Meet Your Ancestors (All of Them)


As you start reading this article, let’s list some questions you haven’t asked yourself in a while:

– Why do I exist?
– Why do I look the way I do?
– Where do the genes come from that make me who I am? If I trace those genes back far enough, do things start to get superbly weird, so weird that a series of low-grade Wait But Why drawings would need to get involved?
In order to get to the bottom of things, let’s start at the present and work our way back, tracing our genes at major steps along the way.
We begin with you. I don’t know you, but I bet you look something like this:

To keep things simple, we’re going to stick with your patriline, the male lineage of your DNA.

So moving one step back, we have your father:
We then get to your grandfather, great grandfather, and eventually, your great great grandfather, who was likely born sometime between 1825 and 1875. He looked like this:
Your great great grandfather lived most of his life without running water or electricity, and he was probably more racist than you are. You’ve never met him, but without him, you wouldn’t exist.
Now we move to his father, his father’s father, and so on—let’s jump back 18 generations to your [great x 20] grandfather (putting the number of “great”s as the superscript number):
Your great20 grandfather kept it real. When he wasn’t torturing somebody, he was being tortured himself. When he wasn’t catching the Black Plague and dying, he was slaughtering women and children in the Crusades. And weirdly, he might have had the same last name as you.
If he could meet you, he’d be blown away by the ease of your current pussy existence. But not as blown away as your great500 grandfather would be.
Your great500 grandfather didn’t spend years toiling over which career would be the best expression of his inner purpose. He hunted animals, battled other tribes, and somehow managed to impregnate someone before dying in his early 30s. Had he not, you and a few million other of today’s people wouldn’t currently exist.
Now we reach a time before humans were fully humans, and a time when a very special man lived. Scientists call him Y-chromosomal Adam. Y-chromosomal Adam is the most recent male ancestor from whom all current living humans are descended—in other words, he’s not just your great14,000 grandfather, he is everyone’s great14,000 grandfather, and the last time in history a common male ancestor to all of us lived. All ancestors we discuss from this point onward are common to the entire human race.
So what was Y-chromosomal Adam like? He was a disgusting, highly unpleasant man who probably raped people. But the good news for all of us is that he lived and he survived long enough to pass on his genes. If he hadn’t, the human race probably would have survived, but the current world would be completely different and not one of us would exist.
Okay here’s where things begin to get weird. 3 million years ago, there were no humans. Our ancestors from that time were some hybrid of ape and human called Australopithecus. Your great220,000 grandfather was not a sophisticated man—his brain was 35% the size of a human brain—and he was not attractive. But he was one of the first of your ancestors to be bipedal, meaning he could stand upright—this allowed him to use his hands for other things, like making and using tools, which in turn allowed the smartest to thrive, pushing the quick evolution of bigger brains.
Your great550,000 grandfather was a very important monkey. Not only is he the ancestor of every living human, he’s the ancestor of every living chimpanzee as well. This is the last time in history we shared an ancestor with chimps—scientists believe 6 million years ago is about the time the Hominini tribe split into two branches that would eventually result in humans and chimps. This means that around that time, there existed one monkey—who had one child that went on to become the ancestor of all humans and another child that went on to become the ancestor of all chimps.
Unlike most of his descendants, your great15,000,000 grandfather had shitty timing and coexisted with the dinosaurs. Until the massive asteroid led to the extinction of the dinosaurs around 66 million years ago, mammals were small, second class citizens confined mostly to the trees. This unassuming fellow is a common ancestor to all modern primates.
I want you to take a moment and absorb the fact that your great55,000,000 grandfather was a rodent. More specifically, he was a Eutherian—the first placental mammal, and the father to all mammals besides marsupials and egg-layers. So if there’s a whale out there with a similar blog who plans on writing an article like this one, tracing his father’s father and so on, he’s on his own up to this point, but from here forward he can just plagiarize this article and it’ll apply perfectly for whales too.
Instead of screaming when he saw a millipede and then throwing a book at it and running away like a normal person, your great125m grandfather ate it. He was an early lizard, the first in our lineage with legitimate arms and legs and an advanced nervous system—and he’s the last time all mammals, reptiles, and birds shared a common ancestor. (Somewhere between him and our rodent ancestor was an awkward hybrid—the first of all mammals, who laid eggs, like today’s duck-billed platypus.)
Your great160m grandfather hated his life. The first member of our patriline to venture out of the ocean, he’s the evolutionary equivalent of the modern human who immigrates to a new country, leaving behind everything he knows to start from ground zero because it’s best for the family in the long run. “Walking” is a generous term for what your great160m grandfather did during his land excursions—he’d pull himself miserably through the mud, struggling to breathe, all so that you could one day live outside the hell that is the cold, dark ocean.
He’s called an Acanthostega—and he pioneered a number of key modern features, including lungs alongside his gills and bones in his flippers, an innovation that led to arms and legs for his descendants.
Your great220m grandfather was a fish. Look at your arms and legs, and now look at this picture—your limbs are just a more evolved version of those two pairs of flimsy little fins. If the prehistoric fish had adapted differently to needing to balance itself in the ocean current, the human body might look vastly different today. His other claim to fame is being the first creature with a jaw—previous ancestors only had a suction hole.
If your great255m grandfather seems like an embarrassing flatworm, that’s because he is—but he gets credit for both the invention of the brain and being the first animal to be bilateral (having a front and back).
I don’t know what to tell you. This is a part of your lineage.
I want you to pause and just ponder for a second that I’m not inventing silly shit here—if you take your father, and your father’s father, and do that 435,000,000 times, you’ll end up at a jellyfish. Evolution is boggling.
But let’s not pass over the jellyfish without due credit for two huge innovations—nerves and muscles. Eyes first happened around this time as well, which one theory states as a major reason for the Cambrian explosion when animal life suddenly burst into diversity.
Your great555m grandfather was a sponge and spent his life bored as fuck.
He does have one massive feather in his cap, which is that he’s the world’s first animal. Up until his time, all life consisted of single cell organisms, and he was the first creature made of multiple cells.
And no, those plants didn’t exist then and shouldn’t be in the picture. But I just realized that now, and I’m proud of having drawn them, so I’m leaving them there.
We have to go a whole lot of generations back to get to your great100b grandfather, a complex single cell eukaryote.
He may not look like much, but he’s both the ancestor of the entire animal kingdom and the inventor of sex. He’s also adorable.
Going way, way back to the earlier part of Earth’s existence, we arrive at your great850b grandfather, a hapless simple cell bacterium with little charisma. His crowning achievement is the invention of photosynthesis, which filled the atmosphere with oxygen and paved the way for modern life to exist.
Going back 1,150 billion generations and roughly 3.8 billion years, we arrive at the end of our line—the first living particle and the founder of all life on Earth. We’re not quite sure how he started living in the first place—it’s one of the great scientific questions of our time. There are a number of theories, including spontaneous generation, emergence from a primordial soup, and some even suggest he came to Earth from somewhere else in space. Either way, we owe a lot to him, and we should take a moment to appreciate his lonely moment of life 3.8 billion years ago that led to everything we know.
As we wrap up, two things to reflect on:
1) How rich the story of your genes is. Your genes have come a long way, have passed through trillions of other organisms, and have undergone an insane number of optimal mutations to finally arrive packaged up together in your chromosomes. You are the way you are because of things that happened to that jellyfish, that lizard, that monkey and the way each of them adapted to their environment for billions of years.
I read that when we hiccup, it’s a remnant of a prehistoric impulse in fish—when your body does something or feels something, it’s a window into your deep intertwined connection to all of these other species and to the history of life.
2) How incredibly unlikely it is that you exist. Going back to the first particle of life, there are over a trillion fathers and father’s fathers that eventually ended with your parents conceiving you. And if any one of those fathers (or mothers) had died before reproducing—if any of the millions of fish in your line had been prematurely eaten, if any of the millions of rodents in your line had been crushed by a falling tree as a baby—you would not exist. Maybe someone similar to you—but not you.


If you’re into Wait But Why, sign up for the Wait But Why email list and we’ll send you the new posts right when they come out. It’s a very unannoying list, don’t worry.

If you’d like to support Wait But Why, here’s our Patreon.


If you liked this, try these next:

Your Family: Past, Present, and Future – Family trees get real complicated real quick

Horizontal History – History from a different angle

The Primate Awards – There’s a lot about your ancestors you don’t know


A note on how I calculated the number of “greats” in each case:

I did so by making rough generation length estimates based on the typical lifespan and age of reproductive maturity of the various species along the way. I began with 25 years for human generations, then 13 years for Australopithecus and advanced primates, five years for early tree primates, two years for rodents, lizards, fish, and worms, two months for jellyfish and sponges, and one day for single cell organisms.


– Toth, Nicholas and Schick, Kathy (2005). “African Origins” in The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies (Editor: Chris Scarre). London: Thames and Hudson. Page 60.
– Richard Dawkins 2004 The Ancestor’s Tale page 136, 250, and 289.
– A Jurassic eutherian mammal and divergence of marsupials and placentals
– Eckhart L, Valle LD, Jaeger K, et al. (November 2008). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105 (47): 18419–23.
– Lots of Wikipedia, obviously, but since that’s “unprofessional,” we’ll just pretend it wasn’t part of it.

  • Anonymous

    This is a great^850b post!

    Tks for sharing,

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant post as usual, just one thing- chimps are not monkeys, they are apes…

    • Anonymous

      He didn’t say that chimps are monkeys. He said that the common ancestor of all humans and chimps was a monkey, not that either humans or chimps themselves are monkeys.

      • Anonymous

        You’re right. He stated that the common ancestor of humans and chimps was a monkey, and that’s untrue. Especially given the timeline he presented of the split at 6 million years ago. The common ancestor of humans and chimps was an ape. Every ancestor in our lineage since 29-35 mya has been an ape. Monkeys were never an ancestor of ours. Monkeys later evolved from the common ancestor our lineage had with their lineage at 29-35 mya, but that ancestor again was not yet a monkey.

  • WBW is the absolute best thing on the internet — period, full stop. I mean Gen Y, jellyfish, procrastination and Sour Patch kids?

  • Christine

    Great post, love the drawings. One thing… I’m confused as to why the evolutionary tree has to be shaped like a triangle instead of a pyramid. That’s to say, I don’t understand the argument that all existing humans descended from a single great^550,000 grandfather. Couldn’t it have been a small group of grandfathers that shared certain DNA? And if you then say, well those great^550,000 grandfathers came from a single bacterium, well, we do know that bacteria replicate by effectively cloning themselves. By that logic it sounds like several organisms potentially could have shared some common DNA and evolved convergently. This is not meant to be an argument against what you have here, just a request for further explanation.

    • Anonymous

      Why would there be a small group that shared certain DNA unless that DNA came from a common source?

    • Anonymous

      While it’s technically possible that two individuals independent evolved that same exact pieces of DNA (of strands of non-trivial length), it’s so incredibly unlikely that it should be discounted. The only realistic explanation for two individuals sharing a non-trivial amount of DNA is that they shared a common ancestor.

    • Anonymous

      As for your point about talking about “grandfathers” prior to sexual reproduction, you have a point there. The whole concept of “fatherhood” itself breaks down when there isn’t sexual reproduction. But generational reproduction is still partially sound.

    • Farah

      Further explanation: if you’re not thinking about only yourself — think populations rather than individuals. The simplification of looking at always picking a male ancestor as we go up muddles up the picture a bit–for the more recent ancestors, particularly. At each point in the timeline you have some population of organisms that are the same species so that they can sexually reproduce and produce whatever offspring is another one of your ancestors. (Afterall, each level of species doesn’t start out with a phase of requiring sibling to breed.)
      Evolution is usually a more gradual process– if some subset of a population shares a common trait/gene which allows them to thrive in comparison to the rest in a specific environment, that trait/gene will eventually dominate that environment.

  • Anonymous

    “Your great555m grandfather was a sponge and spent his life bored as fuck.” I spit my drink onto my computer on this one. Fucking genius.

  • Anonymous

    Great post and love the blog. Been following for months.

    A related ancestry topic I’ve pondered lately is how quickly the number of great^x grandparents you have becomes mind-blowing. You have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 etc.. It only takes 10 generations to get to 1,024; over 1,000 people in the 1700s trickle down to you. 20 generations to 1 million and 30 generations to 1 billion – and those aren’t total ancestors, but just the number in that generation. So at some point, things get weird, because the 33rd generation goes back to about the 1100s and 8 billion great^31 grandparents. There weren’t 8 billion people back then, which means that you average <2 unrelated parents per ancestor...

    • Anonymous

      Certainly food for thought there, but you just have to remember that all those people in that generation were not living at exactly the same time and that going back generations is not as clean-cut as that. It was actually more common than we like to think for first and second cousins to procreate because of how tight-nit communities were in those days. That cuts a lot of those numbers way down.

    • Right, by the time you get to the 8 billion great^31 grandparents in the 1100’s you’re certainly not talking about 8 billion distinct people. The same person might occupy a few million of the positions on that tree, and you are descended from that person along a million different routes.

    • thenonsequitur

      This exposition of ancestry and resulting inevitability of any given ancestors filling in multiple ancestor “slots” so-to-speak is also how they can say with confidence that everyone is related to royalty of some variety. That everyone of European descent is descended from Charlemagne. That 99% of Americans are descended from King John of England. Really cool stuff. (It’s also why the recent report where a student showed that nearly all US Presidents are descended from King John is an entirely unremarkable thing).

    • thenonsequitur

      “exposition of ancestry” was supposed to say “explosion of ancestry”.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, the generation thing is just my assumption of 25 year old parents. Currently a little higher than that, previously a little lower, also depends on children order of birth. Just a ball park for estimating.

      And yeah, guess I didn’t make clear that things start to change way before 30 generations. But still – 10 generations to 1,000 people in the 1700s is pretty remarkable and likely not too many close cousin relations involved through that point…I hope.

    • I’ve thought a lot about that concept. On the other side, it’s weird that in the year 2400 there will be some kid who will be made up of you and 10,000 or so other people on today’s Earth. You might even know some of those 10,000 people, but have no idea that a future human will have both of your DNA in her. Along those same lines, if you have a couple of kids, and they have kids, you can be pretty sure that in 2400 there will be a few thousand humans walking around who are descendants of yours.

      Crazy shit. I almost included a whole discussion/diagram of this in this post but decided to save it for another post.

    • That’s exactly what I was thinking about when following the logic of this post back to certain single common ancestors… First off, incest used to be a huge thing, so that cuts a lot ancestral lines rather short. But more generally speaking, while we all share DNA of Y-chromosomal Adam we share DNA of other humans living at the time as well, maybe to a varying degree. Even with mutations considered to open up the evolutionary path for a new species, they only manifested themselves because of continual success in procreation (by mutants with non-mutants). In other words, at any given time along the evolutionary road there were many ancestors and many descendents (the very beginning being the obvious exception). This does not even take into account the possibility of similar mutations happening in different individuals and converging later on or of similar epigenetic imprint on multiple individuals. Given the actual numbers (or informed guesses) of certain species, such as our own, at different points in time, it would be interesting to try and visualize this by going beyond both the pyramid and the tree…

      BTW, absolutely fucking amazing blog!

  • I love your drawings – great post, very informative. Happy Holidays Guys! 🙂

  • Great post! Seeing my great x20 grandfather as a viking is a head trip.

  • Anonymous

    “…crushed by a falling tree as a baby…” Sounds messy.

  • Anonymous

    Did you know that you are ~50% Banana? No seriously, you share about 50% of your DNA with a Banana.
    (I thought it was only 27%)

    • What the…?!!
      Does that means that I am 50% cannibal?
      Fucking “tampon granfather”… He fucked with any living thing.

  • Anonymous

    Good stuff, really enjoyed the article, thanks.

  • Great post! Thanks!

  • But, is there evolution if there is no time? How will evolutionary biology meet new physical paradigms about time, space and so on? Will new conceptual changes deny evolution? Or on the contrary, will it become a more extraordinary process, full of astonishing implications? Therefore, will human being and the rest of life beings become different as science progresses? Can knowledge change the nature of things, can it change yours? Is life and its origin, its evolution and its actuality, something fix-finite-defined? That is, can one understand it with its limited brain and words? Along these lines, a serious-funny book recommendation, a preview in Just another leisure suggestion, far away from dogmas or axioms.

  • Anonymous

    …and God made it all possible.

    • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    > Our ancestors from that time were some hybrid of ape and human called Australopithecus.

    I think you’re using “hybrid” in the sense of “sharing features from both” as opposed to “the offspring of a cross between.” However, given the subject, this may be confusing.

  • Have you ever thought of selling your art? It could make you a fortune!

  • Anonymous

    I really think that your drawing of my Grandfather^(220,000) and the “not attractive” link, pose a great analogy for what your blog does: The universe is super complicated, lets simplify it and give our best shot at understanding it. Pretty funny.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. The beauty of this blog is that it is one little shot at understanding something complicated. And it’s funny. And it gives a foothold so I can begin to think about big, unfathomable subjects. I wish my all my text books in school had been done in this format. I would have learned more.

      This one started with a bit of genealogy. I’m into that so I was intrigued. One line of my family tree was traced back to the year 1000. I thought that was pretty amazing. Until I read this. Travelling through time to go back to ancestors that were jelly fish. I fell off my seat.

      (and I thought about the young Mormon gentlemen who knocked at my door one day. I told them I am very thankful for their free website for family history. They said “We believe that in Heaven all ancestors-even the ones you never met-will reunite and you should find out who they are while on earth.” I thought this was a charming idea. But they never really said how far back we should trace our roots. This blog gives me a whole new picture of this heavenly family reunion.)

  • hahahaha…This is great! Drifts off on logic of course, but funny! Your caricatures are really good!

  • Anonymous

    Fun, but Richard Dawkins has done it more eloquently in “Ancestor’s Tale”.

  • Deb

    Isn’t it also crazy to think about the fact that someone whose 90 years old could be your distant distant niece?? (Because there could be a family who just happens to give birth around their 30s and another who gives birth in their 20s and eventually boom, 60 or so years apart)

  • Important thing is noticing what is “us” and what is “me”. Everything is part of another. There’s an endless cycle. We are jellyfish and rocks and stars and universe.

  • Anonymous

    Shouldn’t this be “grandmother”?

  • Cosmologist

    I agree with many of the comments above: this is hands down the best stuff on the internet. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t wait until Tuesday to see what comes next. What is it about these posts that are so captivating? Don’t know, but kudos to you for putting this out.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, it is All Facts. Broccoli ‘screams’ when you cut him from its root. Plants develop anti-insects secretions (not all of them successfully) . Evolution can be proven in many lineages, not all, but it is factual. ~~And… although man (the Human, that is) developed from the Earth’s dirt and water (it is Mud, and it is all allegorical, you know), the Spark of Human “Awareness of Self” was a “Gift” from the “Creator” ‘cuz the Whole Thing is a Creation. ~~And… What, When, Why, Who, of the Big Bang Creation…. ? Let me hear your Theories… While I drink my beer… ;+)))

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    This is so wrong! God did all the hard work, then he put some dude on earth to be part of a really bad story about him appearing out of nowhere and doing some scam artist shows to the people whilst getting pissed on wine and eating bread. when he finally got caught for committing fraud he got the death sentence and got hung on a cross. Think thats the gist of it.

  • CamilaL

    Yeah, simply add billions of years to your theory and have faith that’s what did happen. Looks like evolucionists do need a good dose of faith themselves. #idonthaveenoughfaithtobeanatheist

  • David

    Darwin said all the transitional species would eventually be found and would prove his theory as paleontology and other disciplines progressed as a science. He also said that if not, his theory would be proved to be invalid or at the very least unsubstantiated. At least he was honest in calling it a theory, which the dictionary defines as an assumption based on limited facts. Fast forward, and the only transitional species that exist are artists sketches in text books and on museum walls.

    Without those transitional species that Darwin speculated would prove to be abundant being found in great profusion, the true believers in evolution are now even more adamant in their beliefs. That’s what makes it a religion. It is based on faith and not demonstrable facts.

    Meanwhile Christians have a Bible full of prophecies, most of which have already occurred exactly as prophesized hundreds of years before. And as archeology progresses, researchers find more and more of the cities and civilizations mentioned in the Bible that were once dismissed by the skeptics as mythological. That’s a much better track record than evolution and a firm basis for belief.

    Regardless of proof, or the lack of it, all objective proof aside, if you peal enough layers away from those that say they believe in evolution, you will almost always find a person who does not want to accept the Bible as true only because he doesn’t want something or someone to tell him how to live his life. Therefore he feels he must cling to a belief system that relieves him from acknowledging that there is such a thing as absolute truth.


      Thank you so much; you said all that I so awkwardly expressed. Once again, – thank You.

    • Ukulelelady

      I agree

      • Ukulelelady

        I meant I agree with the quote. The people who preach evolution think science was invented by monkeys. I know science was discovered by people who realized that nature was not random and was predictable enough to figure out all the intricate design patterns and natural laws that our God put in place. This couldn’t have happened by accident. That’s why some people think we came from another planet that had evolved farther than we had. Crazy explanation. It’s harder to me to be an atheist. I don’t have that much faith in random chance.

        • Mike_NL

          Oh you silly theists make me laugh. The thing is, you won’t even comprehend why.

          As for David, nice biased write-up, but I think you need to dive a little deeper into evolution, because what you’re stating is false and under these false pretences you are trying to convince people to believe in an all natural being who magically created everything… so… who’s the crazy person here??

          Also, purposely misquoting the dictionary to fit your argument is a sad tactic. Even you must know there’s a big difference between a theory and a scientific theory. Get your facts straight.

          Anyway, thanks for the laugh. 🙂 Nice post tim!!

    • Doug


      catch up to speed, you’re only a few centuries late

    • Heavenly BluE

      You should check out Doug’s link to the information about the fossil record, but you should also know that the fossil record isn’t even the most compelling evidence we have for evolution anymore.

      The most compelling evidence is DNA. Now that we can examine the genes of all life, we see a beautifully arranged hierarchy of genes, and many identical genes in vastly different species. Not surprisingly, science has advanced in the last 160 years, and Darwin didn’t have everything right. That’s what’s great about science and evidence-based explanations for physical phenomena: we happily discard what was mistaken, add new information, and come up with iteratively better explanations for the world around us.

  • Flatius Wormious

    Small nit pick… our great255m grandfather wants you to know that “Bilateral” means “Mirror Image” not front and back. This means if you draw a line top to bottom you’d have an eye on one side and an eye on the other, an arm on each side and leg on each side (should you choose to develop appendages). But this is ok… he acknowledges that his great255m grand kids are allowed to make simple mistakes. After all… we are only animal.

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  • Katniss Everdeen

    God made it all possible

    • Catnip Everdeen

      God made it all possible, and Katniss Everdeen said the same thing I did?!!? Same name, same word’s and they said it tommorow?

    • Jen Everdeen

      bhifbjreoba hguore vhgurvwhaj fdhsj vhjskabfhewjafhcjskabvhujeksawybvfuxkabgvurebgfyobygiorbgir jkfbhdakbhuea huvkebafuebsjkc dbjsw fheka bchdk washfcbehuwa chwek hucjkbrah

  • Natasha

    I am 48 and my grandmother (1) was born in 1884. Go figure (both of my parents were youngest children).

  • Justen

    I’m shocked to learn that we had common ancestors at the aforementioned stages along the way. I figured evolution occurred as a whole or subset of a species changed. Darn. Mark one up for the creationists.

  • phoenix perlmutter

    thats impossible why do you say that if we have monkeys and germs and fish they would all be evolved by now but they arent so its not true god made us we dident evolve from animals at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Mike_NL

      This one is going places.. Not university, but places.

  • Dinah Leslie

    Thank you David, I like what you wrote on Jan 5th!! Some people want to believe it extends back that far
    in order to ignore and avoid the prophesies of the Imminent return of Christ. “Late in time behold Him come ” the hymn says, but not eons late! The earth is no older than 7,000 years old, and the end is near.
    Many mysteries to unfold, but the Book of Revelation promises a blessing to any one who will even read it

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  • Jennifer

    After reading this, I picture everyone as a fish. My grandfather, myself, the ex…everyone. On Facebook it’s like, hey there’s that fish playing the guitar, there’s that fish with the mustache that broke my heart, and hey there’s another fish with duck lips, and that’s a good lookin’ fish there (though most human fishies are hideous and weird looking). I’m freaked out by my own species. We are so weird. All of us.

    We evolved from fish. We were tiny little things swimming in the ocean. Humans are worth no more than the tad poles in the sea, the roaches we kill (I hate roaches), and the meat we eat (I love steak).

    But not so fast on the vegan track to “kindness.”

    In the end, we all end up no better than the cows we slaughter. They in our bellies, we in da ground…eventually. DEATHT THE GREAT FOREBODING INESCAPABLE EQUALIZER COMES TO SWOOP US UP ALL EVENTUALLY. And then into a nice, eternal sleep of dark nothingness and nonexistence. BOOO ;(

    I fucking hate being so smart.

  • our unlikely existence isn’t really a biological newsflash

    How about if your grandpa decided to live in another town, and met a different woman, you also wouldn’t exist. A much simpler scenario without the excess fish.

  • Tomozaurus

    I realise that you are using layman’s language as this is an educational article, but calling the first placental mammal a rodent and the first amniote a lizard are not correct statements. Rodents and lizards are advanced clades of animals that have evolved just as much as you or I. Rodents are actually our closest living reletives outside of primates.

    • Wait But Why

      True- “rodent-like” and “lizard-like” would have been more correct.

    • Guy

      And that’s not the only mistake he made. The common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans probably was bipedal and chimps have lost that trait. The cambrian explosion probably didn’t even take place and can be explained by the invention of bones allowing fossilization: we just can’t find fossils from before that because there was nothing to be fossilized.

      But I loved this article. You should definitely write more like this one.

  • Chandrakant

    No really, shouldn’t this be grandmother? At least back to the point when primitive eukaryotes and mitochondria joined forces to create the awesome symbiotic relationship that most modern eukaryotes share (and those that don’t likely lost, rather than never had…)

  • Enjoyed Reading

    Funny post. I do have to wonder from the comments on there though if many of the posters even have a sense of humor at all? 🙂

  • Ritz

    Oh man, I thought Patrick Star was my ancestor. Hahaha! But I must say that my great555m grandfather looks stunningly hot. 😀

    OK, all the comment above are just so amusing, So I wonder if TOE is true, can’t wait for humans today to evolve and develop any necessary adaptability mechanism… Wings, anyone? That’s a valid adaptation mechanism for me. And if that happens, that will be awesome! 🙂

    • Chiel Wieringa

      A build in WIFI adapter is a much more valid mechanism nowadays then wings would be. Who wants to fly at annoyingly low speeds when we have jets and planes that can bring you anywhere much faster. Connecting yo without the need of a computer (in any form) would be much more valuable. 🙂

  • What’s truth?

    Awesome post! Much love and envy of your writing style.

    The stating of fact by so many that THEIR idea is actual, true and correct is very amusing to me. In the end, after all ideas are HONESTLY explored, there is only one conclusion… nobody knows! Creation? No proof. Evolution? No proof. I’m talking about CERTAINTY here. As in, “We know the bug is dead because we observed it becoming a flattened mess on the sidewalk after having been crushed by this large shoe on my foot.” Until someone can say with that level of certainty that one idea or the other is true, it’s all just a guessing game.

    • Johan Strand

      Yes, because all them fossils under our feet were just plant there by mischievous imps…

    • Heavenly BluE

      I would say that we have more certainty about the fact that all living things are cousins, evolved from a single origin. The reliability of your eye-witness observation of stomping a bug is definitely a lower standard of proof. We’re as certain about evolution as we are about gravity.

      If you’d like to learn about the evidence, I recommend the book “The Greatest Story Ever Told” by Richard Dawkins.

      • you mean The Greatest Show on Earth? I wanna read it

        • Heavenly BluE

          Yes. Thanks for the correction. I edited my post to the proper title. 🙂

    • Matthus Gougeus

      Sorry but although there is no groundbreaking proof for evolution, there are a zillion of clues indicating that evolution is real. Also, we have witnessed evolution, as there are experiments leading to show it. Basically, big aquariums full of flies. Because flies reproduce very quickly.

  • anon

    > 2) How incredibly unlikely it is that you exist.

    I really dislike this line and this point. You are about as likely to exist as any other organism in this generation. And if some change in your lineage removes you from existence, there would likely be someone else “in your place.”

    And that person’s existence, of course, is just as likely as yours.

    The statement that everyone’s existence is unlikely is too easy to interpret as saying “It is nearly impossible that we evolved.” And we know where *that* line of reasoning can lead…

    • Vinay Kapadia

      This is kinda an odd point in statistics. It’s like rolling a 1billion side die. Getting a 12 on that die is *extremely* unlikely. But if you roll the die, and whatever number you get, you can’t really jump up and down and say you got a result that is a one in a billion chance. I don’t know if I’m explaining this correctly…

      • Ranjeet

        It’s about the point of view. From the of view of you (the roller of the die), it is hardly surprising that you rolled 12. After all, you had to roll something and a 12 was as likely as any of the other (1bn -1) numbers. Which is kind of your point, that you shouldn’t be jumping up and down.

        BUT, from the point of view of 12, who considers itself the best number of all, and even if it doesn’t, it cares about its own existence much more than that of any of the other numbers, existing IS indeed a highly unlikely occurrence. 12 should be jumping up and down for sure.

        • Chiel Wieringa

          There is another way to explain it. It’s not one roll of the dice that brought you here. There are like a trillion dice roles needed for that. So the likelihood of you being here could be much greater if there where only like a thousand possible outcomes and the dice is rolled a trillion times. Eventually you just HAD to exist. That you exist NOW is another story.

    • Matthus Gougeus

      > And if some change in your lineage removes you from existence, there would likely be someone else “in your place.” And that person’s existence, of course, is just as likely as yours.

      Exactly. It means you are one outcome among billions and billions of different possibilities. So yeah, it’s an extremely unlikely possibility. It is hard to accept because as of now there is 100% chance that you exist (leaving aside the probability that you believe you exist but in fact you don’t because you’re in the matrix or some other extravagant explanation). But before the moment you were conceived, the odds for you, as you are, to exist, were very small.

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  • Anonymous

    The other thing we know about Y-chromosomal Adam is that he had at least two sons who survived long enough to reproduce. Why? If he had no sons, he would not have passed along his Y-chromosome. If he had only one son, that son would be Y-chromosomal Adam instead.



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  • alex

    So well explained by mrs garrisson XD

  • Fantastic!! Bookmarked for the kid to read later.

  • Joanne Tenenbaum

    Okay, so maybe we should check a few facts, but the basic story is probably correct and it’s a great one! Kids are going to love this. Thanks so much.

  • ~Math_Girrl~

    Is there a classroom-friendly version anywhere? this is really cool and i’d like to show it to my class.

  • kevinsaldanha

    Haven’t been through all the comments but could you correct the meaning of bilaterality (in parentheses) of flat worms?

  • hi

    is there a version for asians

  • Arthfael

    Actually, while we do share a common ancestor with jellyfishes, that ancestor was probably not jellyfish-like.
    As for the monkey vs ape debate above, it all depends on definitions. Ape is monophyletic (it includes all descendants of the first ape, us included). If monkey is monophyletic too, then apes are monkeys (but most monkeys are not apes). Our common ancestor with monkeys would have been the first monkey.
    Of course, at each stage the “common ancestor”, or founder, would be the first individual in the population in whose germ line the synapomorphic mutation occured (the one defining the lineage). There would be a lot of common – and in all likelihood a lot of partial ancestors (depending how far down the line subsequent speciations occur) – around at the time, who did not harbour the mutation but whose descendants would harbour it as a result of breeding with the line of the founder.

  • Danny_Sunset

    Wouldn’t that mean we’re related to everyone and everything on the planet? Neat!

  • lootoss

    It was really interesting biography.کرکره برقی

  • RuthAMontgomery

    ….Some time hit the waitbutwhy Find Here

  • mehrimah

    This is great. Thanks for sharing it.راهبند اتوماتیک

  • Tom Clark

    “Have you read the Bible?”

    Of all the pernicious memes that have had a fundamentally deleterious effect on our life on this planet, the idea that the Bible is the word of god has to be one of the worst.

    Why would the creator of this unimaginably huge and complex Universe then decide he needed to dictate a book to a group of nomadic goat herders in one small place? And why would he dictate to them their own history, and nothing about his other “children?”

    And why would he include nothing of a scientific nature that wasn’t already known to the goat herders? Why not say, “And verily I say unto thee that the earth travels around the sun, not the other way around. Thou dost not know this yet, yet the day will come when thou wilt”?

    And instead of that “dust of the earth”/”Adam and Eve” childish nonsense, why not mention DNA? Just think, if that had happened, everyone in the world would accept that the Bible is, indeed, the word of a super advanced intelligence, we’d all have one religion, and we wouldn’t have to fight over everything, like those benighted fools in ISIS today.

    It just doesn’t make sense, and if something doesn’t make sense, it probably isn’t true.

    Now, another thing. You say “your great-great-grandfather,” as if we have one. But everyone has eight of those suckers. All eight of them had to live, or you wouldn’t be here (and eight great-great-grandmothers to go along with them).

    When we get back to something like 50 greats, you have 2 to the 51st of them, or about 2 quadrillion (and 2 quadrillion women to go along with them). Since that’s way more than the number of people who have ever lived, we need an explanation for that, but I suspect most of us here know what it is, except for those who keep their faces plastered in the book of the ancient goat herders.

  • Chiel Wieringa

    If evolution is just as random as the random button on this page, there is nothing random about it.

    Another theory I just came up with in about a second: Evolution is AI developing itself. First to it’s environment. Next step is transforming the environment to a more suitable one needed for this step. (x number of steps in between). Full and complete development of the AI, making heavily compressed copies to do the exact same on other planets. (this kinda explains “junk” DNA which kinda looks like switched off software code according to some specialists)

    Question remains: Where did the first AI came from.

  • Jess

    Would have loved some mention of Permian synapsids; odd creatures that can best be described as mammal-like reptiles or proto-mammals. These were the rulers of Earth in their time, the first with differentiated teeth for specialized diet, some speculate they may have even had whiskers. The most prominent example most have heard of is the dimetrodon (think the alligator-like dude with a big sail on his back).

    They mostly died out in the end Permian extinction around 252mya, the greatest extinction event the Earth has ever seen (until today), and Mr. Dimetrodon lived and died well before the dinosaurs came into play. (He wasn’t a dinosaur, I know, my toy sets lied to me too.) This extinction set mammalian evolution back for a bit while the dinos romped and diverged across the newly separating continents and mammals developed to be small and out of the way.

    Until that pesky, yet nice asteroid killed most dinosaurs and paved the way for mammalian radiation once again. What likely saved most of them (and the small birdy therapsids? They’re size and propensity to burrow. Being underground was an incredible buffer until the earth surface chilled out enough to be habitable.

    And to comply with others have written about the definition of bilateral, it’s in reference to planes of symmetry, not dorsal/ventral or anterior/posterior. If you can cut an animal in two relatively equivalent halves, you’ve got bilateral; like flatworms and humans. If you can cut then more than once you have radial symmetry, like coral and anemones. Asymmetry would be a sponge. Sponges dgaf.

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