About Natural History

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Are all scientists romantics?

I was talking about orogenesis the other day with a fellow geologist, and we both came to the conclusion that it would be quite awesome (and I mean this litterally) to stand on the Appalaches or the Urals ( and realize that during the Primary era these were the highest mountains on Earth. They belong to the first orogenesis event in the history of the Phanerozoic, a time when they weren’t covered in vegetation, but they were culminating higher than this level. We were thinking abou the feeling we’d get by walking on these eroded rocks, that may have been around for more than 250 Ma, but still, they are rather high mountains.
This sort of feeling is something that is always accompanying scientific thought, although not all scientists realize it or understand how deeply romantic it is. Indeed, when one thinks about any problem concerning Nature, the Universe or even about a theoretical problem (i.e. Mathematics), one performs a romantic act since he usually faces a problem with respect to Nature and does not consider his human nature as a factor in his reflection (non anthropocentric vision).
Of course, the Romantic movement of the beggining of the 19th century did influence strongly the scientific tought, and generated the big Naturphilosophie movement in Germany. It represented a scientific view of the world that was at the limits of metaphysics (sometimes well past the limit as well). Despite that, some major discoveries were made by using this kind of philosophy, such as electromagnetism in the field of physics, statistics in the field of mathematics, or the creation of the field of Biology (by Lamarck).
One of the most renouned naturphilosophers is Johann Goethe. His scientific observations are largely poorly known, but he is actually the one who made quite a crutial observation when it comes to angiosperm development. He noticed that the flower of the angiosperms is in fact transfomed leaves. With this simple idea, a very simple yet important observation, he made it possible for other scientists to understand the origin and the development of flowers. The movement came to an end with the rise of Positivism at approximately the middle of the 19th century, which promoted the collection of data and the methodologies used today.

Although the romantic movement has faded away from science (as it has for litterature to tell the truth), there lies in all scientists a deep sense of romanticism in their perception of natural phenomena, in the way they concieve a scientific problem and in their love of nature in general.


What Latouchella is.

Latouchella represents the name of the blog, so it seems only natural that a post should be dedicated to this fascinating mollusc!

Why fascinating? After all it only is a rather small shell with very few systematic characters and not particularly spectacular. But in its simplicity it is a quite amazing creature: it is the oldest known genus of molluscs (its type species is the oldest mollusc known to date), and its systematic position is still fuzzy. Is it a Monoplacophoran or a Gastropod?

In palaeontology classes, we learned that it is most probably a Monoplacophoran of the family Helcionellidae, but the classification of Bouchet and Rocroi (2005) does not attribute them a certain phylogenetic position.

The genus appeared during the very beginning of the Cambrian, the Tommotian epoch (lower Cambrian of Russia and Kazakhstan). It presents similarities with the current Monoplacophoran Neopillina (c.f. Picture 1), without them being conclusive as to the precise phylogenetic position.

Picture 1: Neopilina sp.

The type species was first described by E.S. Cobbold (1921), in “The Cambrian horizons of Comley (Shropshire) and their Brachiopoda, Pteropoda, Gasteropoda and etc.” in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (vol. 76, pp. : 325-386).

The type species, Latouchella costata (picture 2), was found western England, in lower Cambrian sediments, by E.S. Cobbold. The age, the structure, the mystery around this fossil make it a unique creature in the history of Evolution, especially since it represents such an important clade as the one of Mollusca.

Picture 2: Latouchella costata

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