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Skeletons come in many shapes and sizes

A new book explores the evolution and diversity of life’s scaffolding

By
8:00am, May 27, 2018
whale skeleton, formanifera skeletons, and a rhinoceros beetle exoskeleton

LIFE SUPPORT  Skeletons today are quite diverse, from the exoskeletons of tiny marine organisms known as foraminifera (bottom left) and rhinoceros beetles (bottom right) to the bones of mighty whales (North Atlantic right whale, top).

Skeletons
Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams
Oxford Univ., $24.95

For much of life’s reign on Earth, organisms got by without skeletons. But since that innovation evolved about 550 million years ago, there’s been an evolutionary arms race of epic proportions.

One of the first competitors was Cloudina, a small seafloor creature whose exterior skeleton almost certainly evolved in response to predation: In well-preserved groups of fossils, up to a fifth of these critters’ exoskeletons show holes or other evidence of being attacked.

In the eras since, in response to predation and a wide range of other challenges, life has evolved a wild diversity of such structures, as described in the aptly named Skeletons. The

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