Read Science!

Conversations about Science Communication and Communicating Science


S13:E01, “Mammalian” edition, with Liam Drew (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on 2 August 2019

Streamed live on 30 July 2019.

Since forever, it seems, people have been trying to decide what unique characteristic separates mammals from all other animals–and what unique characteristic separates humans from all other mammals. And yet, no one seems to have a definitive answer.

Liam Drew, in his book I, Mammal: The Story of What Makes Us Mammals, takes a different tack, and looks instead at the characteristics that humans have in common with other mammals, and at how evolution has created a number of shared characteristics. Which came first: the milk or the mammary glands? How did animals that give live birth to their young evolve from animals who lay eggs, and where do marsupials fit into that evolutionary picture? What makes the mammalian placenta the extraordinary organ that it is, and how did that come about? And, in discussing why we owe the entire book to an unfortunate encounter that the author had with a soccer ball, why in the world do so many mammalian males wear their testicles outside their body?

Author Drew weaves a remarkable number of fascinating facts into fun, informative stories about mammals and how we evolved, and we had a great deal of fun trying to mention all our favorites as our very short hour allowed. Put it all together and we find out that mammals are less a collection of traits, and more a parallel collection of histories of how we came to be.

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