When we think of evolution, we think old.
It's as natural as evolution itself. We think old, because it acts across vast time scales, and we see its hand down the ages, epochs and eras. Our focus on evolution as a grand old thing might partly explain our enduring fascination with extinct ancient beasts such as the dinosaurs.
Sometimes hybridisation reaches a different, natural end point: the emergence of wholly new, third species”
But when we think of evolution, we should also be thinking young.
Because some of the best evidence that evolution is happening, and how it happens comes not from the fossilised remains of the long fallen. It comes from still-living animals and plants; snails, fish, flies and flowers, for example.
And it comes from finding and studying the youngest species on earth.
Old species have their place. We love our fossils, and we particularly love our living fossils, a term we use to describe still-living species that have weathered, relatively unscathed, millions of years. They have proved themselves, in evolutionary terms, the great survivors: the fittest of the fit.
Rediscovered in 1938, coelacanths use their fleshly lobed fins to paddle the deep sea caves of the Indian Ocean. These modern coelacanths aren't much different than their long-dead relatives, another species of which was discovered in October this year.
Crocodiles with their ancient, almost battered-looking bodies, have hardly changed in 230 million years; nautiluses for almost 500 million years. We celebrate when new living fossils are discovered, such as the aptly named Jurassic shrimp.
These species have evolved, of course, over the past millions of years, however subtly.
But their relatively unchanged nature serves to remind us, perversely, that other species can change quite a bit.