Evolution as Creative Process
Well, of course, evolution is creative… it is what created what we see.
However, what I mean by that is the definition of creative that is more
along the lines of imagination. And by that, I mean in its ability to
spark the imagination, not "What was God smokin' when he made the platypus."
The idea behind evolution is that a creature slowly evolved each feature
that we see today over a mind-numbingly long time. However, some people object to this as
wondering about the usefulness and success of a creature with intermediate
forms… like, what good are half-sized wings on a flightless bird?
In this case, we won't mention ostriches, emus or the prehistoric Phorusrhacids,
as it is clear they probably flew earlier in their development, but found that
a large size was more advantageous than flight.
Let me mention my idea for how dinosaurs, who had arms, took to the wing.
Keep in mind that this is nothing more than my smokin' hypothesis from a
wanna-be paleontologist. Real paleontologists have different ideas as to
the origin of flight in dinosaurs.
First, keep in mind that the first dinosaurs, like coelophysis, had special
hips that allows all dinosaurs to walk on their hind legs, balanced by their
stiff tails… just like birds. In fact, it is clear that birds evolved from
dinosaurs during the Mesozoic period.
But imagine a very small dinosaur that spent its time hunting large tasty insects.
It could jump and catch them with its mouth and it may have tried to get the
beetle larvae inside tree trunks… another tasty dish. To help it climb a tree and get underneath
the tree bark (and possibly snag insects from the air), it may have evolved
long claws (like the Beipiaosaurus). Perhaps the claws became webbed
in order to better catch flying insects buzzing next to the trees.
To avoid being eaten by larger carnivores on the ground, it may have spent its
entire life in the tree… building little tree-houses with rope ladders and
secret passwords to keep out the creepy kid from down the street. Oh, sorry,
there's that imagination creeping in again.
But eventually, the food source available on a single tree becomes exhausted,
and the creature needs to get to another tree.
In a lush jungle, it could have moved from the branches of one tree to the
branches of another (like monkeys and squirrels do today), and got used to
expecting such evening walks.
Now we have a large clawed dinosaur jumping from tree to tree. But when the
jungle starts to dry up and the trees are thinned, the jumping becomes harder.
The webbing connecting the fingers begin to connect to the rest of the body,
and now our little creature can somewhat glide to more distant trees like the
so-called flying squirrels. I mean, these squirrels should really be called
gracefully falling squirrels… but that wouldn't make such a good National
The next step is a flying dinosaur with bat-like wings that can actually
get lift-off, and now we have a dinosaur like Rhamphorhynchus… who
continued to eat flying insects, possibly bark beetles, but now could add
a diet of river fish. This guy was probably so successful that there were
enough of them to actually make fossils for us to find.
My point with this entire discussion is to show that some features, used
for some particular function now, may have been used, in a more primitive
form, for something completely different, and as such, were still useful to the
creature. This is called pre-adaptation, and I think this concept
is pretty interesting for arm-chair paleontologists, like myself, to speculate.
And now we'll close with a picture of a real-life Rhamphorhynchus. Really.
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