Category: Organism of the week

Organism of the week #11 – Not even primitive

Psilotum nudum sporangia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Eric Guinther Marshman@Wikipedia]

It’s not much to look at, but Psilotum nudum‘s naked fronds hold a cautionary tale for biologists: Psilotum looks a great deal like some of the earliest fossils of land plants. One of the earliest such fossils is Rhynia, the first specimens of which which were unearthed in Aberdeenshire around 1910, a mere 410 million years after they were …

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Vegetable empire 2013

Gnetum gnemon [CC-BY-2.0 Alex Lomas]

By popular demand, I have resurrected this phylogeny from my old website for Easter 2013. I have added a number of extra groups, updated the angiosperms according to APG-III, and repositioned the Gnetales according the apparently ascendent gnetifer hypothesis. The rotated titles in the table appear to work in IE9, Chrome and Safari, but YMMV.   Classification …

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Organism of the week #10 – The shapeless cock-of-the-gods

Arum maculatum [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Sannse@Wikipedia]

I missed last week, so this week’s is a biggun, to make up for my tardiness. Bow down before The Shapeless Cock-of-the-Gods: Apparently, when this plant was filmed for The Private Life of Plants in 1995, David Attenborough decided to invent the term “titan arum” to avoid using the plant’s Latin (well, Greek, really) name on prime-time …

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Organism of the week #9 – Not even what it doesn’t seem to be

Pameridea roridulae [CC-BY-SA-.3.0 Denis Barthel]

See Roridula‘s glistening leaves. See the fly suffocating in her sticky embrace. Quake at her insecticidal prowess. Or not. Things are not quite what they seem with Roridula. For sure, she can catch flies, but her carnivory is impotent. She cannot make the enzymes she needs to break down her prey, so they remain stuck to her leaves, and …

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Organism of the week #8 – Brought to you by the number 5 and the letters L, S and D

Pseudocolochirus violaceus [CC-BY-2.0 Alex Lomas]

If sea cumbers are an example of intelligent design, then God – sorry, an unspecified supernatural intelligence that somehow doesn’t infringe on the First Amendment – needs to lay off the acid. Echinoderms are what you get when you give evolution the number 5 and half a billion years to piss around. You’ve simply got to love any animal …

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Organism of the week #7 – Bringing the kids up on junk

Fulica atra nest [CC-BY-2.0 Alex Lomas]

Another quick one this week. Life finds a way… The neighbourhood coots build these landfill nests annually, and I’m never quite sure whether to be impressed or appalled.

Organism of the week # 6 – Enigmata of the Gnetales

Gnetum gnemon [CC-BY-.2.0 Alex Lomas]

Three for the price of one this week. Most seed-bearing plants fall into one of two main groups: the flowering plants (grasses and magnolias and butterworts and so on), or the conifers (pines and yews and monkey-puzzles and so on). However, there are three smaller groups of seed-bearing plants that don’t fit into this neat …

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Organism of the week #5 – Something’s wrong here

Drosophyllum lusitanicum [CC-BY-2.0 Alex Lomas]

Busy teaching this week, so it’ll have to be a quick one… I particularly like this plant because of a very specific and unusual thing about its leaves. The more observant of you may spot what it is without having to resort to Wikipedia…

Organism of the week #4 – Toadstools

Amanita muscaria [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

Imperial’s campus in Berkshire, Silwood Park, is a fabulous place to go fungus spotting. The fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is very common there as there are a lot of birch trees around, and this fungus forms a symbiosis with the roots of those trees: Fly agarics are rather poisonous (for some value of ‘rather’), by …

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Organism of the week #3 – Switch off all electrical items on the approach

Halobacterium salinarum [CC-By-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

There are many good reasons to visit San Francisco, some of them thoroughly unsafe for work, but one I didn’t consider was to see this amazing sight on the approach to the airport: The pink colour in the water is caused by a bloom of single-celled organisms I must refrain from calling bacteria, since they are not. …

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