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Showing posts from August, 2016

Why do lizards have blue tails?

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I found this little guy hanging on the wall outside my office the other day, and he obliged me with one photo (but then got skittish and ran away).  This is Plestiodon fasciatus,  the five-lined skink, which is extremely common in the eastern U.S.  We have several that live on our porch.  I see them at least once a week.


My lizard friend reminded me of a fantastic study I heard about years ago at an Evolution conference.  The paper was published by Watson et al. in Zoology in 2012.

The basic question is, Why do lizards have blue tails?  One reason animals develop strange colors is for mating.  Another possibility is that they might give  the animal some kind of protection.  The protection idea is especially interesting, since these lizards can blow their tails when attacked.  It's called autotomy, and the tail wiggles around after it detaches.  This wiggly tail presumably gives predators a decoy to distract them while the tail-less lizard gets away.  But why would a tail be blue?

I finished another book

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Some of you know that I've been writing a textbook over the past year.  It's called Introduction to Science, and it's intended to explain the basic operation of science to high school students.  So I've tried to write very simply, which has been quite a challenge for me (as you might guess).  I keep discovering that my vocabulary has matured considerably since I was in ninth grade.  Go figure.

Anyway, Core Academy just finished printing up a small run of the book for use in two high schools this school year.  I'll use their feedback for more revisions.  Check out the press release from Core Academy, and then visit the Introduction to Science website for a sample chapter.

And now I must begin my class for the morning...  Have a great day!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

The Core Academy library is still going strong

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When Core Academy launched in 2013, I wasn't sure what to do with the old CORE library.  I knew we had something important in the library.  It was a valuable resource, and it is one of the few such libraries that is publicly accessible.  But I wasn't sure the new Core Academy would be able to support it and keep it growing.

I was very wrong about that.  The library grown substantially in the past three years, both in overall size of the collection and with important new items added. A few of the new things we've acquired:

John Reid's scrapbook on the alleged "Triassic shoe" fossilAn original English printing of Thomas Burnett's 1684 Sacred Theory of the EarthA first edition of Inherit the Wind signed by playwrights Lawrence and LeeMore than thirty original photographs of the Scopes TrialBooks and notes originally owned by creationist pioneer Byron C. Nelson We've also added so many books to the collection that we're literally overflowing our space…

The Piltdown forgery

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Headlines all over the world are trumpeting the notion that the Piltdown mystery has finally been solved.  They are all referencing a new study of the Piltdown remains published by De Groote et al. in Royal Society Open Science, in which the authors conduct some new analyses of the most famous fake fossil in the history of science.  Once again, contrary to the hype, they did not solve the mystery.  If you actually read the paper, their conclusion is that one suspect is just "most likely."

In case you're unfamiliar with the strange history of Piltdown Man, here's the story: In 1912, a man named Charles Dawson informed the Natural History Museum in London that he'd found some fossils and stone tools.  The fossils consisted of some skull fragments and a jaw, all of which appeared to be quite old.  The keeper of geology at the NHM, Arthur Smith Woodward, named it Eoanthropus dawsoni "Dawson's dawn man."  For a time, it was a pretty sensational discover…

Darrow statue is not another raging debate

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Yesterday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press published a piece on the effort to erect a statue of Scopes trial defense attorney Clarence Darrow on the courthouse lawn in Dayton, TN, where I live.  The headline is In 'Scopes Monkey Trial' Home, an Evolution Debate Rages on.  When I first read that headline, I thought, "Oh no, what did I miss?"  Then I realized that it was the article on the Darrow statue that I'd already heard about.  So what is this debate that "rages on?"

Let me set some context here.  In 2005, Bryan College celebrated its 75th anniversary, and part of that celebration was the commissioning of a statue of their namesake William Jennings Bryan.  The statue was sculpted by Chattanooga artist Cessna Decosimo, and as far as I know, it was paid for by the college.  The county agreed to allow it to be erected on the courthouse lawn.  Even at the time, I remember mutterings about, "What happens if someone wants to erect a statue of Darrow…