Skeletons Update: Chapter 1 & 2

Skeletons: The Frame of Life - Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams

TITLE:  Skeletons:  The Frame of Life


AUTHORS:  Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams



This is an interesting book so far.  The book includes information that I haven't come across before.  Personal descriptions and biographies are kept to a minimum and include things that are actually interesting and relevant to the topic.  The first chapter explored the origin of a variety of skeletal structures in the Cambrian and possibly before that.  Chapter two deals with exoskeletons - the evolution external skeletons, size issues with exoskeletons, loss of exoskeletons, armour-plating, the rise of the arthropods, creatures with shells, and the like.  Chapter three will explore internal skeletons.


From Chapter 2:

"But there are some very strange things about this molluscan argonaut.  It can, for instance, leave this shell completely, unlike any other  mollusc—and so sharp debates grew between savants as to whether  it was its own shell, or one that it had appropriated, just as hermit  crabs make use of discarded gastropod shells as mobile homes. And, between two of its tentacles, it has a sheet of soft tissue. Aristotle, at about 330, described this tissue as a sail, by which the argonaut caught the wind to sail across the sea surface, rather like the ship of its mythical namesakes. This was a vision that persisted for more than two millennia, being reprised much later by Lord Byron and Alexander Pope in their poems, and by Jules Verne in his epic novel 20 000 Leagues under the Sea. 


Enter Jeanne Villepreux, the daughter of a mostly illiterate family in Juillac, in southern France. After a series of family difficulties—the death of a sister and mother, the arrival of a young stepmother—in 1812, at age 18, she made the 480-kilometre journey to Paris, on foot, with a flock of animals destined for the abattoir, and in the care of a cousin. The cousin attacked her partway through the journey, and she sought refuge in a gendarmerie, then a convent. Eventually she arrived in Paris alone, with no place to go to or prospect of work. As one of her biographers put it, chance can sometimes be merciful. A dressmaker took pity on her, and took her on as a seamstress.  Unlike her siblings, she could at least read and write, and she learnt quickly, soon excelling at her new trade. A short few years later, when Princess Caroline of Sicily married the King’s nephew, the Duc de Berry, it was the young Jeanne who designed the wedding dress. During the festivities, a young English businessman,James Power, saw her, and fell in love. They married—and she started a new life as a rich émigré wife in Sicily.

Jeanne Villepreux-Power, as she now was, did not spend her life doing the social rounds, but instead became fascinated by the natural history of the island, and particularly the marine life. To get closer to the sea creatures, she needed some means of studying them at close quarters. To do this, she designed and had built a glass box filled with seawater —and thus became the inventor of the aquarium. She built three of these structures, two of which were placed within the sea, and one on land.  Among the creatures she studied were the argonauts, having heard of the scientific dispute as to the nature of their shells. They were common in the seas around Sicily, and she thought herself well placed to get to the truth. Her confidence was well placed. She collected argonaut eggs, hatched them, and day by day, observed what happened. After a few days, tiny shells appeared—so clearly these were made by the organisms, and were not borrowed or stolen. And she saw that the delicate membranes that Aristotle took to be sails were the secretory organs for shell material, and could be used to repair as well as to build these delicate shells.

Unlike other women scientists of the day, her achievements were recognized by the almost exclusively male-dominated scientific establishment, and she became a member of not one but 16 scientific academies across Europe. Even the formidable Richard Owen, inventor of the Dinosauria and a man with notoriously sharp elbows when it came to jostling for academic position, heaped praise upon her."

So, now you know who invented the first aquarium!




* Planet of the Bugs: Evolution and the Rise of Insects by Scott Richard Shaw


* Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods by Danna Staaf

* Trilobite!: Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey

* Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen Scales