Unmasking the Mystery of How Life Transforms

Dr Frank Ryan

How does a caterpillar transform into a butterfly, or plankton-feeding larvae grow into gorgeous sea stars? Metamorphosis has captivated our imagination for thousands of years. Yet it remains, largely, a mystery. Award-winning author Frank Ryan delves into that mystery with the keen eye of a scientist, the skill of an expert storyteller, and the tenacity of a detective tracking down one of science’s least-understood phenomena.

What emerges is a brilliant tale of quirky geniuses competing to solve the metamorphosis riddle over the last two centuries. We meet Jean-Henri Fabre, Vincent B. Wigglesworth, and others as they probe deep into the inner workings of insects. We also meet the controversial modern-day scientist Don Williamson, whose studies of marine life led him to the boldest and most controversial theory of evolution since Darwin’s own—one that suggests evolution occurs not just through mutation but also through hybridization. Such a theory could mean that rather than climbing the tree of life, species could possibly jump from branch to branch, and that the origins of metamorphosis might lie in the ancient union of two completely different species.

The Mystery of Metamorphosis is an accurate depiction of a scientific revolution 150 years in the making. Nowhere else will readers find such a sweeping account of this strange and wonderful mystery – or such a thoughtful, balanced presentation of why metamorphosis has landed center stage in debates over evolution itself.

First published by Oneworld (UK) in 2012.


“A must for the downright curious.”
New Scientist

“Ryan makes the beauty of metamorphosis palpable.”
Lynn Margulis, University Professor of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

“An engrossing survey of one of nature’s most transfixing puzzles.”

“Important and illuminating… Ryan writes with verve and conviction, skilfully marshalling his facts and painting vivid pen-portraits… it is a lively and thoroughly entertaining read; one of the best scientific books of recent years.”
New Internationalist

“Prepare your mind for its own Cambrian explosion. Frank Ryan’s breathtaking explanations for life’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

“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.

“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, author of Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia.

“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 ideas that Frank Ryan describes — fusion between quite different creatures — at first seem ludicrous, but what great ideas in science do not? The more you think about them, the more you feel, ‘Yes, it must be so.’ Metamorphosis has joined my shortlist of biological must-reads.”
Colin Tudge, author of The Secret Life of Trees and The Link

“In Ryan, I’ve found another brilliant science writer, like Nick Lane, who makes available to the scientifically challenged some insight into the magnificence and mysteries of biological life on this planet. This is just a wonderful book. If you have, as I do, a million questions about how caterpillars become butterflies, and no science vocabulary to study it, well, this may be the book for you. This is beautifully written. A gem of a book.”
Anne Rice (novelist)

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