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 Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook

The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook

By Greg Pahl

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Al Gore's summer blockbuster An Inconvenient Truth, and crude oil prices soaring to all-time highs, more people than ever know the truth about our oil addiction. Global warming is here. M. King Hubbert's oil peak is fast approaching (or may already have arrived). The secret's out: fossil fuel reserves are dwindling and popular interest has created the need for accessible, realistic solutions.

The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook, a clear-eyed view of the critical situation we face, offers ways out. Greg Pahl examines energy technologies currently available and homes in on renewable energy strategies that can be adopted by individuals and communities. Such cooperative initiatives have been common in Europe for years and are beginning to gain a foothold in the US. Each chapter focuses on a different renewable energy category--solar, wind, water, biomass, liquid biofuels, and geothermal--then reviews their advantages and disadvantages and desccribes numerous examples of successful, proven local initiatives.

The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook is an eloquent appeal for community and regional action to initiate an array of solutions to energy needs until now controlled by large, distant utilities and consortiums. It is time to take back control of the energy and environmental challenges ahead; this book will help people do just that. It is a handbook for anyone ready to take the first steps towards a more sustainable future.

Available in: eBook

Read More

The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook

Greg Pahl, Richard Heinberg

eBook $21.95



By Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray, award-winning author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and Wild Card Quilt, writes an evocative paean to wildness and wilderness restoration with an extraordinary journey into southern Georgia's Pinhook Swamp.

Pinhook Swamp acts as a vital watershed and wildlife corridor, a link between the great southern wildernesses of Okefenokee Swamp and Osceola National Forest. Together Okefenokee, Osceola, and Pinhook form one of the largest expanse of protected wild land east of the Mississippi River. This is one of America's last truly wild places, and Pinhook takes us into its heart.

Ray comes to know Pinhook intimately as she joins the fight to protect it, spending the night in the swamp, tasting honey made from its flowers, tracking wildlife, and talking to others about their relationship with the swamp. Ray sees Pinhook through the eyes of the people who live there--naturalists, beekeepers, homesteaders, hunters, and locals at the country store. In lyrical, down-home prose, she draws together the swamp's need for restoration and the human desire for wholeness and wildness in our own lives and landscapes.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

Read More


Janisse Ray

Paperback $15.95

Mad Sheep

Mad Sheep

By Linda Faillace

In the mid-1990s Linda and Larry Faillace had a dream: they wanted to breed sheep and make cheese on their Vermont farm. They did the research, worked hard, followed the rules, and, after years of preparation and patience, built a successful, entrepreneurial business.
But just like that, their dream turned into a nightmare. The U.S. Department of Agriculture told them that the sheep they imported from Europe (with the USDA's seal of approval) carried a disease similar to the dreaded BSE or "mad cow disease." After months of surveillance--which included USDA agents spying from nearby mountaintops and comically hiding behind bushes--armed federal agents seized their flock. The animals were destroyed, the Faillace's lives turned upside down, all so that the USDA could show the U.S. meat industries that they were protecting America from mad cow disease--and by extension, easing fears among an increasingly wary population of meat-eaters.

Mad Sheep is the account of one family's struggle against a bullying and corrupt government agency that long ago abandoned the family farmer to serve the needs of corporate agriculture and the industrialization of our food supply. Similar to the national best-selling book, A Civil Action, readers will cheer on this courageous family in its fight for justice in the face of politics as usual and the implacable bureaucracy of the farm industry in Washington, DC.

Available in: eBook

Read More

Mad Sheep

Linda Faillace, Ronnie Cummins

eBook $17.95

What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming

What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming

By Per Espen Stoknes

Why does knowing more mean believing—and doing—less? A prescription for change

The more facts that pile up about global warming, the greater the resistance to them grows, making it harder to enact measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare communities for the inevitable change ahead.

It is a catch-22 that starts, says psychologist and economist Per Espen Stoknes, from an inadequate understanding of the way most humans think, act, and live in the world around them. With dozens of examples—from the private sector to government agencies—Stoknes shows how to retell the story of climate change and, at the same time, create positive, meaningful actions that can be supported even by deniers.

In What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming, Stoknes not only masterfully identifies the five main psychological barriers to climate action, but addresses them with five strategies for how to talk about global warming in a way that creates action and solutions, not further inaction and despair.

These strategies work with, rather than against, human nature. They are social, positive, and simple—making climate-friendly behaviors easy and convenient. They are also story-based, to help add meaning and create community, and include the use of signals, or indicators, to gauge feedback and be constantly responsive.

Whether you are working on the front lines of the climate issue, immersed in the science, trying to make policy or educate the public, or just an average person trying to make sense of the cognitive dissonance or grapple with frustration over this looming issue, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming moves beyond the psychological barriers that block progress and opens new doorways to social and personal transformation.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

Read More

What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming

Jorgen Randers, Per Espen Stoknes

Paperback $24.95