#fossilfriday: Early sketch of a plesiosaur by discoverer Mary Anning

This drawing shows one of the first plesiosaur (long-necked marine reptile) skeletons found by Mary Anning in the winter of 1823-4. Anning, an English woman living on the south coast in Dorset, was one of the most important fossil collectors in scientific history and, with her family, discovered the remains of many new species, including…

Happy #DarwinDay! Celebrating Charles’s 207th birthday with his favourite barnacles

These bright and beautiful barnacle illustrations are from a monograph of Darwin’s from 1851, Living Cirripedia. Barnacles, along with fancy pigeons, were an extremely important group to Darwin’s work, and he spent eight years studying them in minute detail and reclassifying the entire group. His studies, which interrupted to some extent his writing of On the Origin of…

Scans show mummified Egyptian falcon’s last meal

Archaeologists are now using anatomical technology to look into Egypt’s past. Scanning techniques such as X-ray and CT allow researchers to examine mummified specimens without having to unwrap them, which can be destructive. And it’s not just human mummies which are the subject of interest – countless animals were often mummified and entombed alongside important…

Spine flexibility helps cheetahs reach top speeds

Cheetahs are the ultimate sprinters among large land animals, reaching bursts of up to about 110 kph (~68mph) and unbeaten as the fastest living runner on the planet. This beautifully re-articulated skeleton reveals some of the ways they are able to reach such superhuman speeds. The sigmoidal curve of the spine visible in this image allows the front and…

#wormwednesday: Scale worm jaws reveal cannibalistic habits

  Most worms seem pretty harmless – no one ever worries about a nasty bite from an earthworm. But they’re not all so benign. Many species of polychaetes have fearsome jaws that they use to feed on unsuspecting prey – including other worms. These alien-looking gnashers are formed from strengthened collagen and can extend all…

‘Solar powered’ sea slug uses captured algae to photosynthesise

Elysia chlorotica not only resembles a leaf, but uses plant-type cells to draw energy from the sun, too! This remarkable seaslug is able to extract chloroplasts from the algae it feeds on and incorporate them into their own tissues. The young slugs feed on algae and digest everything but the photosynthesising organelles, which are stored in the…

Young sea star

Close-up view of a young sea star or starfish, demonstrating two of the key anatomical features  of echinoderms, the phylum to which they belong. The first is the pentaradial (five-way radial) symmetry that gives it its characteristic star shape, which is highly unusual. This symmetry means that, unlike most ‘higher’ animals, the sea star has no head or…

X-ray shows the bone structure of a bat’s wings

Bats are the only group of mammals to have achieved powered flight (as opposed to gliding), and represent one of only four known instances of the evolution of true flight, along with insects, birds and pterosaurs. Here, the bone structure of the wings is highlighted in the brown long-eared bat, Plecotus auritus. The majority of support for the…

#wormwednesday: bone-eating ‘zombie’ worm doesn’t need teeth or mouth

Despite sounding like a sci-fi creation, ten species of Osedax worms have been described since their discovery in California’s Monterey Bay in 2002. These curious polychaete worms feed on bones which have sunk to the bottom of the sea – mainly whale fall, but they have also been found in fish and cow remains. The worms live…

Asymmetry in ancient whale skulls aided directional hearing underwater

  Modern cetaceans broadly form two distinct groups: baleen whales, which include humpbacks, blue whales and other krill-feeders, and toothed whales such as orcas, dolphins and sperm whales. There are several clear differences in their biology and lifestyles which are reflected in their anatomy. One example of this is that the skulls of toothed whales are…