Evolution Explained

If you know someone who needs an intro to evolution, this is a nice one. This site could use some likes. It starts by mentioning the thinking of humans that was prevalent before Darwin, that we saw all species as existing more or less like they are, since forever. Not everyone thinks about how Origin of Species was written a mere 160 years ago, and how our perception of ourselves, our humanness, has changed because of this. Aristotle mentioned something about redheads a long time ago, but there isn’t much other investigation until the 19th century.

It’s nice for what it, a simple introduction.
I hit the “like” button, even subscribed just to show I’m not a total sour puss.
Although, it’s grade school basic.
For anyone who wants to be blown away by evolution,
here’s the videos to watch.
Even if this rendition is dated, the series shares an unparalleled systematic review of Life’s evolution’s many stages, and brings it home by sharing looks at living remnants of those pioneering creatures of old.

Evolution up close and personal.

Life on Earth: A Natural History by David Attenborough

According to WIKI: Life on Earth: A Natural History by David Attenborough is a British television natural historyseries made by the BBC in association with Warner Bros. Television and Reiner Moritz Productions. It was transmitted in the UK from 16 January 1979.


  1. ”The Infinite Variety” January 16, 1979

The episode begins in the South American rainforest whose rich variety of life forms is used to illustrate the sheer number of different species. Since many are dependent on others for food or means of reproduction, David Attenborough argues that they could not all have appeared at once. He sets out to discover which came first, and the reasons for such diversity. He starts by explaining the theories of Charles Darwin and the process of natural selection, using the giant tortoises of the Galápagos Islands (where Darwin voyaged on HMS Beagle) as an example. Fossils provide evidence of the earliest life, and Attenborough travels a vertical mile into the Grand Canyon in search of them.

By the time he reaches the Colorado River bed, the geological strata are 2,000 million years old—yet there are no fossils. However, the “right rocks” are found on the shores of Lake Superior in Canada, where wafer-thin slices of flint, called chert, reveal filaments of primitive algae. Also, the micro-organisms that flourish at Yellowstone Park in Wyoming appear to be identical to the Earth’s oldest fossils.

The evolution of single-celled creatures, from simple cyanophytes to more complex ciliates, and then from multi-celled sponges and jellyfish to the many variations of coral and its associated polyps, is discussed in detail. The fossilised remains of jellyfish are shown within the Flinders Ranges of Australia, and are estimated to be 652 million years old.

#2) "Building Bodies” January 23, 1979

The next programme explores the various sea-living invertebrates. In Morocco, the limestones are 600 million years old, and contain many invertebrate fossils. They fall broadly into three categories: shells, crinoids and segmented shells.

The evolution of shelled creatures is demonstrated with the flatworm, which eventually changed its body shape when burrowing became a necessity for either food or safety. It then evolved shielded tentacles and the casings eventually enveloped the entire body: these creatures are the brachiopods. The most successful shelled animals are the molluscs, of which there are some 80,000 different species. Some are single-shelled such as the cowrie, while others are bivalves that include the scallop and the giant clam. One species that has remained unchanged for millions of years is the nautilus: it features flotation chambers within its shell, which in turn formed the basis for the ammonites.

Crinoids are illustrated by sea lilies, starfish and sea urchins on the Great Barrier Reef. Segmented worms developed to enable sustained burrowing, and well-preserved fossils are found in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. These developed into trilobites and crustaceans, and the horseshoe crab is shown nesting in vast numbers on Delaware Bay. While the robber crab breeds in the sea, it is in all other respects a land animal and Attenborough uses it to exemplify the next evolutionary step.

#3) “The First Forests” January 30, 1979

This installment examines the earliest land vegetation and insects. The first plants, being devoid of stems, mainly comprised mosses and liverworts. Using both sexual and asexual methods of reproduction, they proliferated. Descended from segmented sea creatures, millipedes were among the first to take advantage of such a habitat and were quickly followed by other species. Without water to carry eggs, bodily contact between the sexes was now necessary.

This was problematical for some hunters, such as spiders and scorpions, who developed courtship rituals to ensure that the female didn’t eat the male. Over time, the plants’ cell walls strengthened and they grew taller.

Ferns and horsetails were among the first such species. Insects then evolved wings to avoid climbing and the dragonfly(which once had a wingspan of 60 centimetres) is one of the most successful. The elaborate wingbeats of the damselfly are shown slowed down 120 times.

Some plants, like the cycad enlisted the insects to transport pollen, while others, like the conifer, spread spores. Over a third of forests contain conifers and the giant sequoia of California is the largest living organism of any kind: it grows to a height of 112 metres. The conifer secretes resin to repair its trunk, and this survives as amber. Within it, insect specimens have been found that are 200 million years old. In fact, at this time, every insect known today was already in existence.

#4) “The Swarming Hordes” 6 February 1979

This episode details the relationship between flowers and insects. There are some one million classified species of insect, and two or three times as many that are yet to be labelled. Around 300 million years ago, plants began to enlist insects to help with their reproduction, and they did so with flowers.

Although the magnolia, for instance, contains male and female cells, pollination from another plant is preferable as it ensures greater variation and thus evolution. Flowers advertise themselves by either scent or display. Some evolved to produce sweet-smelling nectar and in turn, several insects developed their mouth parts into feeding tubes in order to reach it. However, to ensure that pollination occurs, some species—such as the orchid—have highly complicated mechanisms that must be negotiated first. Others, such as the yucca and its visiting moths, are dependent on one another.

Hunters, such as the mantis, are camouflaged to match the flowers and leaves visited by their prey. Since an insect’s skin is chitinous, it has to shed it periodically in order to grow, and the caterpillar, its chrysalis or cocoon and resulting butterfly or moth is one of the more complex examples. Termites, ants and some bees and wasps overcame any limitations of size by grouping together and forming superorganisms. The green tree ants of south-east Asia are shown to display the most extraordinary co-operation when building their nests.

#5) “Conquest of the Waters” February 13, 1979

This program looks at the evolution of fish. They have developed a multitude of shapes, sizes and methods of propulsion and navigation. The sea squirt, the lancelet and the lamprey are given as examples of the earliest, simplest types. Then, about 400 million years ago, the first backboned fish appeared.

The Kimberley Ranges of Western Australia are, in fact, the remnants of a coral reef and the ancient seabed. There, Attenborough discovers fossils of the earliest fish to have developed jaws. These evolved into two shapes of creature with cartilaginous skeletons: wide ones (like rays and skates) and long ones (like sharks). However, it is the fully boned species that were most successful, and spread from the oceans to rivers and lakes. To adapt to these environments, they had by now acquired gills for breathing, a lateral line to detect movement and a swim bladder to aid buoyancy.

Coral reefs contain the greatest variety of species, many of which are conspicuously coloured to ward off predators or attract mates. Their habitat, with its many hiding places within easy reach, allows them to remain so visible. However, the open ocean offers no such refuge, so there is safety in numbers—both hunters and hunted swim in shoals and have streamlined bodies for pursuit or escape. Most species that live below the thermocline, in the freezing depths of the ocean, have never been filmed, and these are largely represented by still photographs.

#6) “Invasion of the Land” February 20, 1979

The next installment describes the move from water to land. The fish that did so may have been forced to because of drought, or chose to in search of food. Either way, they eventually evolved into amphibians. Such creatures needed two things: limbs for mobility and lungs to breathe. The coelacanth is shown as a fish with bony fins that could have developed into legs, and the lungfish is able to absorb gaseous oxygen.

However, evidence of an animal that possessed both is presented in the 450-million-year-old fossilised remains of a fish called a eusthenopteron. Three groups of amphibians are explored. The caecilians have abandoned legs altogether to aid burrowing, newts and salamanders need to return to the water to allow their skins to breathe, but it is frogs and toads that have been the most successful.

Attenborough handles a goliath frog, the largest of the species, to demonstrate its characteristics. Their webbed feet form parachutes that turn them into “dazzling athletes”, and some can leap over 15 metres—100 times their body length. In addition, their vocal sacs ensure that mating calls can be heard from up to a mile away.

Poison dart frogs deter predators by means of venom, and one such example could kill a human. Various methods of breeding are examined, including laying eggs in rivers, depositing them in other damp habitats for safety or, as with the Brazilian pipa, embedding them within the skin of the parent itself.

#7) ”Victors of the Dry Land" February 27, 1979

This episode is devoted to the evolution of reptiles. They are not as restricted as their amphibian ancestors, since they can survive in the hottest climates. The reason is their scaly, practically watertight skin. The scales protect the body from wear and tear and in the case of some species of lizard, such as the Australian thorny devil, serve to protect from attack.

The horned iguana from the West Indies is also one of the most heavily armoured. The skin is rich in pigment cells, which provide effective means of camouflage, and the chameleon is a well-known example. Temperature control is important to reptiles: they cannot generate body heat internally or sweat to keep cool. Therefore, they rely on the sun and areas of shade. The reptiles were the first vertebrates for whom internal fertilisation was essential, so they developed the watertight egg, which hatches fully formed young. The age of the dinosaurs is explored, and Attenborough surmises that it may have been climate change that led to their abrupt demise. Those that survived were water-dwellers, and the bull Nile crocodile is the largest reptile alive today.

Snakes evolved when burrowing lizards lost their legs but returned above ground. The boa, puff adder and sidewinderdemonstrate methods of locomotion, the egg-eating snake has an extreme example of a hinged jaw, and the lethal diamondback rattlesnake is described as the most efficient at despatching its prey.

#8) “Lords of the Air” March 6, 1979

This program focuses on birds. The feather is key to everything that is crucial about a bird: it is both its aerofoil and its insulator. The earliest feathers were found on a fossilised Archaeopteryx skeleton in Bavaria. However, it had claws on its wings and there is only one species alive today that does so: the hoatzin, whose chicks possess them for about a week or so. Nevertheless, it serves to illustrate the probable movement of its ancestor.

It may have taken to the trees to avoid predators, and over time, its bony, reptilian tail was replaced by feathers and its heavy jaw evolved into a keratin beak. Beaks come in a variety of shapes depending on a bird’s feeding habits: examples given include the pouched bill of a pelican, the hooked beak of the vulture and the elongated mouth of the hummingbird.

Attenborough hails the tern as one of the most graceful flyers and the albatross as a skilled glider. The swift is shown as one of the fastest: it can fly at 170 km/h. Birds communicate through display and/or song, and the elaborate courtship rituals of New Guinea’s birds-of-paradise are shown. All birds lay eggs, and the range of different nesting sites and parenting skills is explored.

Finally, Attenborough visits Gibraltar to observe migratory birds. These rely on thermals when flying overland and use height to conserve energy when crossing oceans. It is estimated that some 5,000 million southbound birds cross the Mediterranean Sea each autumn.

#9) “The Rise of the Mammals” March 13, 1979

This installment is the first of several to concentrate on mammals. The platypus and the echidna are the only mammals that lay eggs (in much the same manner of reptiles), and it is from such animals that others in the group evolved.

Since mammals have warm blood and most have dense fur, they can hunt at night when temperatures drop. It is for this reason that they became more successful than their reptile ancestors, who needed to heat themselves externally. Much of the program is devoted to marsupials (whose young are partially formed at birth) of which fossils have been found in the Americas dating back 60 million years.

However, because of continental drift, this kind of mammal flourished in Australia. Examples shown include the quoll, the Tasmanian devil, the koala, the wombat and the largest marsupial, the red kangaroo. The thylacine was similar to a wolf but is now thought to be extinct. In 1969, bones of creatures such as a 3-metre-tall kangaroo and a ferocious marsupial lionwere found in a cave in Naracoorte, South Australia. The reason for these animals’ extinction is, once again, thought to be climate change.

Finally, Attenborough describes the most prolific mammals—those that originated in the Northern Hemisphere and give birth to fully formed young. He states, "The placenta and the womb between them provide a degree of safety and a continuity of sustenance which is unparalleled in the animal world.”

#10) ”Theme and Variations" March 20, 1979

This episode continues the study of mammals, and particularly those whose young gestate inside their bodies. Attenborough asks why these have become so varied and tries to discover the common theme that links them. Examples of primitive mammals that are still alive today include the treeshrew, the desman and the star-nosed mole. Insect eaters vary enormously from the aardvark, giant anteater and pangolin to those to which much of this programme is devoted: the bats, of which there are nearly 1,000 different species. These took to flying at night, and it is possible that they evolved from treeshrews that jumped from tree to tree, in much the same way as a flying squirrel. Most bats use sonar to hunt and navigate, and ultrasound to communicate.

However, some of their prey, such as the lacewing and tiger moth, have developed techniques to confuse and evade them. Aquatic mammals superseded sea-going reptiles such as the plesiosaur. The whales’ immense size is related to the retention of body heat.

The dinosaurs’ growth was limited by the strength of their bones but the whales only rely on water to support their weight, and so have been able to grow into the world’s largest animals. Some of those shown include humpbacks, narwhals, killer whales and dolphins. The latter use echolocation in much the same way as bats, and Attenborough observes one finding objects in the water even after it has been blindfolded.

#11) ”The Hunters and Hunted" March 27, 1979

This program surveys mammal herbivores and their predators. The herbivores began to populate the forests when the dinosaurs disappeared, and many took to gathering food at night.

To prepare for winter, some store it in vast quantities, some hibernate and others make do as best they can. However, the carnivores joined them, and when a drying climate triggered the spread of grass, they followed their prey out on to the plains.

Grass is not easily digestible and most animals that eat it have to regurgitate it and chew the cud. Out in the open, the leaf-eaters had to develop means of protection. A few species turned into burrowers: examples include the blind mole-rat, which is completely underground, and the prairie dog, which is not. The capybara—the largest rodent—spends much of its time in the water. Those that evolved long legs and hooves, such as the zebra and impala, seek safety in speed, while larger creatures, such as the rhinoceros, rely on their armoured hides.

The elephant is the world’s largest land animal and is virtually invulnerable. Cheetahs and lions are attracted by those that herd in large numbers, like wildebeest. The cheetah uses its considerable speed while the heavier lion is a social predator, mostly using co-operation and stealth to capture its victims, and its methods are explored in detail.

Meanwhile, a pack hunter, such as the hyena, has immense stamina and will eventually wear down its quarry, easing the kill.

#12) “Life in the Trees" April 3, 1979

The penultimate installment investigates the primates, whose defining characteristics are forward-facing eyes for judging distance, and gripping hands with which to grasp branches, manipulate food and groom one another.

The program begins in Madagascar, home to the lemurs, of which there are some 20 different types. Two examples are the sifaka, which is a specialized jumper, and the indri, which has a well-developed voice. Away from Madagascar, the only lemur relatives to have survived are nocturnal, such as the bushbaby, the potto and the loris. The others were supplanted by the monkeys and a primitive species that still exists is the smallest, the marmoset.

However, Attenborough selects the squirrel monkey as being typical of the group. Howler monkeys demonstrate why they are so named—their chorus is said to the loudest of any mammal—and their prehensile tails illustrate their agility. However, such tails are not characteristic of monkeys that inhabit Africa and many of them, such as vervets and baboons, are just as happy on the ground. Others have moved elsewhere, and the macaques of Koshima in Japan have learned to wash their food before eating.

Most apes have taken to swinging from trees, and their feet are just as versatile as their hands. They include the orangutan, the gibbon, the chimpanzee and the primate with whom Attenborough has arguably his most famous encounter, the mountain gorilla.

#13) ”The Compulsive Communicators" April 10, 1979

The final episode deals with the evolution of the most widespread and dominant species on Earth: humans.

The story begins in Africa, where, some 10 million years ago, apes descended from the trees and ventured out into the open grasslands in search of food. They slowly adapted to the habitat and grew in size. Their acute sense of vision led to them standing erect to spot predators, leaving their hands free to bear weapons.

In addition, the primitive apemen (Anthropopithecus) also had stones that were chipped into cutting tools. Slowly, they grew taller and more upright, and their stone implements became ever more elaborate. Furthermore, animal hunting expeditions required a degree of co-operation to achieve a successful outcome.

Therefore, Attenborough argues, such foresight, teamwork and planning must have meant some skill at communication. Homo erectus gradually spread from Africa and reached Europe some 800,000 years ago, where a drop in temperature led to him inhabiting caves. Such creatures evolved further and learned to use flint for weapons, animal skins for clothing, and fire for warmth and preparing food. Their brains became fully formed and, using the walls of their caves as a canvas, they painted and eventually learned to write. Homo sapiens had arrived.

However, Attenborough warns, just because humans have achieved so much in such a comparatively short period of time, it may not mean that they will be around forever.

1997 Revision

Available at Biblio.com, LibraryThing.com, abebook.com

Reminds me of something I read long ago, it claimed that the scientific profession with the longest lived scientists was Astronomy. Although that was before the digital revolution when real astronomer still stayed up all night, sitting behind their eye pieces, wrapped up against the cold of their observation domes.

The Attenborough series, and some since then, were really popular. Do you think they made a difference? Obviously not enough of a difference, huh?

Now that was a telling progression of comments.
You bring up evolution
and I raise you 12 chapters of Earth’s history, which directly related to what and who I am today.
You did a touche’ with an image of gazing upon the heavens, the noble intellectual endeavor .
Don’t know what you were trying to say: tomato, tomahto?

Living under dark skies and above 7,000 ft. I surely know the wonder of gazing into space and musing on the immensity of infinity, and time, distant stars and galaxies that for the first time in human history we can relate to thanks to close up imaging.
Once in a while using the crescent moon to triangulate the location of the Sun (that’s recently set), then toss in some planets to get a (dare I say visceral) sense the orbit arcs of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus etc.

But all this is looking out away from ourselves, for the most musing on the unknowable.

Whereas the journey I suggest, through this realm of our how Evolution, has a direct, even physical connections to what your body is and the world you exist within.
Once digested, how can it not have a profound impact upon one’s relationship with oneself and the world around you?

Perhaps I got an extra nudge at 20, having spent six weeks learning the basics of butchering and since then periodical getting opportunities to exercise the craft and once again get up close and personal with the mammalian, fish and bird bodies.

#1) “The Infinite Variety”

#2) "Building Bodies”

#3) “The First Forests”

#4) “The Swarming Hordes”

#5) “Conquest of the Waters”

#6) “Invasion of the Land”

#7) ”Victors of the Dry Land

#8) “Lords of the Air”

#9) “The Rise of the Mammals”

#10) ”Theme and Variations"

#11) ”The Hunters and Hunted”

#12) “Life in the Trees"

I can dig the cosmic musing, but down here within me is where real life action is and without an appreciation for all that up there, it’s impossible to fully appreciate who your body is, and thus who you are and why you behave and feel the way one does.

Too remain are oblivious to it, in large part because of some shrewd and ruthless mass brainwashing campaigns that did away with the need for truth and honest - “Doubt was their product”.

Not near enough. Should be a part of every intermediate school education.
But instead during the 80s/90s we were busy embracing Too Much Is Never Enough, The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

Few cared about it, I was surprised at how many turned their backs on earlier sober thinking about big matters such as AGW, over-population, environmental concerns, etc. Instead the public imagination was all about The God Father, Star Wars, Royalty, Hollywood make believe, Wall Street Money for Nothing on steroids, blings became god and more toys* was the name of the game. (* to collect and let rust.)

Now we’re witnessing the Faustian Bargain coming due.

I don’t know. I can only look at how people treat the world and know it doesn’t impact them much at all. I keep trying different ways of connecting.

Because they have no genuine relationship with themselves (body and soul) and even less of a relation with Earth’ creatures and biosphere. Problem is, they’ll never get change anything without it. But it’s not the notions that should be blamed there. There we need to look into ourselves and our voracious gluttony, coupled with our refusal to take responsibility.

That’s what self satisfied and self imposed willful ignorance will do!

Or as holding a disconnect with the realities of our biosphere. like it were a badge of honor, will get us.

Especially if that disregard is reinforced from every angle, be it corporate brain washing campaigns, or self-serving philosophical games (that have become quite a money making scheme in its own right, if you play it right) where they won’t even expose the difference between serious science and metaphysical mumbling and religion.

Heck they’ll talk endless about morals, yet never get around to “honesty” and “truth”.

It feels like you’re slipping into justifications, whereas I’m thinking in terms of explaining and looking at causes.

It would be wonderful thinking of actually changing some stuff, but my sights have been reduced to simply being a witness for a more objective appreciation for “reality” than I’m seeing from folks out there.

I didn’t say people were right when they don’t recognize how they got to be where they are, I just observed it.

Okay then and I’m simply striving to formulate my observations for where we went wrong.

Well okay, more than worrying about others, it’s also simply about me and my experience, perhaps its nothing more than that human artistic impulse to share their own vision with others, with luck we’ll find a few receptive - That’s’ why Herman Hesse and his “Goldmund and Narcissus” is so personal to me. He had his Madonna statue, that touched the essence of woman/mother/lover/goddess.

I have my understanding of myself, my thoughts and my body, along with the rest of creation around me, along with this fascinating 67 years of living I’ve experienced, that’s enabled me to taste it in a way relatively few have been able to experience it.

I think you do that. And you spend time pointing out the failure of others. That’s usually where you lose me

Oh so failures aren’t supposed to be discussed?

Guess I knew that already. So I’m a prick, cause I think nothing can go anywhere once we become incapable of recognizing, facing and resolving our mistakes & failures, or at least to make a good faith effort.

The fact that we can discuss morals all day and never get to around to “truth” & “honesty”, I believe has lead to today’s mass normalization and acceptance of lying as a legitimate public policy tool.

So instead of learning, we now get to be offended anytime anyone want’s to confront self-destructive lies, with facts and rational arguments, exchange of information?

Wow. No. That’s not what I meant. You can point out problems in a way that doesn’t kill the conversation, like you’re doing with the above post.

I responded to you saying you just want to share your story. So, do that. I thought I knew you well enough, and had a good enough relationship, so I could add on that I think it’s a good idea to do that sharing and do less of slamming of those who just don’t get it.

Sometimes, when trying to break through old walls, you have to focus on the weaker sections, not go looking for the thickest parts.

For those interested in Attenborough’s work: