Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Endless forms most wonderful

Is there anything new under the sun? Well, here's a creature that took me by surprise. Picked up on the beach. At first glance it would seem to be some sort of crawling animal, clinging to a branch of sea whip coral with eight little legs. From the underside that's exactly what it looks like. (Click to enlarge.)

But no. This is all shell, including the "legs." What then?

Get out Paul Humann's beautiful and exhaustive guide to Reef Creatures, and I soon zero in on frond oysters. A trip to the internet confirms the identification.

A bivalve mollusk. The soft creature and one valve long departed.

This particular species extends its shelly ribs to grasp and hold -- not so tightly I might add -- its supporting stalk of coral.

I wouldn't even dream to grasp the subtle biochemical expression of genes that causes those growing horny protuberances to curl and clutch.

Who would have thunk it? Is there no end of nature's ingenuity?

A nod and a bow to Darwin:
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.