Friday, June 27, 2008

Specifically speaking, but also in general

Every so often I wish I were an ecologist. I love my molecular and microbiology, but macrobiology is cool in a completely new way! Not only are scientists still discovering completely new species, but they are discovering completely new species that have amazing features like we've never seen before. Take, for example, this newly discovered frog that lives happily in the jungles of South America, just like all its other little frog relatives- except for the minor detail that all other frogs have lungs. This one doesn't. He survives, as far as we can tell, by absorbing oxygen through his skin. He lives in fast-moving streams, which is important because the speed of the water mixes more oxygen in, and essentially allows this frog to breathe underwater. I'm kind of jealous. Harry Potter probably could have used this ability in the Goblet of Fire, when he had to swim deep underwater. I bet he would have liked it better than growing gills.

So, back to the discovery of new species. It's a very exciting, and it never ceased to amaze me how much biodiversity there is on this planet. But it's always good to remember that the terms "species" and "genus" (along with its unusual plural "genera") are man-made devices to describe what we're seeing. Quite often, most animals and almost all plants go about their merry way, reproducing with whomever they like, even if they happen to be crossing the not-so-sacred boundaries of what humans have designated as different species. That's just how evolution is. It's more of a big, gradual shift in characteristics across the whole tree of life than it is concrete designations. But I think that kind of adds to the fun.

Also, bonus points if you can catch the pun in the title.

3 comments:

Danielle said...

Darn it, I can't figure out the pun. When do we find out what it is?

Nasty Butler said...

Specific versus general?

Hey! You're a general, aren't you?!

Maria said...

heh. Yes, but that's not what I was thinking of when I wrote the title.