Peppered Moths Without Evolution
A new study shows that scientific research on moth camouflage does not require evolutionary theory.
Evolutionary biologists from Seoul, South Korea filmed moths resting on tree trunks. According to PhysOrg, they were trying to understand how moths in the wild orient themselves on the bark for greatest camouflage. That’s a very different question than the ones asked by Kettlewell, Majerus and other past researchers who were looking for natural selection of peppered moths. In those old studies, camouflage was a happenstance, not a behavior within the moth. The opening paragraph referred to the old ideas as if preparing to dismiss them:
Moths are iconic examples of camouflage. Their wing coloration and patterns are shaped by natural selection to match the patterns of natural substrates, such as a tree bark or leaves, on which the moths rest. But, according to recent findings, the match in the appearance was not all in their invisibility… Despite a long history of research on these iconic insects, whether moths behave in a way to increase their invisibility has not been determined.
In other words, Kettlewell and Majerus didn’t take into account the moths’ behavior. They treated moths as passive creatures that would alight on tree trunks at random. They placed the selective power in the environment, with lower contrast producing greater camouflage, leaving the high-contrast moths vulnerable to birds.
The South Korean researchers found, instead, that moth behavior plays a vital role in the camouflage. They “found out that moths are walking on the tree bark until they settle down for resting; the insects seem to actively search for a place and a body position that makes them practically invisible.” A video clip embedded in the article shows the moths doing this.
To determine whether this final spot indeed made the moth really invisible, the researchers photographed each moth at its landing spot (initial spot) and at the final spot at which the moth decided to rest. Next, the researchers asked people to try to locate the moth from the photograph as quickly as possible. People had more difficulty finding the moths at their final spots than the same moths at their initial landing spots. Amazingly, this was even true for the species (Hypomecis roboraria) that only changed its resting spot on the tree bark without changing its body orientation. Therefore, the researchers concluded, that moths seems to actively choose the spot that makes them invisible to predators. How do they know how to become invisible? The research team is now trying to answer this question as the next step.
The only mentions of evolution in the article concerned (1) the researchers calling themselves” evolutionary biologists,” (2) the fact that they work at the Laboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution at the Seoul National University, and (3) their research being published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology. The abstract of that paper seemed very cautious about inferring evolution, stating: “Our study demonstrates that the evolution of morphological adaptations, such as colour pattern of moths, cannot be fully understood without taking into account a behavioural phenotype that coevolved with the morphology for increasing the adaptive value of the morphological trait.” While this suggests the authors are proposing coevolution of behavior with camouflage, the statement is a backhanded swipe at earlier evolutionary research that neglected behavior.
Speaking of moths, Live Science posted an interesting list of “7 Things You Don’t Know About Moths, But Should.” These include their importance as pollinators, their role in the food chain for many other animals, and the males’ ability to smell females from seven miles away. If we could get over the yuck factor, we might even find their caterpillars a nutritious superfood, meeting the minimum daily requirements of several important nutrients. Moths are a sister family to butterflies in the Order Lepidoptera, and share many of the same characteristics.
This story underscores the uselessness of evolutionary theory. For decades, evolutionary biologists have strained at moths and swallowed camels. They watched the simple things, like how closely a moth’s wings match tree bark, but ignored the weightier matters of moth complexity. Those little flying things circling the lights in your backyard are astoundingly complex machines: they have compound eyes with hundreds of facets, jointed appendages, digestive systems, reproductive systems, navigation systems, communication systems, flight systems – all packed within their tiny, lightweight bodies.
Even tougher on evolutionary theory, they undergo metamorphosis – a complete transformation of body plan three times in their lifecycle: egg to caterpillar, then caterpillar to pupa or chrysalis, then chrysalis to adult flying insect. This is shown exquisitely in Illustra’s beautiful film Metamorphosis, which ends with sound reasons why Darwinism cannot explain these abilities.
Yet for decades, evolutionists were obsessed with finding an example of natural selection in one species of moth, whether it landed on light or dark tree trunks. And now we are told by the South Korean researchers that “evolution of morphological adaptations, such as colour pattern of moths, cannot be fully understood without taking into account a behavioural phenotype” – in other words, you cannot just play “Pin the Peppered Moth on the Tree Trunk.” You have to watch what a living peppered moth does after it lands. If Kettlewell had simply kept his grubby evolutionary hands off the moths, he might have found dark moths walking on a light-barked tree trunk looking for a better place to blend in, and vice versa. More likely, the moths would be too smart to land on a high-contrast surface in the first place.
Trying to invoke “coevolution” as a magic word is folly. It means that evolutionists have to invoke a second miracle: first, the match between wing coloration and tree trunks, and second, the ability of the moth to actively search out and select a suitable spot for camouflage. What causes that behavior? The researchers have no idea. As usual, they use the futureware escape trick: “more research is needed.” The article said they are clueless: “How do they know how to become invisible? The research team is now trying to answer this question as the next step.” Save a step: ask a creationist.