Monday 15 December 2008

The Lesson of the Rock Rat Kebab

I suppose an intermittent running theme of this blog is that the natural world is richer, stranger and more various than we know, or can ever know - but discovering a thousand new species (excluding the smaller invertebrates) in one small corner of the planet is pretty remarkable. There seem to be many such parts of the world which, as soon as a taxonomic eye is trained on them, start giving forth an abundance of hitherto unknown species. In what sense can science possibly claim to have an idea of how many species there are, and of how many are becoming or have become extinct? It's a distinctly anthropocentric business (what else could it be?) and surely bears little relation to the natural world as it is, in all its endless variety and abundance. In this latest story, I particularly like the rock rat thought to have been extinct for 11 million years, but well known to the locals as a delicacy to roast on a stick.


  1. You want to try going to Westfield. New species galore

  2. I've heard there are men over there whose brains are entirely made from yoghurt.

  3. Taxonomy is a tricky one - it is a little bit like humans trying to impose order on chaos.

    What is meant by a 'species'? That's not a straightforward question - I didn't get it until I read about 'population thinking' in Ernst Mayr's brilliant and succinctly named book "What Evolution Is".