Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hummingbirds and Evolution

This is what jealousy looks like: my wife, not me, took this gorgeous picture of a hummingbird in our yard today among the newly blooming flowers. I had to find an excuse, however flimsy, to share it with you.

There are between 325 and 340 species of hummingbirds in the world, all in the Americas. There is almost no fossil record, which is no surprise at all, given the small size and delicate nature of their bones. Just two specimens older than Pleistocene are known, in 30 million year old rocks from Germany, which is a bit of a surprise, given their present distribution. The ancient species are modern in their appearance.

To say that the birds are highly specialized is an understatement: their energy budget must be near the limits for terrestrial animals of any sort, their flight abilities are unique to say the least (the only bird that can fly backwards), and they have unique adaptations in their overnight activities that keep them from starving overnight (basically they hibernate). I found various notes on the "Google" that suggest these birds are "proof" of intelligent design, as they are too miraculous to ever have evolved. Oh...whatever. Some sources mention that the average hummingbird is always just hours from starvation. A bird that has to consume more than its own weight in nectar every day seems to suffer from an inefficient design parameter. I dunno...I just wanted to post a pretty picture for you all!

Photo of the day by Mrs. Geotripper.


Earthling said...

Gorgeous! Mrs. Geotripper does nice work!

Ruth said...

That picture is truly beautiful. The delicacy of the tiny bird is well displayed with the beautiful flowers.The fact that hummingbirds live on the edge of extinction allows them Torpor the hibernation like state. In periods of low food supply they are all set. Yet, the question is whether this is a miracle of nature or not.I prefer to believe in the miraculous. This bird is definitely wondorous enough to qualify in my opinion anyway.

Chasmanian Devil said...

I've read that many hummingbird species' primary food source is insects. But they have to eat a lot of those, too. Nice post!

Garry Hayes said...

Chas, you are right, they eat lots of insects. The nectar is actually nutrient poor and the insects provided the protein they need.

Silver Fox said...

Wonderful photo!

Jules said...

A evolutionary biologist(though it would probably be drain on their productive research time)could do educators and many others a great favor by writing a book or website listing and illustrating the numerous examples of "un-intelligent design" in nature to hopefully enlighten those uncritical thinkers who conveniently only look to subjectively beautiful examples of nature to naively confirm for themselves that everything was designed by a beneficent deity just for human pleasure,purpose and adoration of that deity.

Thanks Garry for the rational thoughts you post on your blog (along with the fascinating geological science) about education,politics and the so-called "controversies" that have been ideologically and religiously orchestrated by those who live in willfully ignorant denial of physical reality and the highly substantiated facts that modern science has presented to the world.

I share your deep frustration of how there is a organized effort in this country and elsewhere to subvert scientific knowledge and repress research by those who know mostly nothing about real science and are in fact in denial of reality by preferring to live in a fantasy world of supernatural nonsense.