One Species at a Time

Ari Daniel ShapiroThe story of Earth's biodiversity from the Encylopedia of Life.

Lend an ear and discover the wonders of nature—right outside your back door and halfway around the world. In our new season of audio broadcasts, we’ll be learning about life as small as yeast and as big as a bowhead whale. Hear people's stories about nature and hone your backyard observation skills. We’ll be exploring the diversity of life—five minutes and One Species at a Time. Listen to us online, or download us and take us with you on your own exploration of the world around you. Brought to you by the Encyclopedia of Life and Atlantic Public Media.

The host and producer is Ari Daniel Shapiro. Jay Allison and Viki Merrick edit.

One Species at a Time, formerly the Podcast of Life, is heard every second Monday on WCAI: during Morning Edition at 8:30 and afternoons during All Things Considered at 5:30.




Corvus corax

We humans learn some of our earliest life lessons from our brothers and sisters, watching what toys our siblings play with and what treats they stash away for later. In this Halloween season podcast, Ari Daniel Shapiro journeys to Austria to learn how such social learning happens in a spooky bird—the raven.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Springtails are tiny creatures that live underfoot in the soil and leaf litter. Most people are not even aware they exist. Until 2000, biologists classified these curious animals as insects. Then new DNA evidence forced scientists like Louis Deharveng to revise their thinking and redraw a branch on the tree of life.

Photo Credit: Miroslav Deml, CC BY.

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Photo:Chicago Botanic Garden, CC BY-NC-SA

Western Silvery Aster


Symphyotrichum sericeum

When biologist Diana Bizecki Robson sits in the middle of the tallgrass prairie in a park near Winnipeg, she sees stars—the tiny, bright flowers of the western silvery aster. The prairie may seem a world away from our modern lives, but Robson shows how this endangered ecosystem’s flora and fauna are intimately connected with our own well-being.

Photo Credit: Chicago Botanic Garden, CC BY-NC-SA.

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Panthera leo

Does the mane really make the lion? Certainly, luxurious locks are the feature that sets Panthera leo apart from the other large cats. But surprisingly, not all male lions have manes. And back in the early Pleistocene, manes covered more of the lion than just the head. Ari Daniel Shapiro speaks with archivist Connie Rinaldo of the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Harvard University and curator of mammals Bruce Patterson of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History to learn about the diversity of lions in the distant past and the challenges they face in the present.

Photo Credit: H. Vannoy Davis, CalPhotos, California Academy of Sciences. CC BY-NC-SA.

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Head Lice


Pediculus humanus capitis

This week’s podcast is guaranteed to make your scalp crawl—but don’t worry, it’s most likely all in your head, and not on it. We’ll visit entomologist Richard Pollack to learn about an insect that’s the bane of parents and school principals everywhere—or is it? Ari Daniel Shapiro explains.

Photo Credit: Gilles San Martin, CC BY-SA.

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Killer Whales


Orcinus Orca

Imagine yourself immersed in a chilly, blue, three-dimensional world, one where vision isn’t much use but sound travels far. That’s the leap of the imagination demanded of scientists like Volker Deecke who study killer whales. Deecke and his colleagues must sort myth from science to learn the secrets of these consummate predators. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports from the Shetland Islands.

Photo Credit: Orcinus orca (Linnaeus, 1758). Public Domain.

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Sea Butterflies


Limacina helicina and Clione limacina

In the ocean, a drama is playing out between two marine mollusks: sea butterflies--tiny swimming snails the size of a grain of sand (also known as Pteropods)—and the larger sea angel that preys on them. But it’s another drama, one on a global scale, that concerns marine biologist Gareth Lawson and sculptor Cornelia Kavanagh: the changing chemistry of our warming oceans. The scientist and artist are collaborating to bring that story to a wider audience in the hope of rewriting the ending. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and New York City.

Photo Credit: Russ Hopcroft CC BY-NC

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Photo Credit: John Sullivan. CC BY-NC-SA




In this week’s episode, EOL fellow Rosario Castañeda takes us to the back rooms of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, searching through dozens of jars of pickled anole lizards to see the traces of evolution in action. These faded specimens don’t much resemble these vivid animals in life, as they skitter along branches and tree trunks in their native tropics. But to the trained eye, they're revealing secrets.

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Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtles


Caretta caretta and Chelonia mydas

Cyprus is split in half, with a Turkish sector in the north and a Greek sector in the south. The unofficial division makes scientific collaboration in this Mediterranean island nation all but impossible; it also complicates management of the island's endangered sea turtles. While the conflict between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots dates back centuries, twenty-first century problems such as climate change make it urgent for scientists in the north and south to find ways around the old differences, before the turtles slip across a different kind of dividing line—from living to extinct. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports.

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When you think of the tools of the modern geneticist, the lowly razor blade probably don’t come to mind. But this low-tech tool is essential to the work of Dutch geneticist and passionate gardener Ron Zonneveld, who is using it to tease apart the genetic secrets of the flower whose spectacular genetic variation caused “tulip mania” in the 1600s and has made it a star in the genetics lab in the twenty-first century. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports from Leiden, the Netherlands.

Photo Credit: Ari Daniel Shapiro

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Hypholoma fasciculare. Albert P. Bekker, CalPhotos. CC BY-NC-SA



Hypholoma fasciculare and Amanita brunnescens

This week’s podcast begins with a riddle about a life form that’s all around us, yet rarely seen. Working under cover, it sends its ghostly tendrils into almost every corner of the terrestrial world. We associate it with death and decay, but life as we know it would be impossible without it. Come for a walk in the woods with Ari Daniel Shapiro and learn how this mysterious form of life, neither animal nor vegetable, shapes our world.

Photo Credit: Hypholoma fasciculare. Albert P. Bekker, CalPhotos. CC BY-NC-SA

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Marabou Stork


Leptoptilos crumeniferus

The marabou stork of southern Africa isn’t much to look at—it’s large, ungainly, and bald like a vulture, with a nasty appetite for carrion. This bird is increasingly making a home in urban areas like the Ugandan capital of Kampala, where human city dwellers don’t much like the habits of these winged neighbors. But graduate student Lillian Twanza has been studying the storks, with growing respect. She tells Ari Daniel Shapiro the ways that people have unknowingly put out the welcome mat for these scavengers.

Photo Credit: Paul Morris, BY-SA

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Photo: Paul Morris, BY-SA

Corpse Flowers



Let’s face it—when you think of charismatic megaflora, chances are you have in mind something majestic, like a towering Sequoia, or something ancient, like a Joshua tree. But a plant with a four-foot stalk that smells like a cross between rotting stinky cheese and animal feces? This week’s podcast takes us to a sacred island off the coast of Madagascar, where an intrepid botanist braved fever and worse to bring a specimen of this unlikely botanical superstar back alive. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports.

Photo Credit: Paul Morris, BY-SA

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Arctic Tern


Sterna Paradisaea

The arctic tern makes an incredible migration each year. These small birds travel distances of more than 50,000 miles, from pole to pole, crossing through temperate and tropical regions along the way. Carsten Egevang used geo-locator tags to track some of these terns, and he shares their story with us in this tour.

Photo Credit: Blake Matheson, Flickr: EOL Images

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phot: philip heron

Midas Fly


Eremomidas arabicus

Cresting a red sand dune, you come upon an unexpected sight in the desert: a shimmering expanse of fresh water. This oasis is no mirage, but a lake accidentally created by waste water from a desalination plant serving the growing city of Al Ain. The lake has brought change to the creatures, like the mydas fly, that are adapted to life in this stark and beautiful landscape. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports this cautionary tale from the United Arab Emirates.

Photo Credit: Brigitte Howarth, Emirates Natural History Group/Zayed University

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phot: philip heron



Sturnus vulgaris

This week, we hear a story in two acts about a very familiar bird—the common starling. It's a non-native species that is omnivorous, gregarious, adaptable, and highly successful in its adopted land. It turns out we humans have inadvertently put out the welcome mat for this alien species. Act One tells the story about this winged invader with an $800 million appetite for fruit crops. As for Act Two, we’ll let independent producer Josh Kurz and the theater troupe Higher Mammals explain.

Learn more about the Higher Mammals theater troupe here.

Startling recordings courtesy of Donald Kroodsma and were recorded at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo Credit: Philip Heron

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Photo: Perpetra Akite

Ugandan Butterflies


Pieridae, Abisara neavei

Ugandan lepidopterist Perpetra Akite studies at a university in the capital city, far from the farm where she grew up. Since she began studying butterflies as a girl, the landscape of her homeland has changed radically, for butterflies as well as people. It’s change that can be measured in many ways—in the inches of rainfall, acres of forest cleared—or the span of a tiny butterfly’s wings. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports from Kigale.

Photo Credit: Perpetra Akite

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Photo Credit: Gary M.Stolz,



Rhizophora mangle

Follow researchers Candy Feller and Dennis Whigham as they scramble, climb, crawl, and creep through the tangled roots of a mangrove forest. Along the way, learn what’s threatening these unique ecosystems where the ocean meets the land. Studying these flooded forests is a challenge, but pursuing science in this strange landscape has its own rewards.

Photo Credit: Gary M.Stolz,

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Photo Credit: The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum <>

Sanibel Shells


Epitonium angulatum

Ari Daniel Shapiro joins the serious beachcombers along the high-tide line of Sanibel Island, Florida. These “shellers” come in search of beautiful sea shells, sometimes no bigger than a grain of rice, that are the remains of marine snails, bivalves, and other mollusks. Along the way, Ari learns why Sanibel’s shores are so rich in molluscan treasure, and how shelling has captured the imaginations of scientists and enthusiasts alike.

Ari Daniel Shapiro’s parents went along on the Sanibel beachcombing expedition. See the photos
Ari’s mom took of shells on the beach and in the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.

All photos courtesy of Wendy Shapiro.

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Chinook Salmon


Can painted wooden fish on a schoolyard fence change human behavior and help clean up the ocean for the real salmon? Stream of Dreams in British Columbia thinks so, and a lot of wooden fish and some 100,000 school kids later, they have some intriguing results to show for their effort.


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Sea Grapes Google Earth Tour

Caulerpa racemosa variety cylindracea

“Sea grapes” may sound like something Poseidon would snack on, and not a killer algae. Yet Caulerpa racemosa var. cylindracea poses a serious threat to marine life. Spread by the bilge water of boats, this fast-growing alga is quick to take root, squeezing out native species. But there is one spot in the Mediterranean where cylindracea hasn’t yet taken over, and biologists like Juan Manuel Ruiz Fernández are trying to discover why.

Image of Caulerpa racemosa, Photo Credit: NURC/UNCW and NOAA/FGBNMS

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credit:  Kevin Karlson

Greenland Shark

Somniosus microcephalus

Join shark expert Greg Skomal as he ventures under the Arctic ice in search of the Greenland shark. Sharing this icy, blue twilight with an apex predator is a thrill--so long as you don’t end up being mistaken for a ringed seal, the shark’s favorite meal. In this episode, we’ll learn how Skomal’s research is revealing how these evolutionary survivors endure despite astonishing obstacles.

Photo Credit:  World Register of Marine Species

Greenland Shark: Extras

Audio Extra

Listen to Greg’s first EOL podcast about great white sharks.


Watch a video of a Greenland Shark from the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG).


Greenland Shark. Supplier: World Register of Marine Species Author: H. Dupond in Poll (1947) (naar Bonaparte)

The Greenland shark favors ringed seals (Pusa hispida), but has a wide diet that includes a wide variety of fish, dolphins, skates and other sharks, sea birds, sea urchins, crabs, and jellyfish. Carrion is also on the menu—the remains of drowned horses and reindeer have also been recovered from the stomachs of dead sharks.

The copepod—a tiny crustacean—bores into the shark’s eye and leaves it almost blind. But the parasitic infection also lends the shark’s eyes an eerie, bioluminescent glow that seems to attract small prey. Since both copepod and shark benefit from this relationship, it’s called mutualism.

The Inuktitut people of the Canadian Arctic call the Greenland shark the ekalugssuak. The flesh of the shark is high in neurotoxins—despite this, the Inuktitut consider the treated flesh a delicacy for for both man and beast. But if the powerful toxins aren’t removed the shark meat can leave sled dogs stumbling “drunk” and unable to stay on their feet.

Citizen Science connection:

Have you seen a shark near where you live? Contribute to the Shark Trust database by reporting your sighting.

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Explore the One Species at a Time 2011 Archive - stories from 2011