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.




By Andrew Moore

The largest edible fruit native to the United States tastes like a cross between a banana and a mango. It grows wild in twenty-six states, gracing Eastern forests each fall with sweet-smelling, tropical-flavored abundance. Historically, it fed and sustained Native Americans and European explorers, presidents, and enslaved African Americans, inspiring folk songs, poetry, and scores of place names from Georgia to Illinois. Its trees are an organic grower’s dream, requiring no pesticides or herbicides to thrive, and containing compounds that are among the most potent anticancer agents yet discovered.

So why have so few people heard of the pawpaw, much less tasted one? 

In Pawpaw, author Andrew Moore explores the past, present, and future of this unique fruit, traveling from the Ozarks to Monticello; canoeing the lower Mississippi in search of wild fruit; drinking pawpaw beer in Durham, North Carolina; tracking down lost cultivars in Appalachian hollers; and helping out during harvest season in a Maryland orchard. Along the way, he gathers pawpaw lore and knowledge not only from the plant breeders and horticulturists working to bring pawpaws into the mainstream (including Neal Peterson, known in pawpaw circles as the fruit’s own “Johnny Pawpawseed”), but also regular folks who remember eating them in the woods as kids, but haven’t had one in over fifty years.

As much as Pawpaw is a compendium of pawpaw knowledge, it also plumbs deeper questions about American foodways—how economic, biologic, and cultural forces combine, leading us to eat what we eat, and sometimes to ignore the incredible, delicious food growing all around us. If you haven’t yet eaten a pawpaw, this book won’t let you rest until you do. 

Available in: Hardcover, eBook

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Andrew Moore, Michael W. Twitty

Hardcover $26.00

The Lost Language of Plants

The Lost Language of Plants

By Stephen Harrod Buhner

This could be the most important book you will read this year. Around the office at Chelsea Green it is referred to as the "pharmaceutical Silent Spring." Well-known author, teacher, lecturer, and herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner has produced a book that is certain to generate controversy. It consists of three parts:

  1. A critique of technological medicine, and especially the dangers to the environment posed by pharmaceuticals and other synthetic substances that people use in connection with health care and personal body care.
  2. A new look at Gaia Theory, including an explanation that plants are the original chemistries of Gaia and those phytochemistries are the fundamental communications network for the Earth's ecosystems.
  3. Extensive documentation of how plants communicate their healing qualities to humans and other animals. Western culture has obliterated most people's capacity to perceive these messages, but this book also contains valuable information on how we can restore our faculties of perception.

The book will affect readers on rational and emotional planes. It is grounded in both a New Age spiritual sensibility and hard science. While some of the author's claims may strike traditional thinkers as outlandish, Buhner presents his arguments with such authority and documentation that the scientific underpinnings, however unconventional, are completely credible.

The overall impact is a powerful, eye-opening expos' of the threat that our allopathic Western medical system, in combination with our unquestioning faith in science and technology, poses to the primary life-support systems of the planet. At a time when we are preoccupied with the terrorist attacks and the possibility of biological warfare, perhaps it is time to listen to the planet. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the state of the environment, the state of health care, and our cultural sanity.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

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The Lost Language of Plants

Stephen Harrod Buhner

Paperback $19.95

Thinking in Systems

Thinking in Systems

By Donella Meadows

In the years following her role as the lead author of the international bestseller, Limits to Growth—the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet— Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001.

Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute’s Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.

Some of the biggest problems facing the world—war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation—are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.

While readers will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows was known as much for nurturing positive outcomes as she was for delving into the science behind global dilemmas. She reminds readers to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble, and to stay a learner.

In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.

Available in: Paperback, eBook

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Thinking in Systems

Donella Meadows, Diana Wright

Paperback $19.95

Seeds of Deception & GMO Trilogy (Book & DVD Bundle)

Seeds of Deception & GMO Trilogy (Book & DVD Bundle)

By Jeffrey M. Smith

Now Jeffrey M. Smith's best-selling book is paired with a new DVD and CD set that shows how genetically modified organisms (GMOs) put our health and environment at risk. This set will impact consumer perceptions and buying habits.

DVD 1: Unnatural Selection

This stunning, award-winning documentary by Bertram Verhaag and Gabriele Kröber reveals harsh consequences of genetic engineering on three continents. Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, Percy Schmeiser and others, describe uncontrollable, self-replicating GM contamination, failed crops, farmer suicides, and new GM animals that threaten natural populations.

"Best Film," (CineEco, Portugal), "Best Long Production," (IEFF, Brazil), and "Best Journalistic Achievement," (IEFF, Germany).

"Meticulously researched, excellently photographed" -Ökomedia

 DVD 2: Hidden Dangers in Kids' Meals: Genetically Engineered Foods

Shocking research results, inadequate regulations and warnings from eminent scientists explain why GM foods are dangerous and should be removed from kids' meals. The dramatic story of how student behavior in a Wisconsin school was transformed with a healthy diet provides added motivation to make a change. It features Jeffrey Smith and more than a dozen scientists and experts. 

Audio CD: You're Eating WHAT?

Jeffrey Smith's riveting one-hour talk. 

Seeds of Deception

This is the top-rated, best selling book in the world on GM foods. Smith exposes the serious health dangers of genetically modified foods and the corporate cover-up. A fast-paced thriller of industry manipulation and political collusion, combined with lucid descriptions of genetic engineering and guidance on how to protect yourself and your family.

Available in: Mixed media product

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Seeds of Deception & GMO Trilogy (Book & DVD Bundle)

Jeffrey M. Smith

Mixed media product $27.95