What I Learned about the Incredible Downsizing Marine Iguana

My favorite fun fact of the week came from browsing the National Geographic feed on Instagram. I came across a picture of a marine iguana–not the most striking image I’ve ever seen on the National Geographic feed–but the description beneath the image really caught my attention.

The marine iguana can shrink. I don’t mean it dehydrates itself, or loses fat. I mean it reduces the size of its skeleton! It can lose up to 20% of its size!

Why would the marine iguana evolve to do that?

Biologists believe it’s an adaptation to help the iguanas survive in times when food becomes dangerously hard to find. Instead of starving to death, marine iguanas downsize. As smaller predators, they require less food to stay alive.

Doing a little more research, I learned that not only can iguanas shrink, but they can grow again when food becomes more plentiful. You can check out the article on Gizmodo here.

Evolution is all about stayin’ alive (cue the Bee Gees here). What a fascinating way to survive in times of scarcity.

What I Learned About Affect vs. Effect and Learning from Mistakes

One of the very best ways to learn something new is by making a mistake. But despite my love of learning, I get all prickly and defensive when I discover I’m in the wrong. It’s one of those conflicts between personality and values that I try to create in fictional characters to make them seem more human. I guess it makes me more human, too.

Being able to learn from mistakes is a skill, one I need to improve. So I was pretty pleased this evening when I practiced learning from a mistake with something approaching a positive attitude.

This week I received a story rejection in which the editor offered feedback. Much like learning from mistakes, the opportunity to learn from a rejection is invaluable. Getting comments from any industry professional instead of a form letter is gold.

While reviewing the helpful editor’s comments, I noticed a line item concerning misuse of affect and effect. I’d long ago classified affect as an adjunct of the word affectation: a pretense, putting on a certain mannerism that’s not quite genuine. In fact, if you check out the Merriam Webster Dictionary, this is still the definition emphasized for affect.

However, according to the helpful editor who rejected my story, the Oxford English Dictionary, and one of my go-to online grammar references, Grammar Girl, when in doubt, I should use effect as a noun (cause and effect) and use affect as a verb (the cause affected the result). Even Merriam Webster will agree that using effect as a verb implies the actual achievement of a final result, not merely influencing a result, which is what I intended in my offending sentence.

Use effect as a noun, affect as a verb. Pretty simple, but I have years and years of incorrect habit to overwrite. Thanks to the helpful editor pointing out my mistake, I hope to remember correct use in the future. More importantly, if I can be grateful instead of prickly and defensive when this error was pointed out to me, maybe I can have that same attitude the next time someone lets me know I’m in the wrong.