Danger in Disguise

When animals aren’t what they seem

I had a dramatic and painful introduction to “mimicry” as a little boy, when my Auntie Alice from Chislehurst in England had come over and I was eager to teach her what I had learned from my grandfather. We looked at the flowers in the Botanical Garden and she warned me of the many bees. Now came my time, I thought, and I told her that they weren’t really bees; that they only looked like bees and that in reality they were a kind of harmless fly. To prove my point -and to be a hero, I guess- I caught one like I had seen my grandfather do it……. and was promptly stung! —>


Re-growing a Lost Leg

No problem (if you are a newt)

When in 1987 I applied to obtain research funds to continue a project on spinal cord regeneration that I had started with Dr Alibardi from Italy, I was unsuccessful. However, the question of spinal cord regeneration is still a compelling one. Mammals and birds are poor regenerators and usually cannot replace lost or malfunctioning parts of the central nervous system, but in lower vertebrates and many invertebrates the situation is different. Starfish, as most people would know, have no problem re-growing severed arms, but they aren’t vertebrate animals. Among the vertebrates most lizards can at least replace a lost tail, but in newts (my favourite animals) and salamanders the ability to replace lost or injured body parts is even more remarkable and goes much further. —>

Life on the Fast Track

Mayflies don’t have time

I once had to examine a fascinating German PhD-thesis; fascinating not just because of some real beauties of single-word monstrosities (you could find in the text words like “Windgeschwindigkeitsdurchschnittswerte” and “Trefferwahrscheinlichkeitsoptimierung”, but fascinating because of the topic: the visual behaviour of mayflies. Mayflies are an ancient order of insects and have nothing to do with ordinary flies, hence their spelling in a single word (if they were true flies one would spell them as “may flies”). —>