The Mystery of Metamorphosis
A Scientific Detective Story
"In this scintillating book Frank Ryan gives us a skillful and detailed introduction to the intricate world of animal metamorphosis and to the astounding idea (pioneered by Donald Williamson) that the larval and adult forms of many animals were once wildly different creatures whose genomes melded during moments of extraordinary trans-species hybridization. Read this book to experience the feel and excitement of a massive paradigm shift in science as told by a brilliant science writer."
—Stephan Harding, Head of Holistic Science at Schumacher College and author of Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia.
Read the Foreword by Dorion Sagan and Lynn Margulis
How does a caterpillar transform into a butterfly, or plankton-feeding larvae grow into gorgeous sea stars? Metamorphosis has captivated our imagination for thousands of years. Yet it remains, largely, a mystery. Award-winning author Frank Ryan delves into that mystery with the keen eye of a scientist, the skill of an expert storyteller, and the tenacity of a detective tracking down one of science’s least-understood phenomena.
What emerges is a brilliant tale of quirky geniuses competing to solve the metamorphosis riddle over the last two centuries. We meet Jean-Henri Fabre, Vincent B. Wigglesworth, and others as they probe deep into the inner workings of insects. We also meet the iconoclastic modern-day scientist Don Williamson, whose studies of marine life led him to the boldest and most controversial theory of evolution since Darwin’s own—one that suggests evolution occurs not just through mutation but also through hybridization. Such a theory could mean that rather than climbing the tree of life, species could possibly jump from branch to branch, and that the origins of metamorphosis might lie in the ancient union of two completely different species.
The Mystery of Metamorphosis is an accurate depiction of a scientific revolution 150 years in the making. Nowhere else will readers find such a sweeping account of this strange and wonderful mystery—or such a thoughtful, balanced presentation of why metamorphosis has landed center stage in debates over evolution itself.