Possums is a 174-page book consisting of a series of essays written about the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), the only living marsupial in the US. The essays were written by Carl Gottfried Hartman, an embryologist at the Carnegie Institute of Washington (CIW), in Baltimore, Maryland, who also worked with another mammal, the rhesus monkey. Possums was published in 1952 by Hartman's alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin (UT). Beginning in 1913, while as a graduate student, and later as an instructor at UT, Hartman captured and raised opossums. He was one of the first zoologists to study the intricacies of opossum embryology, leading to an account of the embryology and reproductive physiology of a mammal from the wild, rather than of a mammal bred exclusively for laboratory research. Possums culminated Hartman's studies of the marsupial.

Georges Cuvier, baptized Georges Jean-Leopold Nicolas-Frederic Cuvier, was a professor of anatomy at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Scholars recognize Cuvier as a founder of modern comparative anatomy, and as an important contributor to vertebrate paleontology and geology. Cuvier studied the form and function of animal anatomy, writing four volumes on quadruped fossils and co-writing eleven volumes on the natural history of fish with Achille Valenciennes. Moreover, Cuvier constructed a system of classification based on specific and well-articulated principles to help anatomists classify animal taxa. Cuvier had public debate in 1830 with Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a dispute centered on whether form or function matters most for the study of anatomy and whether the transmutation of organic forms can occur over time. Cuvier's opinions influenced the development of biology in France, and his arguments against transmutation of types influenced the reception of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection among many French naturalists.

In eighteenth century Germany, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach studied how individuals within a species vary, and to explain such variations, he proposed that a force operates on organisms as they develop. Blumenbach used metrical methods to study the history of humans, but he was also a natural historian and theorist. Blumenbach argued for theories of the transformation of species, or the claim that new species can develop from existing forms. His theory of Bildungstrieb (formative drive), a developmental force within all organisms, influenced the conceptual debates among many late nineteenth and early twentieth century embryologists and naturalists.

Oviraptor philoceratops was a small bird-like dinosaur that lived about seventy-five million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period. In 1923, George Olsen of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, New York, discovered the first Oviraptor fossilized skeleton on top of a dinosaur egg nest in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Because of the close proximity of dinosaur and nest, when Henry Fairfield Osborn president of the AMNH published on the discovery, he assumed that the Oviraptor had died attempting to steal the eggs. However, since the initial discovery, more Oviraptor adults, eggs, and a well-preserved embryo fossil have confirmed that Oviraptors were parents who sat on their nests, a behavior called brooding common among birds. The fossils of Oviraptor philoceratops, from eggs and embryos to adults, provide evidence about dinosaur growth, development, and reproductive behaviors.

Aristotle studied developing organisms, among other things, in ancient Greece, and his writings shaped Western philosophy and natural science for greater than two thousand years. He spent much of his life in Greece and studied with Plato at Plato's Academy in Athens, where he later established his own school called the Lyceum. Aristotle wrote greater than 150 treatises on subjects ranging from aesthetics, politics, ethics, and natural philosophy, which include physics and biology. Less than fifty of Aristotle's treatises persisted into the twenty-first century. In natural philosophy, later called natural science, Aristotle established methods for investigation and reasoning and provided a theory on how embryos generate and develop. He originated the theory that an organism develops gradually from undifferentiated material, later called epigenesis.

Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire studied anatomy and congenital abnormalities in humans and other animals in nineteenth century France. Under the tutelage of his father, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Isidore compiled and built on his father's studies of individuals with developmental malformations, then called monstrosities. In 1832, Isidore published Histoire generale et particuliere des anomalies de l'organisation chez l'homme et les animaux (General and Particular History of Structural Monstrosities in Man and Animals), in which he defined the term teratology as the study of birth defects and deformities. Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire established teratology as a legitimate branch of scientific study.

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