160 Years Later, Study Shows Charles Darwin Was Right About Why Insects Are Losing the Ability to Fly


Most insects can fly.

Yet scores of species have lost that extraordinary ability, particularly on islands.

On the small islands that lie halfway between Antarctica and continents like Australia, almost all the insects have done so.

Flies walk, moths crawl.

“Of course, Charles Darwin knew about this wing loss habit of island insects,” says PhD candidate Rachel Leihy, from the Monash University School of Biological Sciences.

“He and the famous botanist Joseph Hooker had a substantial argument about why this happens. Darwin’s position was deceptively simple. If you fly, you get blown out to sea. Those left on land to produce the next generation are those most reluctant to fly, and eventually evolution does the rest. Voilà.”

But since Hooker expressed his doubt, many other scientists have too.

In short, they have simply said Darwin got it wrong.

Flightless Moth

A flightless moth, related to clothes moths, from sub-Antarctic Marion Island in the Southern Ocean. The sub-Antarctic Islands have an unusually high prevalence of flightless insects. Credit: Leihy & Chown.

Yet almost all of these discussions have ignored the place that is the epitome of flight loss – those ‘sub-Antarctic’ islands. Lying in the ‘roaring forties’ and ‘furious fifties’, they’re some of the windiest places on Earth.

“If Darwin really got it wrong, then wind would not in any way explain why so many insects have lost their ability to fly on these islands,” said Rachel.

Using a large, new dataset on insects from sub-Antarctic and Arctic islands, Monash University researchers examined every idea proposed to account for flight loss in insects, including Darwin’s wind idea.

Reported on December 9, 2020, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, they show that Darwin was right for this ‘most windy of places’. None of the usual ideas (such as those proposed by Hooker) explain the extent of flight loss in sub-Antarctic insects, but Darwin’s idea does. Although in a slightly varied form, in keeping with modern ideas on how flight loss actually evolves.

Windy conditions make insect flight more difficult and energetically costly. Thus, insects stop investing in flight and its expensive underlying machinery (wings, wing muscles) and redirect the resources to reproduction.

“It’s remarkable that after 160 years, Darwin’s ideas continue to bring insight to ecology,” said Rachel, the lead author of the paper.

Professor Steven Chown, also from the School of Biological Sciences, added that the Antarctic region is an extraordinary laboratory in which to resolve some of the world’s most enduring mysteries and test some of its most important ideas.

Reference: “Wind plays a major but not exclusive role in the prevalence of insect flight loss on remote islands” by Rachel I. Leihy and Steven L. Chown, 9 December 2020, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2020.2121

64 Comments on "160 Years Later, Study Shows Charles Darwin Was Right About Why Insects Are Losing the Ability to Fly"

  1. Strange, I haven’t heard about this wing loss–but then I’m not an entomologist.

  2. As soon as they said “island” I knew wind was the reason & I’ve never been on an island 🏝️

    So cool I don’t have to make an account to comment, finally

  3. Sorry I didn’t see my 1st comment after it refreshed and the comment counter didn’t change

  4. I support and/or condone this message.

  5. I don’t support and/or condone this message.

  6. A theory is fine. Absolutely no scientific evidence her so please quit presenting things like this as fact. That is terrible science.

  7. And here in flat earth neanderthal age America,right wing creationists with monkey bills are still pushing to MAGA

  8. “Thus, insects stop investing in flight and its expensive”…This sound childish to me as though we can just stop growing teeth, legs and every parts on our body. Insects are created beings just like us humans and have no ability of whatsoever to stop growing wings.

    • The individual itself does not have the ability to stop growing specific things but eventually, by not having use for something for many generations, for example like how we lost our tails and only got the coccyx/tailbone left.

    • You are a sad, silly creationist. Please crawl back under your rock and continue to deny any answer that doesn’t involve a murderous, sky wizard.

      • Actually scientists who advocate creation are far better at utilizing and understanding the scientific method than mainstream scientists are.
        Mainstream scientists are funded by governments and try to prove what they’re being paid to prove. They dont even use proper control experiments for many of their projects.

        There isn’t shred of evidence for universal common ancestry, and you’d know that if you didn’t “live under a rock” and let other people think for you.

        Do some honest research and you’ll come to the same conclusion as anybody who seriously questions evolution

        • Wow bud, you kinda shredded your argument at the end there. What other theories did you study and discard? Or did you drive headlong into creationism?

    • Yes, you are right. The article is fine suggesting that wind selects, and that the one’s left on the islands would be the ones that couldn’t fly and that, over time, the non-flying varieties would have more mating opportunities, and that, over time, there would be more non-flying varieties than flying insects. Then, the article mis-states the role of the insect itself, as if the insect was making decisions about growing wings, as if the insect had something to do with it. Well, I guess one could argue that the female fly found winged males less attractive than wingless males, but I wouldn’t.

  9. Another example of devolution, where loss of function (including degradation in the underlying genes, though that isn’t discussed here) confers an advantage because of local environment, conceptually similar to loss of sight in cave fish, or antibiotic resistance in bacteria, which also depends on broken genes. What we’re short on is examples of novel *new* function in genes. The moths were always able to walk before they lost the ability to fly.

    • Devolution is simpler. No need to develop novel functions, with all of the issues that come with doing that, when you could just do more of something you could already do to deal with a problem.

    • Typical Ad-hoc example of how limited evolutionery explanations truly are, but a good
      example of de-evolution or damaging of healthy genes for the amazing attribute such as flight. Then, it was apparently published ?

    • No such thing as evolution or de-evolution. It’s all epigenetics, an organism conforms to its environment, even over successive generations. The only exception would be a genetic mutation, a permanent loss of information that removes the ability to adapt in some certain way.

  10. Than why do cockroaches in Los Angeles fly but the ones in Maui do not?

  11. Is this story supposed to be pointing to the different schools of thought on evolution? With discoveries in human dna now showing more varied and complicated evolutionary development in regards to shared Neaderthal dna across continents, this story falls short. Still an interesting blip on the radar.

  12. It’s might be an epigenetic effect, therefore if you brought the moths over here ina few generations they would adapt to having wings again.

  13. I find the internet to be a curiously small island of the intellect with a large abundant population of flightless birds. With such a small island and an ever growing population it finds itself confronted by a deteriorating environment created by its own success. It’s current solution is to continue doing what created the situation but just it needs to do it better seems well flightless. If becoming fligtless leads to successful population growth can the species regrow wings if needed? All fun questions I need to google that.

  14. The earf is flat people wake up! Science has put a vail of lies over your eyes, besides the compromise resides in what CAN fly thus, such there is no suprise you guys.

  15. I always wondered why some bugs in the world couldn’t fly .. I guess there sum answers in our faces we can’t see but already know.

  16. It certainly doesn’t take much to have a paper published as long as you support the
    Darwinian Ideology. As you’ve claimed , we do have “Another ” Ad-hoc Darwinian explanation of the (dis)advantage of genetic mutations that will usually happen
    where genetic defects are inherited and passed on thru isolated populations until it becomes fixed. So this wonderful loss of an obvious advantageous state of flight is
    lost and puts the insects into disadvantaged flightless state which eventually could
    be their complete demise. So . its similiar to the Galapagos Cormorants that have inherited a genetic defect of healthy genes which effected both muscle lose and bone density and eventually it’s ability to fly. So there both just another example of de-evolution or the destruction or damaging of healthy genes.

  17. Recommended: Book, “THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH” by Richard Dawkins. Wonderfully written, chocked full of evidence of Evolution.

    • Recommended book, THE GREATEST HOAX ON EARTH, written by Jonathan Sarfati, pH.D, F.M., chock full of why Richard Dawkins is a charlatan and shows scientifically why evolution is simply not possible.

  18. Since the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, you will not be able to convince those who will not accept rational explanations for it, because they do not even believe their own eyes.

    • Well , its true this seems to be the main driving force of evolution which is
      harmful mutations of healthy genetic material that destroys an obvious advantageous
      trait such as flight. Of course this defect eventually becomes fixed if it doesn’t
      kill them within an isolated community. But of course we have Academics who obviously
      know this as well , but even with a century and a half of trying to support the main
      tenets of this theory , We still have this manipulation of the evidence where this
      type of de-evolution is deceptively presented as some proof of evolution.

      • @Geo Bla
        Except for joke references as in the band DEVO, there is no such thing as de-evolution, just as there is no such thing as reverse racism.
        There are only evolutionary adaptation and racial prejudice, regardless of direction.

        • There is no evolution, fool. We have absolutely no evidence for universal common ancestry so the theory lacks a foundation without a foundation the structure collapses, but you dont have the structure either. Flies losing wings is quite the opposite of what evolution is supposed to be but people like you are willing to grasp at straws and point at any change within and population of creatures and call it evolution, which is disingenuous. A creatures can diversify into subtypes like wolves and dogs, but dogs are a lesser creature than wolves and wolves used to be larger. No evolution.

          • Dogs evolved, wolves evolved. We all evolved. There are mountains of evidence of evolution, and nothing for your fairy god.

  19. Science is a beautiful thing

  20. Ahem ! Excuse me but we have some of the biggest flying cockroaches on the planet in Puerto Rico and we are subjected to category 5 Cyclones all the time! And these insects don’t extinct and don’t unlearn to fly , so spare me the bollocks!

  21. Dr. Ann Lawrence | December 20, 2020 at 3:36 pm | Reply

    It is inappropriate to refer to the lead author by her first name, while all other referenced scientists by their last names. Is this a sexist slip?

  22. Darwinian evolution is scientifically impossible. Did you read his 1852 book? Complete contradiction to the law of causation.

  23. Francisco Cepeda | December 20, 2020 at 8:34 pm | Reply

    Islands, with open ocean in every direction and there is no wind which can also “explain” things, another mistake by atheists trying to use unscientific data to explain scientific events

  24. I’ve lived in many Islands and they have both flying insects and none flying insects. It depends on which species of insects you come across. For example, Guam is a small island in the pacific ocean and its only about 8-12 miles wide by 12-16 miles long, surronded by ocean, with typhoons and windy days, and no evidence of any insects loosing their ability to fly

    • @I call BS
      Maybe there is evidence of which you are unaware, maybe there isn’t.
      But could you please set an example to the increasing number of people who misspell forms of the verb ‘lose’. If you are setting something free, like a dog or a rope or a bullet, you are loosing it. If you are failing to win or ceasing to possess something you are losing it.
      For example, President Trump has experienced a loss, so he is a loser and his grip on reality has become looser, i.e. more loose.

    • Did you just compare Guam to a sub antarctic island? Guam’s most windy days barely compare to the winds in these latitudes. 🤭

  25. This is a hilarious example of how desperate mainstream science and media want to push darwinism onto people.

    “Hur dur” flies and moths are losing there wings in this one spot therefore evolution.

    People with narrow perspectives dont realize that scientists dont have the evidence for universal common ancestry or descent. They claim they do, but they can never give an honest presentation of evidence for it. There is no evidence for universal common descen, and harmful mutations like loss of wings make believers of the theory look like fools.

  26. Jeez, all these delusional leftists here pretending trump actually lost the election when we’ve already proven voter fraud on the Democrat’s side.

    Stick to the subject of the article which is that evolution is being debunked by scientists but instead of admitting they’re wrong, they twist the narrative around to make them sound right still.

    It’s funny how the only examples of so called evolution is typically crap like this

  27. The 3- fin shark swimming in the Waters where bikini island once was are now 2–fin shark!?!

  28. Then that would mean… We were once winged mammals also! Now wingless, we care about sex more! 🤯

  29. The ansers where inside our faces the whole time in front.. if it is are gunna such be that reason for It to have wings .. ther stuped sciance is lafable

  30. Oddly enough, both sides of the creation / evolution argument are right, however limited, with the evolutionist belittling God, with the scientists often losing sight of the mystery, imagination and awe. Why do we (i.e. the universe) exist at all? Both side belittle the amazing gift of free will, which extends in a form to the quantum level. Let go of your narrow definition of “God” and see the true majesty of creation. God does not go around plucking wings off of insects, per se. Instead something much more awesome was initiated at the big bang, a long series of non-determinative events that have brought us to our current state through a long series of choices and amazingly wisely-created ability to add our own uniqueness and gained wisdom to creation (see Proverbs 8). God wisely let go of predetermining outcomes, instead we (all creation) are granted the creative force collectively (aka free will, aka getting “kicked out” of the Garden of Eden). While my vision here is obviously limited, I am thankful I’m not stuck in some narrow view demeaning God/creation and hope to be open to further insights. Will you be open too?

  31. Will people lose their brain because they have stopped using it?

  32. Crazy Rib Woman | December 21, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Reply

    Evolution can’t be true because God’s perfect plan was to impregnate himself as his son into a virgin girl (w/o her concent btw) to create a loop hole for the fruit eating crimes of the 1st rib woman. This being had to be a human sacrifice (don’t worry) he faked his death for 3 days. You can now be a cannibal too by eating his flesh and blood, and every bad deed you did is forgiven???

    What again, is so hard to believe that babies are slightly different then their parents? And over thousands or even 100’s of thousands
    of generations sometimes features can change that gives the new babies an advantage? Or the new babies live in 1000 miles away after 250,000 years?

    Well this God dude is all powerful, all knowing and all loving (skip the lake of fire stuff) but he always needs your money.

  33. Darwin was a yuge racist… when are we canceling him and knocking over any of his statues?

  34. It’s funny how in 2020 devout scientists still clings to their savior Darwin. How pious.

  35. Ronald Lee Hagelund | December 22, 2020 at 5:55 am | Reply

    Wow…way more ‘entertaining’ & enlightening than I imagined possible?! Thanks Love all the disparate comments “God’ save us Darwin be damned…watch out for the wind,

  36. Some of these..*ahem* “arguments”.. may have been taken with more seriousness if they had been coherent (i.e., grammatically correct, no spelling errors, appropriate use of punctuation). I’ve always found myself much more willing to engage in an enlightened exchange of ideas and opinions when the individual with whom I am communicating shows signs of having actually passed 7th-grade English class.

    Left or right, Democrat or Republican, christian or atheist, evolutionist or creationist.. your arguments are invalid if you’re incapable of spelling even the most basic words, differentiating between the correct usage of there/their/they’re, or understanding why commas and periods even exist. Everyone has an opinion, and on the internet one can be assured that each one of those opinions will be incredibly easy to locate (whether one wishes to find them or not), but please do not expect your deeply-held beliefs to become the catalyst of change for the entire scientific community (not to mention every other troll you’re arguing with in the comment sections).

    TL;DR: Spell check. Punctuate. Proofread. Or stop wasting everyone’s time.


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