Flowers That Fly!
Insects! Some people give them a wide berth on principle. Nasty, creepy, crawly flying things! Even the magnificent giant moths elicit only screams from some people. But the insects under discussion are guaranteed to cause no such sensation. Initial disbelief, amazement, titillation and delight are the sensations to be expected from an encounter with these exotic “bugs”.
Among the insects, at least 800,000 species have been described. One would expect plenty of variety in life-style and shape within a class this big. Indeed, this is the case. Articles on insects are always well illustrated with exotic beetles, flies and butterflies. Among these, cicadas represent an insect family which is seldom discussed on the prairies for the simple reason they do not live there. But in eastern and central Canada and in the United States (except the northwest quarter of the country) summers in woodlands reverberate with the loud clatter, clatter of male cicadas’ courtship calls.
Cicadas are heavy bodied insects with similar appearing membranous wings which arch over the abdomen when an adult sits at rest. Most representatives of this group live in the tropics or subtopics. Among those who seek to grow trees or shrubs in these parts of the world, cicadas are highly unpopular. The immature or larval states (called nymphs) lie in the soil and dine on tree roots. They eat plants too because their development is slow. Depending on the species, it takes between 4 and 20 years to produce a winged adult. The adults emerge and remain above ground and few live more than a week.
Thus far, little about cicadas seems guaranteed to produce sensations of delight among the readers. However in the grasslands of east Africa there live some cicadas called flatid bugs with wings that are coloured coral, yellow, white or green. These creatures are small as cicadas go, at most about 1 cm long. The remarkable thing about these insects is their colonial habit. The offspring of individual broods remain together and they arrange themselves on sticks or stems in such a way that they resemble spectacular flower clusters (inflorescences). Some experienced botanists have been fooled by these insect groupings which resemble lupine, broom or hyacinth flowers.
The whole ideas of insect inflorescences gave Robert Ardrey, author of African Genesis (1961 Collins p. 66) “mental indigestion”. While protective imitations (mimicry) exist widely in nature, particularly among insects, they almost always involve only single individuals. The coordinating of a whole colony of individuals into a unit of camouflage is a situation almost unheard of in nature. During the 1950s at the Cornydon Museum in Nairobi broods of one cicada species were hatched in captivity. And from each batch of eggs there would consistently emerge at least one individual with green wings, and several with in-between shapes of green as well as the mass of coral coloured individuals. Those with green or partial green wings always took up a position at the tip of the inflorescence, thereby simulating unopened buds at the tip.
The idea that evolution could bring about such perfection, gave Ardrey a “prickling sensation in the scalp.” It seemed amazing, almost unbelievable, to him that evolution could have produced colonies of insects which know how to imitate flowers. Even more amazing still is the fact that the coral flower which the insect imitates, does not exist in nature. Ardrey concluded that the flattid bug society had created the flower form. Now that sounds an awful lot as if a separate creative intelligence placed the “know-how” in these insects, doesn’t it? Indeed, that is the only logical conclusion. Cicadas, of the “flatid bug” group, were very definitely created!
Reference: Wolfgang Wickler. 1968. Mimicry in plants and animals. World University Library. McGraw-Hill Book Company. New York. pp. 61-64.
Reprinted from Dialogue volume 23 #1 February 1996
The flowers that fly are called Flatida rosea (or Phromnia rosea), a planthopper insect native to tropical dry forests of Madagascar. The nymphs are covered in white wispy waxy tendrils that curve above the young insect’s body. These waxy sticky nymphs are most unappealing to birds. Of course the birds are not interested in inflorescences made of adult insects, either. Both the coral coloured adults and the nymphs pierce the bark of the Liana plant and suck out lots of sweet juices. Nobody is going to disturb these insects, but they can hop anyway.
A taxonomically similar planthopper insect of the genus Issus coleoptratus was the first planthopper species in which the function of the perfect gears in the hind legs of the nymphs was described in 2013 in the journal Science. As Michael Behe relates in his video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iyrga53Cwc4&vl=en Bugs with Gears (Secrets of the Cell with Michael Behe episode. 3), these insect nymphs (young) can jump so quickly and so high that the birds are totally confused. These insects are not a good bet for a bird’s diet.
What a pleasure it is to learn more about wonderful design and the Creation!
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