Snakes Are Evolutionary Superstars | Whale Song Is All In The Larynx

Episode 721,   Mar 05, 09:00 PM

In the trees, through the water, and under the dirt: Snakes evolve faster than their lizard relatives, allowing them to occupy diverse niches. Also, researchers are working to understand just how baleen whales are able to produce their haunting songs.

Snakes Are Evolutionary Superstars

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, new research shows that snakes deserve our recognition as evolutionary superstars. The study, published last week in the journal Science, found that snakes evolve faster than other reptiles, allowing them to thrive in a wide range of environments.

It shouldn’t be too surprising: Many of the nearly 4,000 snake species occupy extremely specialized niches in their ecosystems. The blunt-headed tree snake, for example, eats through batches of treefrog eggs in Central and South America. Pythons, which can grow to 20 feet long, can take down large mammals like antelopes.

Joining Ira to talk about the evolutionary speed of snakes is study co-author Dr. Daniel Rabosky, evolutionary biologist and curator of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan.

Whale Song Is All In The Larynx

Whale songs can be both beautiful and haunting. But the exact mechanism that the 16 species of baleen whales, like humpback and minke whales, use to make those noises hasn’t been well understood. The finer points of whale anatomy are hard to study, in part because the soft tissues of beached whales often begin to decompose before researchers can preserve and study them. And until the relatively recent advent of monitoring tags that can be attached to individual whales, it’s been hard to associate a given underwater sound with any specific whale.

For a recent study, published in the journal Nature, researchers took advantage of several well-preserved beached whales to investigate the mysteries of the baleen whale larynx and its role in whale song. Dr. Coen Elemans of the University of Southern Denmark joins Ira to discuss the work, which included a MacGyveresque contraption involving party balloons and exercise bands that blew air at controlled pressures through preserved whale larynx tissues. The researchers found that there are limits to both the frequencies these whales can produce, and the depths at which they are physically able to sing.

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