Biological warfare and the coevolutionary arms race
Local legend has it that during the 1950s, three hunters were found dead at their campsite in Oregon. Nothing was stolen, and there was no evidence of foul play. Investigators scoured the scene, but found nothing more unusual than a newt boiled in the hunters' coffee pot probably scooped from the stream along with their water. What caused the death of these hunters? Edmund Brodie Jr. (a.k.a. "Butch"), a biologist at The Oregon College of Education, wanted to find out.
Here, you will follow Butch's investigation of the hunters' deaths and learn how newts became entangled in a form of "evolutionary warfare" with their predators. You'll explore how the weapons in this war evolved, how practical limitations constrain each sides' arsenals, and what happens to those who end up caught in the crossfire of this ten-thousand year old battle.
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Dr. Brodie's photo provided by Dr. Brodie; Newt photo by Dr. Robert Thomas and Margaret Orr © California Academy of Sciences
Understanding Evolution © 2017 by The University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California