Meet a thorny devil through the Map of Life

March 3, 2011
Meet a thorny devil through the Map of Life
Thorny devil (Moloch horridus) at Great Central Road (WA). Credit: 2006, Bäras, GNU FDL

A new website that explains why humans have the same type of eye as an octopus, and how animals separated by millions of years have evolved in the same way, has been launched by a team of scientists at Cambridge University.

The Map of Life ( highlights hundreds of examples of 'evolutionary convergence' such as Australia's thorny devil lizard (pictured) and North America's desert horned lizard.

Despite being separated by 150 million years of evolution, both lizards have evolved the same way of collecting drinking water through their skin. The new website also explains why the fiery colours of autumn leaves that adorn hundreds of different tree are examples of convergent evolution, as well as exploring the similarities between ants that farm and sea cows that graze.

The Map of Life project is coordinated by Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology Simon Conway Morris in the Department of Earth Sciences to provide an accessible website for the public, as well as for students and academics.

Dr. Chloe Cyrus-Kent, a member of the team behind the Map of Life, will be at this month's Cambridge Science Festival (, the UK's largest free science festival, providing a chance to explore who's related to whom through convergent evolution, whether it be among gliding animals, desert or burrowing creatures.

She said: " occurs when unrelated organisms acquire similar adaptations to life in similar environments but from very different starting points. In this way, creatures with common solutions to challenges in their unique habitats can occupy very distant branches of the tree of life. Perhaps one of the most startling example is the similarity between our eyes and those of the octopus."

Professor Conway Morris, Dr. Cyrus-Kent and Dr. Verena Dietrich-Bischoff have spent several years assembling hundreds of examples of convergence and writing the topic-based content of the website, the first of its kind.

Sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, the Map of Life shows that the living world not only evolves, changing over time as successive generations inherit modified information from their predecessors, but often do so along strikingly similar pathways despite being unrelated to each other.

"With Darwin we saw our world through new eyes," said Conway Morris, "but perhaps with convergence we see new landscapes in evolutionary biology, reflecting a deeper order within living systems."

Explore further: Imitation is not just flattery for Amazon butterfly species

Related Stories

Imitation is not just flattery for Amazon butterfly species

December 2, 2008

Many studies of evolution focus on the benefits to the individual of competing successfully – those who survive produce the most offspring, in Darwin's classic 'survival of the fittest'. But how does this translate to the ...

Darwin's Tree of Life May Be More Like a Thicket

January 27, 2009

( -- In On The Origin of Species, Darwin used the image of a tree of life to illustrate how species evolve, one from another. Even today, branches sprouting from lower branches (representing ancestors) is how ...

Even singers in the bird world have to deal with cover artists

September 8, 2009

( -- Two competing species of Amazonian birds use the same songs to communicate with each other, Oxford University scientists have found, the first evidence that convergent evolution can arise through social interactions ...

'Evolution: A Developmental Approach'

January 27, 2011

What separates humans from Chimpanzees? Is it the genetics of our population, or our different structures and behavior capabilities? To Professor Wallace Arthur it is all of these points, which is why his latest book Evolution: ...

Recommended for you

Trade in invasive plants is blossoming

October 3, 2015

Every day, hundreds of different plant species—many of them listed as invasive—are traded online worldwide on auction platforms. This exacerbates the problem of uncontrollable biological invasions.

Ancestral background can be determined by fingerprints

September 28, 2015

A proof-of-concept study finds that it is possible to identify an individual's ancestral background based on his or her fingerprint characteristics – a discovery with significant applications for law enforcement and anthropological ...

Bat species found to have tongue pump to pull in nectar

September 28, 2015

(—A trio of researchers affiliated with the University of Ulm in Germany and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama has found that one species of bat has a method of collecting nectar that has never ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2011
It is like writing a new fairy tale. What a waste of time. Is this different from the so called "Tree of life" image, that has branches converging to a trunk, with no further data? If you keep saying that "Macro"-evolution is true, perhaps in your mind it will be true. Therefore, all should believe it.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2011
Duh, my name is breadhead. Are you really this stupid or just addled from a lifetime of religion and conservative doctrine. It must be nice to dismiss 150-years of research with a wave of the hand. You're either a fricking genius or a complete boob, and I'm wagering on the latter.
3 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
This is a great topic of study. It lends credence to the idea that evolution isn't completely random, that there's some environmental drive to push towards certain types of attributes that seem to be the most likely outcome to certain stressers.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2011
Your ad hominem comments are all you have, where is the proof of your precious macro-evolution? 150 years wasted if you think we evolved from a rock. What science degree did Darwin have? What university did he attend? Your hero never explained the origin of life in his book, did he?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.