Saturday 10 January 2009

whales came from ancient deer

In his Dear Darwin letter on Radio 4, Professor Jerry Coyne informs Darwin (left) that we now have evidence that the sea was recolonised by mammals. In his Origin of Species Darwin had been correct in suggesting that whales arose from land animals, but Coyne says, 'you did get it wrong on one point'.

'You thought that they may have come from carnivores like bears, but we now know that this isn't really true. Instead the ancestral whale came from a small hooved animal, much like a deer, and in the last thirty years, we've discovered a whole series of intermediate fossils, spanning the gap from those ancient deer to modern whales, showing them losing their hind limbs, evolving flippers, and moving their breathing hole to the top of their head.'

(Our complete guide to 'whales on stage' is here.)

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