MTPR

Bug Bytes: Evolution And 'The Predicted One'

Jul 15, 2019

When it comes to the topic of evolution Charles Darwin is "the man." In 1859, his book, On the Origin of Species provided compelling evidence that transformed the theory of evolution into widely accepted fact.

Evolution is the process by which an organism changes over time to better adapt to its environment. This theory includes the idea of coevolution — where two or more species evolve together for their mutual benefit.

As proof of how much of an evolution guru Darwin was, in 1862 a colleague sent him some Madagascan star orchids. Unlike the average orchid’s flowers, these have incredibly long tubes (about 11 and a half inches long) at the end of which lays the nectar — the prize for pollinating insects.

Xanthopan morganii praedicta moth
Credit kqedquest, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kqedquest/3256354461/ (CC-BY-NC-2 [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/])

The question was, with such a long tube, what type of animal could possibly access the nectar and pollinate the flower?

With his understanding of orchid pollination and the idea that the orchid and its specific pollinator must have evolved together, Darwin deduced that the pollinator would be a species of moth with an extremely long proboscis (or tongue). The problem was, no such moth was known to exist.

For the next several decades, Darwin’s predictions were not only shot down by entomologists, but by anyone who disagreed with his theory of evolution.

But low and behold, in 1903 (20 years after Darwin’s death) this mystery moth was indeed discovered. And in 2004, 143 years after his prediction, the first video footage was taken of the moth feeding from and pollinating the orchid.

While the common name for this moth species is the Darwin’s sphinx moth, its scientific name literally translates to “the predicted one”.