From flying pterodactyls to walking primates, the story of life as told through the evolution of locomotion.Most of us never think about how we get from one place to another. For most people, putting one foot in front of the other requires no thought at all. Yet the fact that we and other species are able to do so is one of the great triumphs of evolution. To truly understand how life evolved on Earth, it is crucial to understand movement. Restless Creatures makes the bold new argument that the true story of evolution is the story of locomotion, from the first stirrings of bacteria to the amazing feats of Olympic athletes. By retracing the four-billion-year history of locomotion, evolutionary biologist Matt Wilkinson shows how the physical challenges of moving from place to place-when coupled with the implacable logic of natural selection-offer a uniquely powerful means of illuminating the living world. Whales and dolphins look like fish because they have been molded by the constraints of underwater locomotion. The unbending physical needs of flight have brought bats, birds, and pterodactyls to strikingly similar anatomies. Movement explains why we have opposable thumbs, why moving can make us feel good, how fish fins became limbs, and even why-classic fiction notwithstanding-there are no flying monkeys nor animals with wheels. Even plants aren't immune from locomotion's long reach: their seeds, pollen, and very form are all determined by their aptitude to disperse. From sprinting cheetah to spinning maple fruit, soaring albatross to burrowing worm, crawling amoeba to running human-all are the way they are because of how they move. There is a famous saying: "nothing in biology makes sense unless in the light of evolution." As Wilkinson makes clear: little makes sense unless in the light of locomotion. A powerful yet accessible work of evolutionary biology, Restless Creatures is the essential guide for understanding how life on Earth was shaped by the simple need to move from point A to point B.
Matt Wilkinson is a science writer and biologist in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge. He lives in Cambridge, UK.