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.


The New Net Zero

The New Net Zero

By Bill Maclay

The new threshold for green building is not just low energy, it’s net-zero energy. In The New Net Zero, sustainable architect Bill Maclay charts the path for designers and builders interested in exploring green design’s new frontier net-zero-energy structures that produce as much energy as they consume and are carbon neutral.

 In a nation where traditional buildings use roughly 40 percent of the total fossil energy, the interest in net-zero building is growing enormously–among both designers interested in addressing climate change and consumers interested in energy efficiency and long-term savings. Maclay, an award-winning net-zero designer whose buildings have achieved high-performance goals at affordable costs, makes the case for a net-zero future; explains net-zero building metrics, integrated design practices, and renewable energy options; and shares his lessons learned on net-zero teambuilding.

Designers and builders will find a wealth of state-of-the-art information on such considerations as air, water, and vapor barriers; embodied energy; residential and commercial net-zero standards; monitoring and commissioning; insulation options; costs; and more.

The comprehensive overview is accompanied by several case studies, which include institutional buildings, commercial projects, and residences.  Both new-building and renovation projects are covered in detail. 

The New Net Zero is geared toward professionals exploring net-zero design, but also suitable for nonprofessionals seeking ideas and strategies on net-zero options that are beautiful and renewably powered.

Available in: Hardcover

Read More

The New Net Zero

Bill Maclay

Hardcover $90.00



By Simon Fairlie

Meat: A Benign Extravagance is a groundbreaking exploration of the difficult environmental, ethical and health issues surrounding the human consumption of animals. Garnering huge praise in the UK, this is a book that answers the question: should we be farming animals, or not? Not a simple answer, but one that takes all views on meat eating into account. It lays out in detail the reasons why we must indeed decrease the amount of meat we eat, both for the planet and for ourselves, and yet explores how different forms of agriculture--including livestock--shape our landscape and culture.

At the heart of this book, Simon Fairlie argues that society needs to re-orient itself back to the land, both physically and spiritually, and explains why an agriculture that can most readily achieve this is one that includes a measure of livestock farming. It is a well-researched look at agricultural and environmental theory from a fabulous writer and a farmer, and is sure to take off where other books on vegetarianism and veganism have fallen short in their global scope.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

Read More


Gene Logsdon, Simon Fairlie

Paperback $24.95

The Greened House Effect

The Greened House Effect

By Jeff Wilson

With greater public awareness of the need for energy independence, the issue of how we can make our existing homes more resource efficient is becoming ever more critical. Residential buildings make up a large fraction of our energy needs, largely due to heating and air-conditioning. So it's no longer enough to simply do the small stuff, like switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, or turning down the thermostat at night.

In The Greened-House Effect, author Jeff Wilson brings his twenty-five years of construction experience and knowledge of home building to bear on making our current houses cleaner, greener, and healthier. Think of a deep-energy retrofit (DER) as a "home makeover" - one that represents a significant investment, but that saves money from the get-go by capturing the energy you "drop on the ground" every month, every year, through inefficiency, poor design, or simply living in a typical older home.

Using his own family's DER of their 1942 home as a prime example, Wilson weaves a readable narrative at a practical, hammer-and-nail level. He presents the solutions to our building and energy problems, making them seem possible for average homeowners and small contractors by offering the right set of information, skills, and materials.

More technical information is presented in sidebars and graphs, and numerous color photos illustrate the process, including:

  • Testing the energy efficiency of your home and learning where improvements need to be made
  • Issues of local building codes and regulations
  • Financing and paying for a DER
  • Major components of the DER, such as roofs, exterior walls, basements, and home systems

Wilson's building experience, along with his lifelong passion for energy issues, all come together to form an inspirational, can-do approach to making our neighborhood, our community, our nation, and our world a better place - one home at a time.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

Read More

The Greened House Effect

Jeff Wilson

Paperback $29.95

The Safari Companion

The Safari Companion

By Richard D. Estes

Since its original publication in 1993, The Safari Companion has been the best field guide to observing and understanding the behavior of African mammals. An indispensable tool for naturalists traveling to Africa, this new edition has been revised to acknowledge the enthusiasm to those watching these magnificent animals at zoos and wildlife parks, and on film.

The Safari Companion enables readers to recognize and interpret visible behavioral activities, such as courtship rituals, territorial marking, aggression, and care of young. Each account of over 80 species includes a behavioral table in which the unique actions of the hoofed mammals, carnivores, and primates are described for easy reference. In addition, useful maps show the major national boundaries, vegetation zones, and game parks relevant to the guide. The book includes an extensive glossary, as well as tips on wildlife photography, a list of organizations working to protect African wildlife, and advice on where and when to see the animals.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

Read More

The Safari Companion

Richard D. Estes, Daniel Otte, Kathryn S. Fuller

Paperback $30.00