Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 28: Jul-Aug 1983

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Bones Of Contention

Introduction. This item needs an editorial because it shows how a very tiny and obscure brick in the Temple of Science, long thought to be structurally sound, might lead to widespread collapse. Are there other sleepers?

A group of burrowing lizards (the amphisbaenians) possess a heavy bone in their heads that helps them ram their ways through the soil. In surface-living lizards this structure is merely a soft, flimsy cartilage. It was long assumed that the bone in the burrowing lizard developed from the cartilage of its surface-living kin. But a study of embryos now shows that the head bone of the burrowing lizard actually developed from a membrane instead of cartilage. The two similarly located structures are not homologous after all. They had different origins.

Superficially this doesn't seem very anomalous and especially not very exciting. But vertebrate evolution in particular has been charted on the basis of homologous structures. If these structures have different biological origins -- even in just some cases -- the evolutionary family trees may be drawn wrong.

(Anonymous; "Lizard Bone Shakes World of Taxonomy," New Scientist, 98:221, 1983.)

Comment. No one yet knows how serious this problem really is. Basically it means that some animals that look alike (at least bonewise) need not be closely related. To use an analogy, if nature has the plans for a house stored in genetic material, it may be able to build that house out of wood, brick, or what ever material is available.

From Science Frontiers #28, JUL-AUG 1983. 1983-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987