Thursday, 22 November 2012
One of my favourite questions at work is "Do you believe in evolution?" Of course, it is not a matter of belief; it is a matter of science and of evidence. No-one asks whether you believe in gravity or not or whether the theory of relativity is has been made up just to annoy Christians. I go with what makes the most sense, based on scientific evidence. Well, I am a scientist, what did you expect?
Evolution is a topic of much controversy, not based on any sound scientific arguments, but on personal religious beliefs. To me, evolution is a thing of beauty, which usually ends up resulting in the most amazing, spell-binding organisms that are superbly adapted to their environments. Note, I specifically use the word adapted and not designed. Evolution does not give a crap about what something looks like. All that really matters is whether it works, despite what it might look like. Does the organism survive and pass on its genetic material?
There are any number of examples of incredible organisms that survive because of their obviously fantastic and wondrous abilities - the speed and agility of the cheetah, the power and all the razor-sharp teeth of the shark, the reproductive prowess of the apparently defenseless cute little bunny rabbit. I could go on...........but then you would get bored..........
Back to evolution. The thing that I love best about evolution are the bizarre and head-scratchingly odd organisms that sometimes result from natural selection. Let's face it, people, a male peacock may be a sight to behold, but can anyone seriously think a tail that cumbersome could really be a good idea? How on earth can it help the male to survive? Well, frankly, it doesn't. But, and here is the thing, it does help to get a little action with the ladies. And that is what counts with evolution - passing your genes on to the next generation.
So, let me introduce to you one of nature's little oddities - I bet you can't look at this little fella without a big smile making its way on to your face.
This little gem is a sword-billed hummingbird. It is the only bird with a bill that is longer than its body. It was found at Guango Lodge in the cloud forest of Ecuador.
You have to ask yourself how on earth a bird with such a comically long bill could actually survive. Just imagine........
Harold: "Careful Howard, you'll have someone's eye out with that!"
Howard, turning round to respond to Harold and nearly taking his head off: "Ooops, sorry mate! Didn't see you there!"
That bill really must be incredibly difficult to maneuver with, let alone hover in front of a flower for long enough to feed. So how does such a bird evolve? How does such a bird ever outcompete more agile hummingbirds with less ridiculous bills? The answer is, of course, flowers with their nectar at the bottom of stupidly long tubes that only the sword-billed hummingbird can reach!
I love evolution!