“Uh oh,” thought I upon seeing this headline from LiveScience: Greatest Mysteries: Why Are There Transitional Animals?
“This could go wrong in so many different ways,” I said to myself, “let’s see which one they went with”.
Much to my pleasant surprise, the story is actually pretty good. There’s a bit of the usual anthropomorphizing of natural selection (“it shows us how evolution could have tinkered with variation”), but overall it is a reasonable discussion of an interesting topic. I doubt the existence of so-called “transitional animals” counts as a “great mystery”, but this is made up for by an excellent quote from Jack Conrad of the AMNH in New York (where I spent a year as a post-doc).
“These early whales were basically playing the same game that crocodiles play: Wait for something to come get a drink and then pull it in the water for dinner,” Conrad said. “This is also the same game that early land vertebrates, early amphibians and early relatives of crocs and dinosaurs were playing. These animals weren’t necessarily ‘on their way’ to being anything; they were well suited to being exactly where they were.”
It is quite refreshing, after the dazed hype about human evolution over the past couple of weeks, to see a statement so on the mark.