Dragonfly intestines: nature’s Swiss Army knife

“We should be extremely cautious in concluding that an organ could not have been formed by transitional gradations of some kind.  Numerous cases could be given amongst the lower animals of the same organ performing at the same time wholly distinct functions; thus in the larva of the dragonfly… the alimentary canal respires, digests and excretes.”

– Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species, Chapter 6Read More »

Caterpillar eyespots

For the past 18-or-so months, Tom Hossie, a PhD student working in the same lab as me, has been carrying out research into caterpillar eyespots. This is an absolutely fascinating area of research, not only because it involves looking at pretty animals, but because there are so many unanswered questions to investigate. Here’s an example of the kind of caterpillar that sparked his interest in this topic:

Papilio troilus caterpillar, photo by Ryan Hagerty

The little guy even looks like he has eyelids!  Tom is seeking to answer as many questions as possible during his 3-4 year PhD and has made a roaring start with an extensive field study that will hopefully be published soon (I’ll blog about that once it is in print!). I’d highly recommend checking out his blog (http://caterpillar-eyespots.blogspot.com) for more details about the project and eyespots in general!  He has lots of excellent photos from his current trip to Costa Rica.

Project pigeon

I mentioned in an earlier post the experiments of BF Skinner on pigeons. As I said then, the core of his research was experimenting with learning in animals and the extent to which certain behaviours could be “conditioned”. Now, scientists are constantly asked for examples of applications of their research. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain funding for projects that do not have some form of tangible output. Faced with this question, Skinner came up with an innovative application of pigeon learning which became known as “Project Pigeon” (or “Project Orcon” for “organic control”).
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