Researchers: Evolution of insect flight? Let’s look at flightlessness instead
Published: 19 June 2012(GMT+10)
Evolutionary researchers recently published a paper in Nature Communications which is an archetypal example of what we’ve been saying for years.1
Illustration by Caleb Salisbury
The researchers themselves are most probably unaware of this—it’s likely they’ve never heard of CMI; at most they may only have heard mainstream disparaging references to ‘creation scientists’. But the key elements are there in their paper: the grandiose presumption that evolution brought everything into existence, the specific highlighting of one evident design feature as something that evolution has produced, followed by the bait-and-switch2 to mutational degradation or shifting allele frequency and/or reproductive isolation as being evidence of ‘evolution’ (which it most definitely is not, in the sense of being support for the idea that microbes turned into man, over millions of years).
Here’s the first 290 words3 from the Introduction to their paper, in which they give the background to, and outline of, their study:
“Insects are an extremely species-rich group with about 930,000 species. One of the most important events in insect evolutionary history is the acquisition of flight, which occurred approximately 400 million years ago. Flight ability facilitates the search and colonization of distant habitats, wide dispersal and the ability to find mates and food. The evolution of flight is believed to have led largely to the diversification of insects through the exploitation of novel habitats and niches. However, despite the advantages, many insect species of various lineages have lost their ability to fly. Flightless species account for 10% of insect species diversity, and species that are winged, but flightless due to the lack of flight muscles, are also expected to occur. The evolutionary loss of flight is attributed to the energetic cost associated with the maintenance of flight apparatuses, relative to other organs essential for survival and reproduction. Low dispersal ability of flightless species leads to a low rate in gene flow, and as a consequence, differentiation among populations occurs. Lower levels of dispersal result in higher rates of allopatric speciation. Thus, the loss of flight in various lineages might be an important factor contributing to current insect diversity.
“Coleoptera comprises approximately 40% (350,000 species) of all insects, despite having evolved relatively recently among the insect orders. Approximately 10% of the Coleoptera species are wingless, although marked variations exist in flight ability among lineages. To test our hypothesis that the loss of flight promotes allopatric speciation and leads to higher species richness, we addressed, in detail, the causal relationship between flight loss and diversification using carrion beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae) as a model system, two lineages of which (in the subfamily Silphinae) lost their flight ability due to evolutionary shifts in feeding habit.”
In lay terms (if you’ll permit us some interpretive license here), the essence of the above extract is:
- Insects evolved the ability to fly. Flight was a huge advance—it had many advantages.
- Despite the advantages, many insects lost the ability to fly. Must have been because flying is too ‘expensive’. Maintaining airworthiness wasn’t worth it.
- The grounded insects couldn’t mix it anymore with the flyboys and flygirls, so with their reduced social circle they could only marry the similarly-grounded insect boy-or-girl-nextdoor. Thus ‘reproductively isolated’ from their sky-wandering counterparts, they and their equally-ground-hugging offspring were declared to be a new ‘species’.
- Because today we don’t see insects evolving the ability to fly (it happened in the past), we couldn’t study it directly. So we thought instead we’d look at something we can see today: evolution of flightlessness. That’s because it seems to us that this is now causing many new species to evolve, each in their own little isolated patch somewhere.
- We chose to study carrion beetles—two of these sorts of carrion beetles lost their ability to fly because they decided to stop eating food they had to fly to get to, in favour of food they only had to walk to.4
It’s not evolution they’re studying, but devolution
Re #1: The progression from flightlessness to flight is evolutionary dogma—it is presumed, without any evidence for it whatsoever. The engineering precision and design involved in insect flight is astonishing. Insects are so well constructed that engineers are striving to emulate, in as much as they are able to, the amazing design features of flying insects. E.g. see Astonishing acrobatics—dragonflies, Why a butterfly flutters by, Aces of the air, Dragonfly design tips, Why a fly can fly like a fly, and “Lessons from locust wings”5. To suggest that random mutations, even allowing for selection, could generate this sort of technological achievement, demands a high level of credulousness, to say the least. It certainly places a tremendous burden of proof on those making the claim to show how such mechanisms for flight could have arisen—which is hardly achieved by showing how they are lost, as these researchers did.
Showing how such mechanisms for flight could have arisen is hardly achieved by showing how they are lost, as these researchers did.
Re #2: The loss of flight because it was energetically too costly?!! You have to admire evolutionary theory for one thing—its ability to accommodate almost any story, even contradictory ones.
Re #3: ‘Species’ cannot be equated to the biblical ‘kind’. ‘Kind’, as used in the Genesis account of the creation of animals and plants, is not the same as man’s classification of ‘species’ (which taxonomists usually define today as a group of creatures reproductively isolated from others, whether by physical barriers or preferential mating). For example, lions and tigers have been given different species names (even different genus names), yet the fact that they can hybridize, indicates that they are actually descendants of the same created ‘big cat kind’. Speciation is not evolution!
Re #4: This is classic bait-and-switch: evolutionists can’t directly study what is presumed to have happened in the past (evolution of flight), so they’ll study what can be observed today (the loss of flight ability)—and call it ‘evolution’. Creationists have no problem with reproductively isolated populations of insects, because of flightlessness, being named as new species. But again, speciation is not evolution!
Re #5: The flightless insects didn’t ‘decide’ to become flightless in order to change their diet. Or, using the exact phrase of the original paper, it was not “due to evolutionary shifts in feeding habit” that a subset of carrion beetles became flightless. Rather, mutational degradation of wings and/or wing muscles compulsorily rendered a different diet necessary, if the flightless beetles were to survive.
The evidence the researchers observed is not evidence of the evolutionary changes needed to turn bacteria into beetles, but rather is of loss of function, specifically the ability to fly.
Nowhere in the researchers’ study is there any evidence of microbes-to-man evolution. That’s because there’s no evidence of the generating of any new genetic information.6 Instead, flightlessness in insects that could once fly is undoubtedly the result of one or more mutational defects which prevent the formation of fully-functional wings and associated musculature. That is, the wing-making information on the genes is lost or scrambled in some way. The damaged genes will then be passed to all that beetle’s offspring, and to theirs, as the mutated genes are copied over and over. All these descendant beetles will be flightless.
So the evidence the researchers observed is not evidence of the evolutionary changes needed to turn bacteria into beetles, but rather is evidence of loss of function. Specifically, it shows the loss of the mechanisms required to fly.7 Some of the subsequently terrestrially-limited insects could survive this loss, but with a diet now limited to invertebrate carcasses, as vertebrate carcasses were no longer accessible. Conceivably the flightless carrion beetles are at greater risk of predation than their flying counterparts. That’s certainly a factor explaining the greater prevalence of insect flightlessness in island environments—see Beetle Bloopers.
Unfortunately, most people will just thoughtlessly accept this as one more relentless reinforcement of the belief that all around us, we see evidence of ‘evolution happening’. I.e. the sort of change which, they say, given enough time, turned single cells into all of the complexity of life on Earth. Even though common sense itself indicates that it’s really evidence of the very opposite—that biological systems initially created in a high state of complexity and function have been running down ever since the Fall (Genesis 3).
- Ikeda, H., Nishikawa, M. and Sota, T., Loss of flight promotes beetle diversification, Nature Communications 3:648, doi:10.1038/ncomms1659, 31 January 2012. Return to text.
- Also known as equivocation, this refers to the deceptive (though not necessarily consciously so) tactic of shifting a definition (in this case of ‘evolution’) partway through an argument. Return to text.
- Minus, for simplicity, the 21 superscript references to the scientific literature. Return to text.
- I.e., as is explained later in the paper, invertebrate carcasses rather than vertebrate carcasses. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Lessons from locust wings, Creation 33(4):56, 2011. Return to text.
- Note that even demonstrating a small change in a population in the direction of increasing genetic information would not come close to proving that the evolutionary mechanism is capable of doing all that is demanded of it. But in order for the mechanism to be accepted as even partway credible for the task, a ‘minimum requirement’ would surely be to be able to see such information-adding change happening all around us. Yet over and over, examples of ‘evolution happening’ turn out to be information-losing, as here. Return to text.
- Loss of flight in insects “may be a common key event” according to the researchers. They point out: “Flightless lineages are found throughout the beetle families and are especially common in ground beetles (Carabidae), which include about 40,000 species. Although the proportion of wingless species in Carabidae is roughly estimated to be 20–25%, a higher proportion would be flightless due to the lack of flight muscles, and hence, the overall proportion of flightless species should be higher.” Ref. 1. Return to text.