Of Peppered Moths and Pangolins

Fresh off some procrastinating Pangolin Love (Google it, or just pull up Google), I’m ready to roll into today’s topic, and hey, what the hell, let’s throw some pangolins into the mix. They will actually have quite a lot to contribute to the discussion, not to mention they’re cute.

pangolin-slider

Now that we’ve got that adorable armored visage in mind, let’s talk about the birthday boys. Yesterday, February 12th, was the 208th birthday of not one, but two of my favorite historical heroes. One is well-known in my native United States to be Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President whose accolades include abolishing slavery in America, keeping the nation in tact throughout the American Civil War, and getting his face stamped on a coin and a bill in US currency! However, today I’ll be focusing on the other big man born on 2/12/1809: British naturalist Charles Darwin, most renowned for his determination that natural selection is the primary process by which species populations evolve. If you’d like to learn a little trivia about similarities between these two titans of historical importance, than check out this Mental Floss post.

Charles Robert Darwin made a name for himself after his almost five year voyage on the HMS Beagle which helped him collect data and inspiration for his book On the Origin of Species that contained his theory of natural selection. The Beagle was a surveying ship, and Darwin hopped aboard for its second trip, the focus of which was to help get to the lay of the land of the continent of South America. During the journey, Darwin observed and occasionally collected many plant and animal specimens, but nowhere were these so fascinating than on the Galapagos Islands. There, Darwin took meticulous records of the lives and looks of many species, most notably a variety of finches that he noticed the importance the role of their features, especially their beaks, played in their ability to gather food and survive. This led him to formulating the hypothesis that would become the theory of natural selection. With more on that, and what it meant and still means for the overarching theory of evolution, check out what Hank Green and the SciShow/CrashCourse crew have to elaborate on the subject matter:

Thanks to advances in technology, communication, and education, we know now how large a part genetics plays in determining different species from one another. Phenotypes generally help us to narrow down our drawing out of the branching on the evolutionary tree of life, but they are not always reliable. Take a gander at that adorable pangolin again. We know now that there are at least eight species within three genera spread across regions in Africa and Asia thanks a lot due to genetics helping us realize that they were not all part of the same genus. That’s fairly typical, but genetic study has also shown that pangolins are not as closely related to armadillos as we previously thought. Looking at the two it appears that they would be best buddies and probably cut from the same cladographic cloth. But alas! armadillos are within the same order, Xenartha, as anteaters and sloths, but pangolins are Ferans meaning that they share the clade Ferae with, of all animal orders, Carnivora! That’s right, those wholesome rollie-pollie pangolins are closer related to cats, canines, bears, and George Takei OH MY! so much more that they do not at all appear on the surface to be related to. But that’s why it’s so exciting having the tools of genetic researching at our disposal. When added to the fossil record that we are expanding everyday with literally newly uncovered information, the means to catalog the critters that inhabit our wondrous planet are greater than ever. Darwin’s fellows on the Beagle may have set out to survey the coasts and crannies of South America, but the knowledge that he brought back, combined with the advances of today make it easier for us to survey our species and all the others we are connected to through the ages. Now we just have to do our part in preserving them, something that is especially tough concerning the pangolin as it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. Have a heart to help them if you can, be kind to all of the animals around you. Remember, we all the same great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great *10grandparent.

Thanks for reading and watching! I hope your adaptations assist you in returning here next week. In the meantime, direct any comments or questions to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Happy very, very belated birthday Chuck and Abe!

Trust in the facts,

Alex

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