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Creation 35(1):12–13, January 2012

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



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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Readers’ comments

Richard L.
Re. your (David’s) latest response to Jared:

In the late 70s, in my undergrad years, I read a comment from, I believe, A.E. Wilder-Smith. He expressed amazement at how a nucleotide sequence could sometimes cleanly shift position in the DNA, without apparently disturbing the nucleotides adjacent to its insertion point. He wondered if such mutations were actually controlled; they looked like it.

When I read this, 2 thoughts came to mind: (1) the analogy of a clean gear shift change in a transmission, and (2)—in light of some proteins being activity initiators—as ** software subroutine activation **.

As you point out, David, evidence is accumulating for some kind of organism sensor – DNA modification linkage existing. While DNA-mapped-out evidence is coming to light of changing-environment-induced modification of the next-generation organism, might God have also equipped an organism to make such changes during its own lifetime?

In analogy to gear-shift changes and electronic software activation, such changes would be (1) very quick and (2) elastic. A change back is also possible—until corruption of the system loses that ability. (I remember losing 2nd gear, leaving a busy intersection.) At least twice, in the Grants’ study of Galapagos finches, under temporary drought conditions, their beaks lengthened and shortened all in one year, suggestive of this change happening within individuals and not just across generations.

Jared N.
Hi David,

Thanks so much for that information on the elephants. This is the first time I've heard of it and I'm very surprised that it isn't more widely known and talked about here.

I did look up the article you referred to and found it rather interesting. It seems in some populations it was only the females that were tuskless. And in other populations it seemed it was more a weakness or malformation of the tusks that occured, not total absence. Some males may appear to be tuskless due to breakage during fighting. The effect of rainfall was also curious. In some genetic cases, cross-breeding with other larger populations removed the tuskless trait. Yay!

This is a good example of how evolution doesn't work since the mutation would have to occur randomly first BEFORE it could be selected for or against by poaching etc. so the poaching has nothing to do with the mutation itself but only affects the subsequent populations.

In the end though, this is very sad news indeed. Elephants without tusks would be a great loss for them as well as for those of us that appreciate nature. I guess tuskless elephants is better than no elephants at all.

It does raise an interesting question though... a probability one... I was thinking about the tuskless elephants, the silent crickets, and the poison-resistant tomcods, and thought it freakishly coincidental that the right mutation, in the right population, at the right time occurs to prevent them from dying off. DNA is so complex and out of the millions of possible genetic mistakes, or combinations of mistakes, that could occur, it just so happens that the right ones do occur to allow the creature to meet the challenges it faces. I do sometimes wonder if there isn't more going on than just "random" mutations and "blind" chance?
David Catchpoole
Yes, Jared, there is a growing groundswell of opinion among creationist biologists that there might well be something more going on. E.g. an in-built capacity for living things to repair genes wrecked by mutations (even many generations later, as has been documented in the plant Arabidopsis), along with a capacity to generate certain types of variation that can increase the likelihood of the various kinds being able to occupy ecological niches all over the globe, and withstand environmental change. See for example: observations-of-evolution-point-to-an-ingenious-designer and vige-introduction.

Of course, this all points to not only a Designer, but also to the fact that the Designer is none other than the God of the Bible, as this Designer evidently had foreknowledge of the Fall. (No surprise to Christians!)
Jared N.
But back to the crickets: if the situation was that there were no quieter-winged crickets around at the same time as the noisy ones, then none would have survived, none would have evolved, they would have all died out and gone extinct in that location. In this case, this population was fortunate to HAVE mutants, not to BECOME mutants. It’s surprising that some of these people don’t have enough common sense to figure out at least that much.

To Michael I.: I can’t say for 100% sure, but I suspect your friend was chancing his arm. I live in Zimbabwe, I get out into nature, I have friends and family in the wildlife industry, and I have NEVER heard of elephants losing their tusks. That’s not to say it’s not possible, and I could be wrong, but I would say it’s extremely unlikely. If such a thing was occurring, it would be well-known in the wildlife circles here. Some elephants, and especially rhinos, do have their tusks or horns removed by conservationists in order to prevent poaching, but that is a well-known activity and has nothing to do with evolution so wouldn’t help in your friends case.

Thanks CMI for bringing some sense and reason into the world! :)
David Catchpoole
Thanks Jared for this and your immediate previous comment. However, re your note to Michael I., increasing tusklessness in elephant populations subject to poaching actually seems to have been well documented, e.g. in the paper:

Steenkamp, G., Ferreira, S., and Bester, M., Tusklessness and tusk fractures in free-ranging African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana), Journal of the South African Veterinary Association 78(2):75–80, 2007.

Also we at CMI have briefly referred to this phenomenon of increasing elephant tusklessness as a consequence of selective ivory poaching in a previous article: Bighorn horns not so big.
Jared N.
This article was just fantastic! This is a classic example of creation and mutation in action: a creature luckily avoiding local extinction through down-hill genetic failures. How evolutionists consider this good evidence for them is beyond me!

Even more hilarious was the titles of some of the reference articles in the “References and notes” section:

“Crickets on Hawaiian island develop silent wings in response to parasitic attack”

“Hawaii crickets evolved ‘silent’ wings to evade parasites”

Notice something mindboggling here: the use of the words “develop… in response to” and “evolved… to evade”!

So the crickets thought to themselves “Hey, we’re getting slaughtered! I know! Let’s quickly have babies with messed wings! It’s easy; we’ll just think hard enough until our DNA magically changes and WHOOSHH, new different mutant babies!” WOW!!!

Do none of these people realize that mutations are accidents and have nothing to do with thought or purpose or intention? Mutations are completely random and the crickets have zero power over them. The crickets can’t “respond” or “evade” anything. The crickets never “developed” or “evolved” quieter wings. There would have been a small population of mutated (quieter-winged) crickets already present at the SAME time as the noisy ones, and the noisy ones would have just got slaughtered while the quieter ones survived to reproduce. Noisy crickets didn’t evolve into quieter crickets, both were around together, the noisy ones got hammered while the quieter ones survived. Mutation doesn’t “see” a need and respond or adapt. As far as I know, there is NO known process, ZERO, where a creature can deliberately change its DNA, or the DNA of its offspring, at will and need.

If it's possible, I'm having good looking, blue-eyed kids! LOL
Michael I.
I once (as many have) had a similar conversation with an evolutionist claiming that the change from this to that was evolution in action. He failed to grasp the big picture that in most all cases he mentioned the change was a loss of an ability which is a loss of information which is opposite the evolutionary theory. He said something about elephants “evolving” to have no tusks so they wouldn’t be targeted for poaching. While I have not verified that claim it still has the same principle of losing information (losing tusks) which is opposite evolutionary theory of information gain for an eventual complete change into something else altogether. God bless.

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