Chelsea Green Publishing

The Mystery of Metamorphosis

A Scientific Detective Story

By Frank Ryan
Foreword by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan

Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
April 07, 2011

$26.95 $21.56

Metamorphosis has intrigued human observers for thousands of years. While everyone knows this trick of nature transforms caterpillars into butterflies, fewer are aware that this process of transformation also occurs in many other insect species, as well as in amphibians and-in its greatest diversity-in marine creatures. Still, despite its widespread occurrence, metamorphosis has largely remained a mystery-not just to the people who watch gorgeous orange Monarchs emerge from green caterpillars once ensconced in cocoons, but also to the scientists who have tried to unravel just how the transformation works. In Metamorphosis, Frank Ryan delves into the mystery headfirst, showcasing surprising new ideas that are shaking established science.

Ryan recounts how the intricate physiology of metamorphosis has slowly revealed its secrets. He brings the work of pioneering scientists-such as Jean-Henri Fabre, Vincent Wigglesworth, and Carroll Williams-to life as they explore the inner workings of the insect world. We also meet contemporary scientist Don Williamson, whose work on sea urchins and other ocean-going animals led him to a theory of larval development that challenge some of the longest-held beliefs in evolution-including those that date back to Darwin's time. Williamson, whose revelations have launched huge debates in science, has risked being labeled an iconoclast for encouraging people to think differently about how species evolve-a process, he says, that is not as linear as we've believed, and that involves not just mutation but also hybridizaton.

A character as enchanting as metamorphosis itself, Williams exemplifies the importance of questioning time-honored beliefs. Through his work and those of the other monumental scientists in this book, we come closer to understanding the ancient and miraculous transformation of juvenile life forms into beautiful and complex adult insects and animals.


"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

"We tend to think of every detail of an animal's appearance, and most of its behavior, as the product of genes tweaked by environmental influences that induce slight changes in the outcome, as though that explains everything. So, can there be anything more mysterious than, say, a flesh-eating maggot turning a few days later into an iridescent green bottle fly on whom every single bristle is accounted for, or a leaf-eating tomato hornworm caterpillar becoming a hummingbird-like analogue hovering to suck nectar from flowers? Who are the biologists bold enough to tackle such a problem of profound transformation where "environment" as we normally think of it has no bearing whatsoever? Has this not been THE most exciting story in biology? This deeply informed account delves into the fascinating history of the study of metamorphosis. It's a saga, and Frank Ryan does it justice."--Bernd Heinrich, author of The Nesting Season, Winter World, and Mind of the Raven

"Prepare your mind for its own Cambrian explosion. Frank Ryan's breathtaking explanations for lif's most wondrous transformations are by turns shocking, thrilling, and revelatory."--Sy Montgomery, award-winning naturalist and author of Birdology and The Good, Good Pig

"Frank Ryan tells the story of animal metamorphosis by letting you follow the explorations of scientists who have researched the remarkable transformations of animal larvae into their adult form. The book's main protagonist, biologist Donald Williamson, is an expert in the minutiae and mind-boggling diversity of metamorphosis in marine invertebrates. This expertise allows him to see the shortcomings of conventional theories that attempt to explain the evolutionary origins of metamorphosis. He comes to postulate his own radical theory of larval origins through hybridization and, as a result, hits hard against the wall of scientific orthodoxy. By engaging in Williamson's story you not only learn about the rich and fascinating phenomenon of animal metamorphosis, you also learn about science as a complex human endeavor in which new ideas are hardly welcomed with open arms."--Craig Holdrege, Director, The Nature Institute

"The enormity of Ryan's task and the complexity of the cross-disciplinary research would have overwhelmed a lesser writer. Part history lecture and part science class, Ryan brings an accessible passion to the subject comparable to Carl Sagan's popularization of astronomy."--Joseph Thompson, ForeWord Reviews

"An impressive work. Frank Ryan's thorough detection and crisp writing expertly bring forth the simple but profound discoveries that shape our understanding of metamorphosis, and challenge our ideas about evolution. The idea that dissimilar sea creatures can link together to create new creatures, and thus encourage evolution, is fascinating; and, among the scientists Ryan introduces, one makes a convincing case for just that sort of wonder."--Brian Garfield, author of Hopscotch and The Meinertzhagen Mystery: The Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud; past director, Mystery Writers of America

Anyone who has contemplated the awe-inspiring transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly understands that nature is capable of many enchanting yet baffling surprises. Indeed, the phenomenon of metamorphosis, common in insects and sea life, appears to defy Darwinian natural selection, in which wholesale anatomical changes mostly happen slowly over eons. In describing the intricacies and theories behind this ancient natural mystery, former physician and science writer Ryan introduces the reader to some fascinating dramatis personae, including aptly named entomologist Vincent Wigglesworth and marine biologist Don Williamson. Wigglesworth's major contribution to solving the metamorphosis riddle involved identifying the hormones that trigger it while studying a South American insect known as the "kissing bug." More controversial is the theory proposed by Williamson, suggesting that such dramatic differences between pulpy infant larva and multi-appendage adult can only be explained by gene-swapping between radically dissimilar species. While some of these overviews veer into jargon-laden explanation, overall Ryan provides the reader with an engrossing survey of one of nature's most transfixing puzzles.


Frank Ryan

Scientist and author Frank Ryan, a former physician, is the author of Virolution, Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told-The Search for the Cure and the New Global Threat (a New York Times Nonfiction Book of the Year), Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues, and Darwin's Blind Spot: Evolution Beyond Natural Selection, among others. He's a leading voice on the role of viruses in evolution and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, in the United Kingdom, where he focuses on developing his evolutionary concepts and helps translate evolutionary science into medicine practice. He lives in England, and lectures frequently across Europe and in the United States.


Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties

By Carol Deppe

All gardeners and farmers should be plant breeders, says author Carol Deppe. Developing new vegetable varieties doesn't require a specialized education, a lot of land, or even a lot of time. It can be done on any scale. It's enjoyable. It's deeply rewarding. You can get useful new varieties much faster than you might suppose. And you can eat your mistakes.

Authoritative and easy-to-understand, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's and Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving is the only guide to plant breeding and seed saving for the serious home gardener and the small-scale farmer or commercial grower. Discover:

  • how to breed for a wide range of different traits (flavor, size, shape, or color; cold or heat tolerance; pest and disease resistance; and regional adaptation)
  • how to save seed and maintain varieties
  • how to conduct your own variety trials and other farm- or garden-based research
  • how to breed for performance under organic or sustainable growing methods

In this one-size-fits-all world of multinational seed companies, plant patents, and biotech monopolies, more and more gardeners and farmers are recognizing that they need to "take back their seeds." They need to save more of their own seed, grow and maintain the best traditional and regional varieties, and develop more of their own unique new varieties. Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's and Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving shows the way, and offers an exciting introduction to a whole new gardening adventure.

Available in: Paperback

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Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties

Carol Deppe

Paperback $29.95

The Art of Leading Collectively

The Art of Leading Collectively

By Petra Kuenkel

A guide to collaborative impact for leaders in industry, government, and social change networks

Our world is facing unsustainable global trends—from climate change and water scarcity to energy insecurity, unfair labor practices, and growing inequality.  Tackling these crises effectively requires a new form of leadership—a collective one.  But, in a world of many silos, how do we get people to work together toward a common goal? That is one of the most important questions facing sustainability and social-change professionals around the world, and it is a question that Petra Kuenkel answers in The Art of Leading Collectively.

Readers learn how to tackle system change for sustainable development, reimagine leadership as a collaborative endeavor, retrain leaders to work collectively, and manage diverse groups through a change process that has sustainability as a guiding focus. Drawing upon two decades of pioneering, internationally recognized work orchestrating multi-stakeholder initiatives, Kuenkel presents her chief tool, the Collective Leadership Compass, and shows others how to use it with large groups of diverse stakeholders to solve complex, urgent problems—particularly those that enmesh business activities, governance, human needs, and environmental impacts.

The book offers many examples of collective leadership efforts involving corporate, public, and nonprofit sectors around the world.  Readers learn about the processes that led to a sustainable textile alliance, advanced global seafood sustainability, and set standards for sustainable cocoa and coffee production and trade, as well as those that helped nations rebound from war, develop sustainable infrastructure, and tackle resource conflicts with global businesses, to name a few.

Kuenkel provides a clear roadmap for leaders from multinational companies involved in partnerships, international organizations engaged in cooperative development, public agencies, and interest groups—as well as for citizens seeking solutions to social and sustainability challenges.

Available in: Hardcover

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The Art of Leading Collectively

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Petra Kuenkel

Hardcover $29.95

Angels by the River

Angels by the River

By James Gustave Speth

Angels by the River follows James Gustave Speth’s unlikely path—from a Southern boyhood to his career as an influential mainstream environmentalist to his current system-changing activism.

In this compelling memoir, Speth explores the issues, and realities, that have shaped the nation since the 1950s, and that turned an “ultimate insider” into someone willing to be arrested in front of the White House.

Born and raised in a town where both the best and worst of the South shone through—a town that eventually became the scene of South Carolina’s horrific Orangeburg Massacre—Speth explores how the civil rights movement and the South’s agrarian roots influenced his academic career at Yale and later work in the heyday of the environmental movement, when he helped launch two landmark and influential environmental groups—the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute—advise the White House on climate and other emerging issues, and lead the UN’s development efforts around the globe.

Speth fought to create and uphold the nation’s toughest environmental laws, but now believes a new environmentalism is needed to confront today’s challenges. The advancing climate crisis cannot be addressed, he warns, as long as we remain fixated on endless growth and consumption, corporate profits, increasing the incomes of the well-to-do, neglecting those just getting by, and helping abroad only modestly.

An American tale, in all its complexity, Speth’s memoir is an inspiration—especially for readers contemplating how to make a difference in an increasingly complex world.

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook

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Angels by the River

James Gustave Speth

Hardcover $25.00

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

By Nicky Scott

Answers all of your recycling questions with a complete A-Z listing of everyday household items and how to recycle them. From old cell phones and E-waste to expired medicines and motor oil this little guide shows you where you can send your unwanted items and how you might make a bit of money while you’re at it. Also includes great ideas for reducing consumption and your volume of trash—ideal for businesses and consumers alike!

  • What do you do with your old mobile phone?
  • Where can you take your old car batteries?
  • Which foods are compostable?
  • What happens to the stuff you recycle?

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is packed with ideas for cutting your consumption and reducing your rubbish. It’s an invaluable guide for anyone who wants to slim their bin and help stop the earth going to waste.


Available in: Paperback, eBook

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Nicky Scott, Axel Scheffler

Paperback $7.95