Eickwort’s Manual of Insect Morphology

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 | Comparative Anatomy, Education, Personalities, Science | 1 Comment

George Campbell Eickwort (1949–1994)

The Department of Entomology at Cornell University saw a time of great research and teaching in insect morphology at the end of the Twentieth Century, most of which came from the efforts by two extraordinary systematists: William L. Brown Jr. and George Campbell Eickwort.

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Charlie Darwin – by The Low Anthem live on Lake Fever Sessions

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 | Art, Personalities | 1 Comment

Low Anthem “Charle Darwin” from Lake Fever Sessions on Vimeo.

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Annie Liebowitz to the arthropods

Friday, September 18th, 2009 | Art, Humor, Personalities | 2 Comments

Sorry, with apologies to my colleague and fellow blogger Alex, I just couldn’t let this one pass. [/giggle]

Alex Wild, Annie Liebowitz to the arthropods” – Carl Zimmer

via Beautifying Bedbugs | The Loom | Discover Magazine.


Chris Humphries, botanist and founding fellow of the Willi Hennig Society, died on July 31st, aged 62

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 | Cladistics, Personalities | 1 Comment
© The Systematic Association

Photograph courtesy of Malte C. Ebach (

It is our sad task to record the death of Professor Chris Humphries, merit researcher in the Botany Department until his retirement in 2007, on Friday 31st July. Chris was a leading figure in the cladistic revolution in systematics and biogeography. Without his tireless efforts, systematic botany – perhaps systematic biology – would be a very different beast.

Chris joined the Botany Department in 1972 as an assistant curator, a nearly-finished PhD student, coming directly from Vernon Heywood’s Botany Department in Reading University. With the exception of three sabbaticals – two of them at the University of Melbourne (1979-80, 1986) and a six month stay as a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin) in 1994 – Chris spent his entire career in the Museum.
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Douglas Yanega joins the ICZN

Sunday, July 19th, 2009 | Nomenclature, Personalities | 3 Comments

waspsThe latest issue of Nature magazine contains a short Q&A session with fellow Cornellian, heh, Douglas Yanega, insect taxonomist at the University of California, Riverside. The occasion is his newly appointment as commissioner for the prestigious International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the institution who runs the show on all things related to scientific names for animals.

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Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage fight crime

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 | History of Science, Off topic, Personalities | Comments Off on Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage fight crime


If you happen to share my obsession interest for science in the 1800’s you should definitely check out The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, a witty blog-comic created by animator Sydney Padua.

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The Newton of Natural History who never was

Portrait of Richard Owen (Smithsonian Institution's photostream).

Portrait of Richard Owen (Smithsonian Institution's photostream).

I feel a lot of sympathy for Richard Owen. The more I read his work the more so. He is a fascinating dark character, both for the peculiar quality of his scientific oeuvre as well as for his eccentric persona. A true representative of Natural History in the Victorian Era.

History has certainly not be kind to him, foremost because it seems almost impossible to talk about him without reference to Darwin (as I am doing right  now). This is quite understandable given the impact that the publication of On the Origin of Species had on defining the period. Problem is that, with a few notable exceptions1, he is wrongly portrayed as the leading antievolutionist of the time, his contribution to science thus construed as coming from a figure on the loser side of the debate and reduced to opponent of the Darwinians, in a type example of whig history.

I have previously wrote about Owen’s archetype and his clarification of the terms homology and analogy, concepts that form the cornerstone of comparative biology. He was indeed against the Darwinians, not because he rejected species evolution but because he thought natural selection, as an external force, was not a viable mechanism that could account for the pattern of shared structures make evident by comparative anatomy, the Unity of Type2. › Continue reading

  1. For example Rupke, N. 1994. Richard Owen: Victorian Naturalist, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. and Amundson, R. 1998. Typology Reconsidered: Two Doctrines on the History of Evolutionary Biology . Biology and Philosophy. 13, 153-177.
  2. And he was not alone. The view that natural selection is the main process behind evolution took some decades to gain the wide acceptance it has today. Peter Bowler has documented the extend to which naturalists after The Origin held alternative views to natural selection in his book The Non-Darwinian Revolution

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A Wilson moment

Saturday, June 27th, 2009 | Ants, Personalities | 5 Comments
Book signing at the AMNH, June 14th, 2006. The happy fellow to the right is yours truly.

Book signing by E. O. Wilson at the AMNH. The smiling fellow to the right is yours truly.

Back in June 14th, 2006, Edward O. Wilson delivered a public talk at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (the transcript of which can be read here) on the occasion of his then recently published anthology Nature Revealed: Selected Writings, 1949-2006. I wasn’t going to miss the event, and went to the public section of the museum down from the Ivory Tower research floor of the Division of Invertebrate Zoology.

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A Conversation With Bert Hölldobler – NYTimes

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 | Personalities | Comments Off on A Conversation With Bert Hölldobler – NYTimes


A Conversation With Bert Hölldobler

Insects Succeeding Through Cooperation

Published: June 16, 2009

At 72, Bert Hölldobler, a professor of life sciences at Arizona State University and a professor emeritus at the University of Würzburg in Germany, is one of the world’s great ant experts. Along with his collaborator, E. O. Wilson, Dr. Hölldobler won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for “The Ants.” The two wrote a second book in 2008, “The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance and Strangeness of Insect Societies.”


A. No, I don’t mind them. Listen, if you have ants in the house, you take a wet towel and detergent and you wipe over their trail. Do this a couple of times and they’ll stay out. People come up after speeches and say, “But what can we do, we have ants?” I say, “Buy a magnifying glass and enjoy watching them.”

Read the complete interview at the New York Time’s website here.


Bigger is better: the largest phylogenetic tree reconstructed.

ResearchBlogging.orgGenBank, the standard database for genetic information maintained by National Center for Biotechnology Information, has been accumulating DNA sequences for some three decades now. Since its creation in the late 1980s, it has become the de facto repository for genetic information– genetic data must now be submitted to GenBank for a paper to be accepted for publication. Most sequence data accumulated are the result of the sum of many “local” taxonomic studies that have targeted a particular group of organism for a relatively small, but well-known collection of genes. It contents now span over hundreds of genes across all of life’s domains. So, what would happen if you were to take all the sequence information contained in GenBank and analyze it phylogenetically all together in a single, one-step study? Well, that is what Pablo A. Goloboff and coworkers just did, the results of which were published in last week’s online early edition of Cladistics, the international journal of the Willi Hennig Society.

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And as we discussed last semester, the Army Ants will leave nothing but your bones.
- Tom Waits