Saturday, July 7, 2012

Comic Evolution




For my entire adult life I have believed the theory of evolution. Darwin, natural selection, random mutations, the whole shebang. Until yesterday. Yesterday I learned about Coryanthes speciosa, an orchid that shook my confidence in the theory of evolution to its foundation.

Coryanthes speciosa is an epiphytic orchid that comes from the jungles of northern South America. It has a rather unique method of convincing insects to carry its pollen from plant to plant. Rather than attracting bees/moths/birds/etc. with scents and/or food (nectar and pollen), it gets the euglossine bee to do its procreative dirty work by providing it with a sex lure. Let me explain. Apparently the Coryanthes speciosa flower produces a scent that is attractive to male euglossine bees. The bees come to the flower, attracted by this scent, and there they collect a waxy substance which emits a scent that is attractive to female euglossines. But, they still haven’t pollenated the flower. The wax that the bees want is secreted from a bonnet shaped structure at the top of the flower. Below there is a bucket filled with liquid. Sometimes a bee will slip and fall, landing in the pool. But this is not a carnivorous flower. The bee does not drown. Once having fallen into the pool at the bottom of the flower, the only way out is to crawl through a small tunnel leading to freedom. But, along the way the bee must rub against a structure inside the tunnel that attaches a package of pollen to the bee’s back.

After emerging, the bee is soaking wet. He must sit and wait to dry off before he can fly away. During this time, the pollen is also able to dry. Now, presumably he hasn’t gotten enough wax yet to attract a mate, so when he is dry he must go to another flower to get more. If, while gathering wax at a different flower he is again so clumsy that he falls into the pool, then he will again need to climb out through that flower’s escape tunnel. Along the way a different structure within the tunnel will grab the dried pollen sacks from the back of the bee, thereby pollenating the flower. I am told that euglossine bees don’t fall into the liquid pool very often, and rarely do so twice. As a result, Coryanthes flowers are almost never fertilized.

I don’t care how badly you want to believe in the theory of evolution, that is just ridiculous. One can’t learn about Coryanthes fertilization without shaking your head and saying “Uh, uh. No way.” There is no way that could have evolved through random mutation and natural selection. On the other hand, anyone that would call it “intelligent design” is clearly either demented or Rube Goldberg. Evidently we need a radical new theory to explain the diversity of life on earth, and I am here to provide it: Comic Evolution.

The Theory of Comic Evolution is an outgrowth of the Church of God the Comic. Members of the Church of God the Comic believe that God and his buddies created the universe in order to get a good laugh. Comic Evolution suggests that all things (plants, animals, and natural forces) evolve to produce the most ridiculous result. Furthermore, this process is not entirely random. If things aren’t behaving strangely enough, God and his troop of merry mischief makers will intervene to maximize absurdity.

One can imagine them sitting around on a boring day screwing around with reproductive systems. Shecky, the Archangel of Orchids, says “Hey, God, check this out! I made an orchid that can only reproduce if a particular kind of bee is very clumsy.  Bwaaaa, haaaa, haaa, haaa.” To which God replies, “Yea, verily, that is droll. But while you were piddling around with your flowers, look what I did to these mammals; I turned the bit where the male excretes urine into his sexual organ! Now he has to convince the female of his species to let him insert it into her to deposit packets of DNA.  Woo hoo!  Hilarity ensues.”  The other Archangels roll on the floor laughing as Shecky slinks away with his Coryanthes to hide it in some jungle trees.

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