Author Archives: Kim Biddulph

Everything you wanted to know about peacock spiders, but were too afraid to ask

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There are famously unexplored parts of the world that promise to harbour as yet undiscovered species for the determined naturalist, but you wouldn’t expect the suburbs of Sydney to be one of them. The species to be discovered aren’t everyone’s cup of tea; they’re Australia’s colourful little jumping spiders. One man isn’t afraid of these little cuties, and we hope you won’t be either by the end of this article. Dr Jürgen Otto has photographed all the wildlife around Sydney, where he works as a government scientist, and was at a loss for what to do next until he stumbled across the tiny Maratus volans in the bush around the city in 2005. Since then he has discovered several new species and found out a lot more about the genus whose members are commonly described as peacock spiders. Dr Otto believes he is the first to capture the peacock spider’s incredible courtship behaviour on film. He has shared these videos …

Book Review: Paradox Child

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Paradox Child Author: Jane Yates Published: 6th June 2013 Publisher: Amazon Summary: A debut which confirms Yates’ creative talent Lilly is the eponymous Paradox Child. Her life is to be changed completely by the dark secret her family holds – they are able to travel back in time. This novel for young adults marries exploration of the possibility of time travel, with elements of fantasy and historical fiction. Set in Oxford in the 1980s, a young woman knows she’s part of a slightly different family. They keep themselves to themselves. She has few friends at school and tries to keep her head down. She enjoys walking the family dogs, growing food in the garden and doing spells with her mother and grandmother. The spells she, her mother Rose and her grandmother Iris perform were passed down from older generations of women named after flowers. The disappearance of her mother means Lilly has to be told the family secret a little …

Book Review: Until Darwin

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Until Darwin, Science, Human Variety and the Origins of Race Author: B. Ricardo Brown Published: 22nd September 2010 Publisher: Pickering & Chatto Summary: A fascinating insight into the early nineteenth century scientific consensus which Darwin’s Origin utterly transformed. The history of science is the history of forgetting. That is the beauty and the utility of science, a theory is no longer supported by evidence is left behind to die an obscure death. Except when it doesn’t. The theory that has refused to die is the idea that Homo sapiens can be divided into races. B. Ricardo Brown is Professor of Social Science and Cultural Studies at the Pratt Institute in New York and in his acknowledgements explained he “never wanted to write on the subject of ‘race’”. The idea of race as an objective division of humankind has been comprehensively debunked, recently with two books published in 2011, for example, Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth by Ian Tattersall and Rob …

Shark Teeth Weapons

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Natural History Museum collections have been used for a novel study: the past biodiversity of a remote collection of Pacific coral islands. Joshua Drew from Columbia University and colleagues have just published a paper (see below) reporting on their identification of shark teeth used in weapons made by Kiribati people from the Gilbert Islands over a hundred years ago and now in the collection of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Having no metal, but a tradition of hunting the plentiful sharks, the I-Kiribati people used shark teeth to edge coconut wood weapons, both swords and fierce-looking tridents. While the team found plenty of teeth from species of sharks that still roam the local coral reefs, like tiger sharks, two species were represented that no longer exist around the Gilbert Islands, dusky and spottail sharks. The team were excited that museum collections could be used to shed light on past ecosystems, and to highlight changes in those ecosystems over time. …

All you ever wanted to know about Harvestman, but were too afraid to ask

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Harvestman, Daddy Longlegs, Shepherd Spider, Grandfather Greybeard: all colloquial names for members of the Opiliones order. Yes, they have eight legs, but they’re not actually spiders. In fact, according to Chris Buddle, professor of arthropod ecology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, “Comparing a spider to a harvestmen is like comparing a blue whale to a chimpanzee.”   But how do you tell the difference between a harvestman and a spider? Well, harvestmen don’t have a waist or separate abdomen. Cellar spiders are often mistaken for harvestmen because of their long spindly legs, but they have a definite waist and also make silk. And don’t get confused about Daddy Longlegs either. Chris was surprised to learn that in the UK what we call the Daddy Longlegs is actually a crane fly. If you want to know more about these unfamiliar creatures, you can buy the book by Ricardo Pinto-da-Rocha, Glauco Machado and Gonzalo Giribet called Harvestmen: The Biology of Opiliones.  …

How Darwin predicted the genetic link

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Just over a century and a half ago, Charles Darwin finally published On the Origin of Species, explaining how all life had been shaped by natural selection. Before he explained this blind mechanism though, he softened up his readers by showing how we humans had shaped some species through artificial selection. His audience of educated Victorian gentlemen would have been more or less familiar with breeding cabbages, cows and dogs for various characteristics, but Darwin also explained the breeding of fancy pigeons. It seems fanciful to us, but scholars used to believe that different breeds of sheep or cattle had each been domesticated from a separate wild variety, instead of from just one. Darwin decided to study one species in detail to explore this notion, and hit upon fancy pigeons. According to John Ross [pictured] –  an historian of Darwin’s pigeons (www.darwinspigeons.com) and a pigeon fancier himself – it was all down to a chance sighting on a trip to London: …

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