Physics, Not Genetics, Explains Why Flamingos Stand On One Leg
“Compared to a flamingo in the water that stands on one leg, an identical flamingo with two legs in the water will lose somewhere between 140-170% the total body heat that the flamingo on one leg loses. That means the flamingo that does learn the preferred behavior — standing on one leg — is free to spend more time in the water: more time feeding, grooming itself, scouting the waters, etc.
In short, a flamingo that learns to stand on one leg will have more chances for evolutionary success and survival than one that stands on two legs. The flamingos may not be smart enough to know that it’s important to stand on one leg in the water but not so much in the air; instead, it appears to be a behavior that flamingos engage in regardless of their environment. And, as far as scientists can tell, there’s no gene for standing on one leg; rather, it’s a behavior that gets passed down from a mother flamingo to her offspring as she raises them.”
Flamingos are pretty weird birds. They have unusually long and skinny legs and necks; their beaks are inverted from most birds; their mating dances only occur in enormous groups; and they range in color from a pale white to a deep pink, orange, or even red. But the defining property of a flamingo, at least to most humans, is that they stand on one leg.
This One Species Of Animal Proves That The Moon Can Affect Biological Evolution
“The combined effects of the Moon and Sun create two tidal bulges around Earth, yielding high tides and low tides twice daily. When the Sun, Earth, and Moon all align, we get spring tides: the highest high tides possible. Tidal extremes occur during new and full Moons, with twice the magnitude of intermediate-phase neap tides. One terrestrial animal, the grunion, has uniquely adapted to take advantage of this lunar-induced phenomenon.”
There’s a species of animal out there that is absolutely reliant on the Moon for its reproductive success. The grunion, found along the pacific and baja coasts of North America, mates in an interesting fashion. The females come onto shore during high tides, where they bury the lower halves of their bodies in the sand until they stick up vertically, where they lay their eggs. The males then wrap around them, depositing sperm in an attempt to fertilize them. Now, here’s the fun thing: the eggs must remain on dry land for 10-11 days to incubate, meaning that the grunion can only do this during the highest high tides: spring tides.
What Was It Like When The First Humans Arose On Earth?
“Approximately 300,000 years ago, the first Homo sapiens — anatomically modern humans — arose alongside our other hominid relatives. It is unknown whether we descended directly from Homo erectus, heidelbergensis, or antecessor, although neanderthals, which came slightly later at 240,000 years ago, most certainly came from Homo heidelbergensis. Modern speech is thought to have arisen almost as soon as Homo sapiens did.
It took 13.8 billion years of cosmic history for the first human beings to arise, and we did so relatively recently: just 300,000 years ago. 99.998% of the time that passed since the Big Bang had no human beings at all; our entire species has only existed for the most recent 0.002% of the Universe. Yet, in that short time, we’ve managed to figure out the entire cosmic story that led to our existence. Fortunately, the story won’t end with us, as it’s still being written.”
For those of you who haven’t been following, this is now part 30 of my series on “what was it like when…” where I’ve been chronicling our natural history, from before the Big Bang up through the present day. Next week’s will be the final installment of that series, as we’ll arrive at the present!
“It is no doubt an oversimplification to state that horizontal gene transfer, the development of eukaryotes, multicellularity, and sexual reproduction are all it takes to go from primitive life to complex, differentiated life dominating a world. We know that this happened here on Earth, but we do not know what its likelihood was, or whether the billions of years it needed on Earth are typical or far more rapid than average.
What we do know is that life existed on Earth for nearly four billion years before the Cambrian explosion, which heralds the rise of complex animals. The story of early life on Earth is the story of most life on Earth, with only the last 550-600 million years showcasing the world as we’re familiar with it. After a 13.2 billion year cosmic journey, we were finally ready to enter the era of complex, differentiated, and possibly intelligent life.”
For the first few billion years of planet Earth, our world indeed had life occupying practically every niche we could imagine, but it was vastly different from the life we recognize today. Rather than complex, differentiated, multicellular organisms, all life in the early stages was single-celled and simple. Seemingly all at once, life’s complexity exploded some 550-600 million years ago during the Cambrian era. But this was no miraculous single event, but rather the culmination of many steps that worked together, in tandem, to make it all possible.
What Was It Like When Oxygen Appeared And Almost Murdered All Life On Earth?
“This might be a simple biological scenario, but its results are nearly universal. In the presence of virtually no competitors or predators, and given practically unlimited resources, a living population will grow at an exponential rate. It will consume the available resources, produce whatever metabolism products it produces, and then reproduce in greater-than-replacement-level numbers.
The next generation will then consume more, produce more of its metabolites, and reproduce even greater numbers. So long as resources are freely available, this process will continue. Until, that it, the metabolic processes it has been undergoing build up to a critical level where it poisons its environment. If this sounds like what the yeast did — or what modern humans are doing with CO2 — you’ve put the pieces together correctly. Organisms, if left unchecked, will poison their habitat with the waste products of their own success.”
Approximately 2.5 billion years ago (but maybe more), a key development occurred in life on Earth: some unicellular creatures that were capable of photosynthesis began producing oxygen as an end-product of their metabolic processes. For hundreds of millions of years, these early cyanobacteria succeeded tremendously, but their success had a by-product: the oxygen poisoned the other organisms around them, as well as the environment as a whole. In short order, Earth was transformed into a giant snowball, leading to perhaps the greatest mass extinction in history: the Huronian Glaciation.