this cycle of variation and selection continues, creatures with more and more successful behaviors can emerge.
The creatures shown are results from many independent simulations in which they were selected for swimming, walking, jumping, following, and competing for control of a green cube.
From TEDEd, there is a five finger trick for understanding and remembering the five processes — small population, non-random mating, mutations, gene flow, adaptation — that impact evolution (ie. the changes in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation). This video, narrated by Paul Andersen and animated by Alan Foreman, is seriously so excellent.