Rails derail evolution

The loss of flight is not evolution!


Updated on 12 August 2019


commons.wikimedia.org, Charles J Sharpwhite-throated-rail
Figure 1. White-throated rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri)

A recent paper in an esteemed zoology journal caused a stir in the science media. Its authors claim that fossils of a species of bird called the white-throated rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri; see figure 1) show evidence for the repeated loss of flight in this bird in several islands in the southwest Indian Ocean near the island of Madagascar.1 As well as the flight-capable (volant) form of this species, which originates from the islands of Madagascar and Mayotte, there are several flightless subspecies on surrounding atoll islands. One of these, the Aldabra rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus) is the last flightless subspecies in the Indian Ocean, found on the Aldabra atoll (island reef) in the Seychelles.

What is special about these species of birds is that the loss of flight capabilities has occurred several times rapidly, under specific conditions. These include the lack of land predators and other animals which could compete with the birds, principally for food. The authors of this paper claim that flightlessness has “evolved” several times. The online journal Science Daily reports these findings as birds coming back from the dead.2 But is this really a demonstration of de-evolution followed by re-evolution actually happening? What is really going on here?

Loss of flight is not evolution!

There are several problems with the evolutionary story of these rail species “evolving” “flightlessness”. Flightlessness is not a characteristic that can be gained, since it involves the loss of a morphological structure (for example, consider the flightless cormorants that Charles Darwin saw on the Galápagos Islands). No new gene arose for the development of any new kind of structure. When the flight-capable birds first arrived at the relatively underpopulated island, there was no pressure on them to escape from predators by flying away from them. Therefore, we can surmise that retaining their wings would have been unnecessary. In contrast, flying birds evolving from flightless birds has never been demonstrated.

It is quite possible that these birds actually lost genetic information (i.e. one or more mutations in homeobox genes, which function in development) or in some other piece of coding DNA for flight structures. If a mutation causes a structure to degenerate, which is not needed for survival, the animal may still survive and pass on this trait to the next generation.3 This would be a case of devolution and not evolution. The actual de novo generation of genes responsible for flight has never been demonstrated. This is what is necessary in order to demonstrate that evolution is true.

What is even harder to believe is that loss of flight happened at least three times in the white-throated rail. The same kind of change happening in an organism, with the same result, is called “iterative evolution”. The probability of the same organ being affected on different occasions over tens to hundreds of thousands of years in the same species is very small indeed. The question also arises as to why the wings of these birds did not evolve into useful appendages, such as grasping arms?

But on the other hand (pun not intended), it is ordinarily said that the same evolutionary trajectory cannot repeat itself, much less reverse itself and happen again. It also shows that is why it is absurd to say that these species of bird “came back from the dead”.

Lastly, the rapidity of flight loss in these birds goes against the standard evolutionary view of millions of years being required for such processes to happen.

Comparisons with insects

Flight supposedly arose several times according to the theory of evolution. The first time this happened was allegedly 400 million years ago in insects.4 Evolutionists do not have a clear concept about how this happened. However, what they do know is that the activities of dozens of genes are necessary for flight. In their thinking, all that complexity must have gradually arisen via unplanned, unguided, goal-less mutational events over deep time. These genes influence a host of things vital to flight, including muscle and nerve formation, and also affect sugar and energy metabolism.

However, flight has been lost thousands of times in insects, for example in beetles5 or in stick insects.6,7 This demonstrates the removal of pressure on organisms to retain anatomical structures or genes as opposed to gaining new ones. Thus, the scales are tipped heavily towards devolution as opposed to evolution.


The fact that evolutionists are actually promoting the multiple loss of wings in a bird species as evidence for evolution is a signal that there really isn’t much evidence for their theory. Loss of an anatomical structure is exactly the opposite of evolution. Also, the loss of anatomical structures is quite common in biology. Loss of flight has also happened in several other bird species, such as the great auk, the dodo, the moa, ostrich, rhea, emu, cassowary, kiwi and kakapo.3 Iterative devolution has also been observed in ammonites, sea cows and sea turtles.

The main problem here is that evolutionists are forced by their worldview to look at the fossil evidence as a linear record of evolution through time. This kind of thinking leads them to make patently absurd claims, such as that evolution is equal to the loss of flight.

What the evidence is really showing us is that genetic elements and anatomical structures naturally devolve over time. This cannot be used as convincing proof of evolution. Furthermore, since all of these changes happen between related species, this also reinforces the reality of the created kinds in Genesis 1:21, 24, 25. Again, the evidence from nature, which is so often presented as proof for evolution, overwhelmingly supports creation instead.

Published: 8 August 2019

References and notes

  1. Hume, J.P. & Martill, M., Repeated evolution of flightlessness in Dryolimnas rails (Aves: Rallidae) after extinction and recolonization on Aldabra, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2019. Return to text.
  2. University of Portsmouth, The bird that came back from the dead, sciencedaily.com, 9 May 2019; accessed 6 June 2019. Return to text.
  3. Sodera, V. One small speck to man, the evolution myth 2, Bekaam Printers Pte Ltd, Malaysia, pp. 153–158, 2009. Return to text.
  4. Mitterboeck, T.F., et al, Positive and relaxed selection associated with flight evolution and loss in insect transcriptomes, Gigascience 6(10):1–14, 2017. | doi:10.1093/gigascience/gix073. Return to text.
  5. Wieland, C., Beetle bloopers, Creation 19(3):30,1997. Return to text.
  6. Roff, D.A., The evolution of flightlessness in insects, Ecol Monogr 60:389–421, 1990. Return to text.
  7. Whiting, M.F., Bradler, S. & Maxwell T., Loss and recovery of wings in stick insects, Nature 421(6920):264–7, 2003. Return to text.