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Creation 35(1):12–13, January 2012

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Kauai’s silent nights (the crickets have gone quiet)

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kauai

Crickets, renowned for their distinctively loud chirping song penetrating the night, feature prominently in Polynesian folklore and traditions. But on the Hawaian island of Kauai, the crickets have fallen silent.

The reason?

In the 1990s, a deadly parasitic fly arrived from North America. This “acoustically orienting” fly tracks down male crickets calling for mates (only male crickets chirp) and deposits its eggs on them.1 The larvae burrow into the cricket and devour it—a week later, the cricket is dead.

The impact of the fly was dramatic, as the cricket population on Kauai plummeted. By 2001, the island was “virtually silent”—a university research team heard only one cricket call.2

In 2003, Kauai was still silent. But researchers were surprised to discover that crickets hadn’t been wiped out.3 They found plenty of crickets in fact.4 But they didn’t chirp.5

On closer examination, “virtually all” of Kauai’s male crickets were found to have wings more like female wings than normal male wings, i.e. “lacking the normal stridulatory apparatus of file and scraper required for sound production”—hence why they couldn’t chirp.4 In normal males, the wings have a prominent toothy vein that is scraped to make sound. But now, in most males the vein was smaller and in a different position. Females don’t have the toothed vein at all.

Not surprisingly, this discovery was heralded by many media organizations and the researchers themselves as ‘evolution’.2,3,6 “This is seeing evolution at work,” lead researcher Marlene Zuk said.5 But the information they themselves provided about the observed facts of the case (as opposed to evolutionary interpretation) was sufficient to show that it is not ‘evolution’ at all, in the chemicals-to-cells-to-crickets sense, which requires an increase in complexity and genetic information. Rather, there has been a loss of information (the ability to chirp) because of degradation of the genome.

The silent males were mutants, with the ‘flatwing’ trait being caused by “a mutation to a single gene located on the crickets’ X chromosome.”2 Researchers made it clear that the silence-conferring mutation was “not part of the quantitative genetic background of song itself but, instead, a morphological mutation that eliminates males’ ability to produce this sexual signal.”7

So, despite the ‘fogging’ of the facts by evolutionary-paradigm jargon, the story is quite simple—and anything but evolutionary. A loss-of-information flatwing mutation which would presumably normally be a disadvantage (rendering male crickets unable to call acoustically for a mate) became highly advantageous once the acoustically-navigating parasitic fly came to Kauai.8 This is not evidence for an evolutionary process said to have produced chirping crickets from chancy chaos, no matter how much time is claimed for it to have happened. The Kauai change is in the wrong direction to be evidence of microbes-to-man evolution. Instead, it fits with the biblical description of a created world now in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:19–22).

And other things fit, too. The Hawaiian cricket populations had “extremely low genetic variation” compared to crickets in Australia, with Pacific Islands populations being intermediate.9 This hints at the crickets’ likely island-hopping colonization route to Hawaii (perhaps partially matching that of Polynesian settlers—who seem to have had an affinity with crickets10), with the progressive reduction in gene pool variation consistent with an original higher-level creation, not evolution. A cricket subset of the gene pool, once isolated from its parent population, cannot of itself regain the starting level of genetic information. ‘Evolution’ can’t do it.

Note that there is no doubt here that natural selection is operating, and powerfully. But natural selection is not evolution, as it can only remove individuals (in this case, chirping ones), and thus the genetic information they carry (coding for chirp-capable wings),11 from a population; it cannot provide new genetic information. And it is not the trumpeted ‘rapid evolution’ that is being observed here,12 but the rapid culling of cricket songsters under the deadly selection pressure of being fresh food for fly maggots—natural selection does not need long periods of time to achieve outcomes as dramatic as this—the virtual silencing of a population.13,14

If only more people knew that examples of natural selection such as the Kauai crickets were in no way evidence for evolution but rather evidence for the Creator God of the Bible—now that would be something to chirp about.

References and notes

  1. The tiny parasitoid fly is Ormia ochracea and its amazing ability to directionally track sound despite its ears being only 0.5mm apart (meaning the inter-aural time difference is only 1½ microseconds) has inspired engineers to try to improve hearing aids by giving them some directional capacity. Sarfati, J., Ear now An incredible design in a tiny fly is inspiring engineers, Creation 23(4):55, 2001; creation.com/ear-now. As for how such design fits with the biblical account of the Fall and no death before sin, insects are probably not nephesh life, so their ‘death’ is biblically different from that of humans or vertebrate animals. Alternatively, God, who foreknew the Fall, could have predesigned the machinery needed for a post-Fall world, with it switching on at the Fall. See creation.com/cab6. Return to text.
  2. Understanding evolution: Quick evolution leads to quiet crickets, evolution.berkeley.edu, December 2006, updates added June 2008 and June 2011. Return to text.
  3. Le Page, M., Evolution in the fast lane, New Scientist 210(2806):32–36, 2 April 2011. Return to text.
  4. Zuk, M., Rotenberry, J. and Tinghitella, R., Silent night: adaptive disappearance of a sexual signal in a parasitized population of field crickets, BiologyLetters 2:521–524, 2006. Return to text.
  5. Crickets on Hawaiian island develop silent wings in response to parasitic attack, University of California–Riverside Newsroom, newsroom.ucr.edu, 22 September 2006. Return to text.
  6. Norris, S., Hawaii crickets evolved ‘silent’ wings to evade parasites, study finds, National Geographic News, news.nationalgeographic.com, 3 October 2006. Return to text.
  7. Tinghitella, R., Rapid evolutionary change in a sexual signal: genetic control of the mutation ‘flatwing’ that renders male field crickets (Teleogryllus oceanicus) mute, Heredity 100:261–267, 2008. Return to text.
  8. It’s not known for sure how female crickets manage to find silent males (in order to mate and thus have offspring), but researchers found some support for the idea that the mutant mute males would cluster closely around the few remaining chirpers, intercepting females attracted by the normal male’s song. Ref. 4. Return to text.
  9. Tinghitella, R., Zuk, M., Beveridge, M. and Simmons, L., Island hopping introduces Polynesian field crickets to novel environments, genetic bottlenecks and rapid evolution, Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24:1199–1211, 2001. Return to text.
  10. Crickets are spoken of in some Polynesian communities as being a form of protective presence. Clerk, C., “That isn’t really a pig”: Spirit traditions in the Southern Cook Islands, Oral Tradition 5(2/3):316–333, 1990. Return to text.
  11. For another example of mutant wings being advantageous in an extreme environment, see Wieland, C., Beetle bloopers, Creation 19(3):30, 1997; creation.com/beetle. Return to text.
  12. E.g. refs 3,7,9. Ref. 2 referred to the 20 generations between the arrival of the parasitic fly and the rise of the silent ‘flatwing’ mutant male crickets as being “the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms”. Return to text.
  13. Wieland, C., Brisk biters fast changes in mosquitoes astonish evolutionists, delight creationists, Creation 21(2):41, 1999; creation.com/brisk-biters. Return to text.
  14. Wieland, C., Rapid tomcod evolution by pollution ? Yeah, right and wrong, Creation 33(4):22–33, 2011. Return to text.
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