Truth be told, I don't spend a whole lot of time on Tumblr, but there are a few masterpieces that are worth keeping an eye on. One of my favorites is Mara Grunbaum's WTF Evolution?, which takes a regular look at some of evolution's strangest and most perplexing creations. Now, in plenty of time for Xmas, Gunbaum's evolutionary freak show is a book.
In one of Robin Williams' best-known stand-up routines, he says, "If you look at a platypus, you think that God might get stoned: 'OK, let's take a beaver and put on a duck's bill. It's a mammal, but it lays eggs. Hey, Darwin, kiss my ass!'" If you get that, chances are you're going to want to take a look at WTF Evolution.
In addition to photographs of the creatures in questions, the blog and book feature conversations with Evolution about how and why the animals came to be and WTF Evolution was thinking.
In addition to being entertaining, the combined photos and commentary are extremely educational. They are also a constant reminder of what evolution is and how it really works.
We tend to think of evolution as a linear process, a straight line that improves the species it acts upon and favors the most efficient improvements. That is not really evolution at all. Evolution is a process of random changes, some of which give the mutated organism an advantage, many of which lead to the animal's death.
Over millions and even billions of generations, the accumulated effects of those tiny mutations can lead to strange and bizarre results. The animal in question is, obviously, somewhat successful in its environment, but that does not mean that it is the most efficient possible design.
In addition to being educational about life on Earth, WTF Evolution helps with my thinking and imagination about exobiology. Assuming that we someday find life on other planets, that life form is unlikely to look like a human with pointy ears.
Life may begin from the same basic building blocks, but life on another planet would have started with its own atmosphere, gravity and environment. From there it would have taken its own random turns, experienced its own challenges and faced its own catastrophes over hundreds of millions of years.
So, for a bit of light entertainment combined with science and a reliable jolt to your imagination, check out WTF Evolution on Tumblr and now in paperback.