• Snakes, Eagles, and Foxes, oh my

    Posted on February 16th, 2014 mollyo92 No comments

    The best word I have for the readings this week is dynamic. From imagining humans running around, being attacked by various predators swooping in from all directions, to the visual of a snake violently striking a poor, innocent biologist, to the somewhat depressing image of a fox being shot by Soviet researchers, there was certainly a wide range of discussion. I became somewhat more hooked by Wildlife of Our Bodies than I was initially. Dunn certainly has an exciting writing style. I was a little distracted by his “storytelling,” seeing as he wove what was probably a two page story about the tiger being hunted by Jim Corbett throughout approximately 20 pages of reading. It definitely was an interesting story, however I began to get somewhat confused by the points he was trying to make as I was pushed and pulled in and out of this tale. The next portion of the book about the venomous snake theory was presented a little more clearly, though I felt it was somewhat biased. Dunn only includes a very small blurb about how not all scientists agree on Lynne Isbell’s theory. I’m no scientist, but I think even a narrative-style book needs to include slightly more diversification of opinion in order to transmit a believable idea. And once again, Isbell’s entire theory was convoluted by stories of Dunn’s friends being bitten by venomous snakes, and by the somewhat more detailed than necessary example of the blind man, Vermeij. Overall, I was intrigued,  I kind of felt like I was left hanging with some underdeveloped theories that I was actually somewhat interested in.

    Moving on to the topic of foxes, I think I was fairly distracted with the radio show and article by the points that were glazed over. I somehow couldn’t stop thinking about the foxes being killed and their limp, dead carcasses being draped around the neck of some plump, rich Soviet woman. Getting to the science, however, it was a really interesting story. I couldn’t stop looking up images of the wild and domestic foxes. It’s absolutely insane that they look so vastly different. And this happened after only 10 years of experimentation. That seems incredible to me. The image is below, for anyone who hasn’t seen them yet.


    But beyond the actual experiment, I picked up on something in the National Geographic article that I think we will inevitably discuss based on our past discussions. The article states, “At the beginning of the domestication process, only natural selection was at work,” as Trut puts it. “Down the road, this natural selection was replaced with artificial selection.” This is really a big point of contention. Can it be called “artificial selection” just because humans are doing the selecting? Furthermore, the radio show discussed the way in which humans have domesticated themselves, and they made this seem like an artificial process in which humans were unnaturally (I know we don’t like that word, but it works here) changing the course of evolution. The evolutionary history article discusses the many ways that humans have altered evolution of multiple species, but the question about these thoughts is can we call this process “artificial” or, because humans are just as organic as every other living thing on this planet, can our alterations of evolution still fall under the category of “natural selection?” This is definitely a lingering question.

    And in conclusion, I may be the only one who was horrified to learn that eagles were such violent enemies of humans, and I was further traumatized by the idea of a beautiful, majestic eagle diving down and swiping up a human child. For anyone who had trouble picturing this image, check out this horrifying eagle attack. Although it’s fake, it still provides a good image of the threat our ancestors faced daily.


    3 responses to “Snakes, Eagles, and Foxes, oh my” RSS icon

    • I looked into meanings of the term artificial, and I think one version avoids the “everything is natural” paradigm. Artificial, meaning the result of deliberate human action, can be applied to part or all of the process of domestication, certainly in the foxes case.

      On the subject of unexpected predations, there are spiders the size of dinner plates that eat birds. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klHDzIIrsjY

    • I agree about Dunn’s writing style. I’m not a fan of the storytelling.

      The fact that such great changes could occur in foxes in 10 years is a testament to evolution. Sure, processes of artificial selection occur more quickly than natural selection. But, even people who accept evolution struggle with fathoming how a natural process can produce such complex life. But if 10 years can do that much, it’s no surprise what billions did.

      >>Can it be called “artificial selection” just because humans are doing the selecting?<<

      Yes, because what we call artificial selection and what we call natural selection are different processes. The difference doesn't lie the fact that humans are doing it, but in that there is conscious intention and deliberation behind artificial selection. Natural selection, however, occurs because of unconscious ecological pressures.

    • “Dynamic” could not describe this reading better. I agree that he should have gone more into depth on the opposition to Isbell’s theories, which is why I felt so curious about other findings on the matter. Though I really enjoyed his “storytelling,” for it helped show the link between historical domestication and the modern world, I can see how some of his stories seemed ambiguous and distracting to the scientific claims in the novel.

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