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The Evolution of Flying Squirrels

I never quite believed in the evolution of flying squirrels from regular squirrels (i.e., by increasing skin folds that allowed for better and better gliding) until I watched this video:

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43 Responses to The Evolution of Flying Squirrels

  1. The Timeless Daydream

    It may have been a daydream,
    Though a daydream, it did not seem,
    But for sure, of ordinary I no longer stayed,
    As this grand facade of my vision did fade,
    And as my very soul ,into the sky ,fell,
    My sense of time, no longer ,could I tell,
    Then with newfound wings at my hearts helm,
    I went soaring through Celestial realm,
    Curving arcs through richly blue sky,
    Around islands of brilliant white clouds did I fly,
    With mirth, I lay upon a cloud to indulge a nap,
    Though my energy was in no way sapped,
    Then Strangely, I went into a daydream within my daydream,
    Though a daydream within my daydream, it did not seem,
    For as the celestial sky from my vision did fade,
    Yet into a Higher realm did my soul wade,
    I found myself in a indescribably beautiful place,
    Bathed in warmth and happiness, in love’s special Grace,
    I was in the presence of a Being of pure utter Bliss,
    Tis a feeling on earth I do sorely miss,
    From this paradise I was gently awoken,
    As a wise word into my ear was spoken,
    “The worship of higher and higher above,
    Is to Love with a higher and higher Love”

  2. One thing you don’t account for is death by falling. Those guys will probably die doing that foolish stunt. How many squirrels died jumping out of trees before some of them found out that they were lucky enough to have mutant extra skin to let them glide?

  3. That isn’t flying like a bird. This, is flying like a bird, and I know, because I’ve done it more than 1,500 times since 1973.

  4. jehu:

    How many squirrels died jumping out of trees before some of them found out that they were lucky enough to have mutant extra skin to let them glide?

    Having once owned a pet squirrel, and having observed squirrels in my back yard with fascination I can assure you that jumping between trees is normal squirrel fare. As such, squirrels have plenty of opportunity to miss a jump already. As it turns out, baby squirrels practice their jumps in a fail-safe manner, finding out what their particular capacity is. If one is born with a bit of an advantage, he will learn how to use that advantage. If another doesn’t have the advantage, he will learn to make smaller jumps.

    Sorry Jehu, but this challenge to darwinism doesn’t fly.

  5. As soon as someone removes the part where you have to jump off a cliff and somehow not fall to your death that will catch on with a whole lot of people really quick. Maybe people could put those suits on and go into a wind tunnel or something.

  6. Heh. This is as funny a post as I’ve seen here!

  7. The linked video was absolutely awe inspiring. As someone who has skydived (never base jumped, to my regret) I can testify to the exhilaration and physical freedom experienced by freefall. It’s an experience unparalleled by any other.

    This video takes it to an entirely new level. There is something inexplicable about this type of epxerience, about the human spirit’s need to crash against the boundary. This isn’t recklessness, it’s a pursuit of something beyond what we’re ‘supposed’ to be able to do, like flying 600+ MPH at 30,000 feet, or bursting the boundary of outer space.

    I’m constantly pleased, but not yet surprised, by what the human spirit desires — to press beyond the possible, and to experience a hint of what life is really designed to be.

  8. bFast,

    Sorry Jehu, but this challenge to darwinism doesn’t fly.

    Ouch! Couldn’t resist the pun could you?

    Those flying squirrels are pretty cool, but I doubt there is any selective advantage to being only able to glide slightly further than the other squirrels.

  9. Jehu,
    “Those flying squirrels are pretty cool, but I doubt there is any selective advantage to being only able to glide slightly further than the other squirrels.”

    This is called an argument by poverty of the imagination. I find it easy to imagine a set of environmental conditions which may confer a selective advantage on better gliders. Remember, it’s not only about survival, but about improved adaptability to a changing environment.

    Or who knows, maybe gliding further was just more fun, and the fun squirrels made more attractive mates (which I guess could be construed as an adaptive response within the mating environment).

  10. MacT

    I found it quite candid of you to admit how important it is to have a rich imagination when it comes to having faith in evolution by chance & necessity.

    Faith is for religion. Facts are for science.

  11. The “end game”, of parachuting safely back to earth, raises the question:

    Which evolved first, the “web-wings” or the parachute?

  12. DaveScot:

    A rich imagination is important when it comes to doing science. Sometimes the intuitive answers are not the correct ones.

    “Faith is for religion. Facts are for science.”

    I agree 100%. Whatever creative imagination has to offer in doing science, it’s only useful if it is bound by facts.

  13. Off topic:

    Cholera’s Lines Of Communication Broken By Princeton Scientists
    Main Category: Infectious Diseases / Bacteria / Viruses News
    Article Date: 15 Nov 2007 – 3:00 PST

    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/88885.php

    Special note:

    A team of Princeton scientists has discovered a key mechanism in how bacteria communicate with each other, a pivotal breakthrough that could lead to treatments for cholera and other bacterial diseases.

    The mechanism is a chemical that cholera bacteria use for transmitting messages to each other, known as CAI-1, and has been isolated in the lab of molecular biologist Bonnie Bassler. Her team has shown that the chemical also can be used to disrupt the communication that exists among the bacteria, potentially halting the disease’s progress. The discovery could lead to an entirely new class of antibiotics.

  14. MacT you stated:

    This is called an argument by poverty of the imagination. I find it easy to imagine a set of environmental conditions which may confer a selective advantage on better gliders. Remember, it’s not only about survival, but about improved adaptability to a changing environment.

    So that’s how the giraffe got its long neck and whales came from some hippo like land mammals!

    Dang MacT, why didn’t I see all this conclusive proof before.

    Guess I just have to forget all those pesky molecular details and accept such conclusive proof as you got there.

    But seriously MacT, what is the “Edge of Evolution”? Is it orders? Is it Families? Or do you believe bacteria can actually become flying squirrels

  15. MacT

    You’re doing great. We have the fact that evolution by chance & necessity can cause small changes. It is imagined that the same mechanism accounts for big changes. How can the imagined mechanism be disconfirmed?

  16. DaveScot

    “How can the imagined mechanism be disconfirmed?”

    Here’s one way: Sticking to the facts, show a single example of the introduction of new biological information that can be shown to not conform to the known mechanisms of evolutionary biology.

  17. This is called an argument by poverty of the imagination. I find it easy to imagine…

    Is that what it’s called? Imagine that.

    It seems to me that you can call imagining things whatever you like and it will still be one of the lowest forms of knowledge imaginable. Yet those who engage in Darwinian reasoning claim very high levels of knowledge, sometimes equating their reasoning with Newtonian reasoning or even basic empirical facts. They seem to claim the highest yet when it comes down to it they are engaged in the lowest. Oddly, there is a form of safety in being able to crawl back into hypothetical goo at any given time. One can propose a specification as if it is so, yet given the nature of human imagination it will comport with and “explain” all observations with respect to biological form and characteristics. That’s because it was never a specified form of reasoning about form leading to knowledge about reasons for the formations of things and how form comes into being. For example, if squirrels have a flap of skin which is functional then then that is explained, if they do not then that is also explained just as the whole form labeled “squirrel” is explained no matter what its form is. Or, if you ever stop imagining things, you could try thinking of it this way, what form could squirrels possibly fit which would fall outside of Darwinian “explanation”/imagination. Perhaps if they had a little horn on their head which seemed to be formed exactly like that of another organism? Or perhaps eyes just like a chameleon’s? For how would such a convergence in the form of an eye be created by being blindly filtered by natural selection? And how do you imagine that blindly filtering and preserving fit forms, creates forms and their recognition by sight at any rate?

    At any rate, I don’t know who started the “argument by summarizing arguments” but it isn’t actually much of an argument itself. For example, in one of his books Dawkins goes on about the “argument from personal incredulity” as if the mere fact that he can summarize an argument or point out that arguments are created and supported by persons does away with the notion that some things are incredible, improbable or impossible. Ironically, improbability and things of this sort can be measured and logically transferred/communicated to other persons given a philosophy of transcendence, while the way he engages in imagining things in subjective ways based on a philosophy of immanence that seems natural to him cannot be. Ironically, summarizing the other fellow’s argument and imagining that it is a “personal” matter seems to apply to him and his immanent brain events more than anyone else. At any rate, some things are actually incredible and can be objectively specified to be impossible even if those who are credulous and gullible enough to believe in mythological narratives of naturalism make a habit of imagining otherwise.

  18. bornagain77

    “Dang MacT, why didn’t I see all this conclusive proof before.”

    I was not being snide. There are good accounts of the evolutionary pathways, including intermediate forms, for the examples you cite (giraffe, whale) in the literature. It’s interesting that you indirectly refer to Behe. Perhaps someone (DaveScot?) here who is thoroughly familiar with Behe’s writing can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Behe has stated categorical acceptance of common descent in evolution. Really, regardless of one’s views on origins, there is no serious debate in the scientific community about this point.

  19. bornagain77, the article didn’t mention anything about ID. Do you know if the researchers who made this discovery ID friendly or involved in the ID community? That is the sort of thing the ID movement needs, significant scientific discoveries and medical advancements. Those are the kinds of things that make people stop and pay attention.

    Tim

  20. Tim,

    I love this breakthrough and I believe these are the types of things that an ID friendly science community would see from pro ID scientists.

    I really don’t know about the scientists personal beliefs who made the breakthrough, but hard evidence is hard evidence no matter where it comes from.
    The reason I like this breakthrough so much is that it points to a oft neglected facet of life that is powerful to the ID way of thinking. That is the facet of the integrated whole of life working in mutual harmony for each others benefit. i.e. all pieces of life fit together into a complex mosaic of life.

    This symbiotic principle of integrated interdependence is why I believe the “Designer” rapidly wipes the entire slate clean from time to time in the fossil record, only to, after an average of ten million years of sparsity, just as rapidly reintroduce a whole different spectrum of interdependent life.

  21. Jehu:
    “How many squirrels died jumping out of trees before some of them found out that they were lucky enough to have mutant extra skin to let them glide?”

    The real answer is none. Unless the jump was close enough to ground. The rest die or break.

    BFast: Your response to this missed the point details. We’re not talking jumping from branch to branch or tree to tree – we’re talking “jumping out of trees” all together. Very different.

    ‘Flying’ squirrels do both.

  22. MacT:
    “Faith is for religion. Facts are for science.””

    That’s the materialist view for those who have no understanding of either religion or real faith.

    Real faith – even the religious kind, requires evidence. One does not adhere to faith in Christ, for example, by mere hearsay. It needs enough historical and current evidence to require belief. This the bible states everywhere.

    There is no false faith as great as that of Darwinists and atheists. They require very few facts, just a lot of sophistic conjecture based on assumptions.

  23. I need to correct my first response #19. It should read “The real answer is all” – I inverted the question and responded too quickly. Sorry.

  24. How does the “argument from proverty of imagination” relate to the term “scientific skepticism?” It is my impression that whenever a novel idea is presented in a paper, it is assumed to be untrue until it has shown convincing evidence (usually by withstanding certain amounts of falsification).

    Wouldn’t it be true to say that all reviewers of papers start out with the argument by proverty of imagination to begin with and call it scientific skepticism?

  25. I would have to see the genetic evidence to be sure, but from the pictures in this video, I think there is way too much novel information in the flying squirrel for it to be a sub-species of any other “plain” squirrel.

    http://video.google.com/videop.....;plindex=3

  26. Jehu:

    Those flying squirrels are pretty cool, but I doubt there is any selective advantage to being only able to glide slightly further than the other squirrels.

    Whether very small selective advantages can be selected for or not is a question. I would certainly love to see experimental proof that it can — and such experimental proof should be available. That said, the neo-Darwinian theory very well holds that small advantages will be selected for. The ID community has not provided experimental evidence to falsify this claim. As such, one must give the neo-Darwinians the benefit of the doubt.

    If small advantages can be selected for, then with squirrels anything that allows them to leap farther will be used by them. As far as the question of jumping out of trees goes, well, my observations are that squirrels are quite happy to jump down about 10 feet from a tree limb to the ground. If a squirrel with a slightly different skin configuration gets some wind control and can jump from twelve feet he has the kind of advantage that the darwinian model proposes as the pathway to all of life’s diversity.

    Bottom line, if the best arguments that the ID community has to challenge neo-Darwinism is an argument from incredulity re: fly ing squirrels, well, then our case is whimpy. I like Behe’s question of where the edge of evolution lies. I am quite prepared to believe that RM+NS is actually capable of making flying squirrels out of non-flying squirrels. In the ID discussion, this is hardly the hill that we should be prepared to die on.

  27. Borne:

    “Faith is for religion. Facts are for science.””

    That quote is from DaveScot, not from me.

    I am in complete agreement with him, however.

    You said: “There is no false faith as great as that of Darwinists and atheists. They require very few facts, just a lot of sophistic conjecture based on assumptions.”

    You also said: “One does not adhere to faith in Christ, for example, by mere hearsay. ”

    I’m gonna make a bit of a leap here and assume you think of most scientists as “Darwinists and atheists.” Is that something you adhere to by faith, or by evidence?

  28. Those wing suits are amazing. And to think, it was all just an accident… a worker just accidentally forgot to trim some fabric. ‘Cuz you know… it’s not “scientific” to suggest it was intentional, that those “extra folds of fabric” were designed for a particular purpose.

  29. bfast:
    “That said, the neo-Darwinian theory very well holds that small advantages will be selected for. The ID community has not provided experimental evidence to falsify this claim. As such, one must give the neo-Darwinians the benefit of the doubt.”

    Finch beaks growing, then shrinking back, comes to mind with regards to very small advantages and their import.

    As for squirrels – Just exactly how did larger skin between the legs get there? Why didn’t it grow out their back legs (or their chests…) instead?
    As always a 1000 assumptions must be made in the Darwinian scenario before it even gets off the ground!
    The problems involved are far more complex than just larger areas of skin in the right places. A few might be:
    How do the squirrels minds ‘know’ that they may now glide w/o simply falling?
    Is it something they learn from parents or instinctive?
    Is it something that requires more advanced mechanisms of balance in 3 dimensions?
    Glide aerodynamics?
    How many new brain, muscle and nerve functions are involved?
    I don’t see squirrel to gliding squirrel as a huge ID hurdle (if were really a question of mod/descent), but still…gradualism has been proven wrong.
    Darwinists, like the Pharisees of old, sift out gnats while swallowing camels all the time.

  30. bFast,

    Whether very small selective advantages can be selected for or not is a question. I would certainly love to see experimental proof that it can — and such experimental proof should be available.

    Part of problem is that the Darwinist argument is a tautology. A selective advantage gets selected by definition. How do you prove that a trait not getting selected is a slight advantage?

  31. Jehu,

    There are actually several recent studies in the area of experimental evolution, looking at “first steps in adaptive walks”. These studies generally look at fitness advantages of mutations in bacteriophage. They have found that in some experiments multiple mutations with fitness advantages will arise during the course of the study but generally only one will fix. Many of these are equally advantageous. I think this may get at your question.

  32. jdd,

    All beneficial mutation studies are suspect.

    Usually, In order to get the a “beneficial” mutation to fix, the environment must be manipulated in order to put “stress” on the bacteria to “evolve”. Yet, time after time, when the normal “living” environment is reestablished the original bacteria will out-compete the “evolved” bacteria. In fact the further a bacteria is “evolved” away from the original bacteria the more quickly it is out competed by the original. In fact, the super-bacteria in hospitals that have acquired multiple resistance to multiple antibiotics are commonly known to be super-wimpy when forced to compete with the original bacteria.

    The main point to this being, is that beneficial mutations, if they even exist at all, which I believe they don’t, always turn out to decrease fitness when forced to compete in the wild with original bacteria.

    As well jdd

    http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/...../19/9/1637

    of special note:

    “Almost without exception, bacteria isolated from ancient material have proven to closely resemble modern bacteria at both morphological and molecular levels.” Heather Maughan*, C. William Birky Jr., Wayne L. Nicholson, William D. Rosenzweig§ and Russell H. Vreeland ; (The Paradox of the “Ancient” Bacterium Which Contains “Modern” Protein-Coding Genes)

    jdd, as such, the belief in beneficial mutations, in living organisms, actually seems to be based on blind faith in Darwinism than any actual concrete evidence that can withstand scrutiny.

  33. Jehu, “How do you prove that a trait not getting selected is a slight advantage?”

    A good question, an inquisitive question. A genuinely scientific question.

    I have been brainstorming “how do you prove” for the last day or so. I wonder what would happen if you studied the DNA of the flying squirrel, and of its nearest non-flying cousin. Could you find a single mutation event (point mutation, duplication etc.) that produces some amount of webbing between the front and back limbs. If you can’t, this would not bode well for NDE. If you can, then you should be able to experiment.

    If you induce this mutation into a non-flyer, he should have some webbing between his limbs. If you then take an area of flying squirrel habitat, say a square mile, and isolate it from all squirrels (that might be a challenge) then place a bunch of regular squirrels, and a bunch of “flying mutants” into the forest and watch them grow. If NDE is right, the flying mutants should begin to dominate the forest. If they don’t it would be difficult to claim that exactly that happened in nature.

    I know this would be a big experiment, however I am of the mind that the NDE perspective is presented as fact with very little controlled experimentation to support it. Alas, if NDE really wants to be recognized as fact, the scientific community must solve the riddle of first life, and must experimentally prove that more difficult developmental phenomenon, such as the bacterial flagellum, are possible via chance + necessity. Those will be much harder to do than proving the evolvability of the flying squirrel.

  34. Folks,

    I’ve posted several replies, but they continue to be “awaiting moderation.” I assume this is a glitch in the system, nothing I can do about it.

  35. BA77,

    A couple of things. First, I was talking about bacteriophage, not bacteria but that is a small note. Second, in the studies I was talking about, the phage were not placed in a “harsh” environment, they were adapted to a new host. The phage could have sat there unchanging forever waiting for an e-coli to happen by and not died, instead there happen to be several mutations which allowed them to infect a strep bacteria.

    Third, adaptations always refer to the current environment not the ancestral environment. It is true that these adapted phage would probably not due as well on e.coli being adapted to a new host but that is not the point. What was found is that there were several paths which increased fitness on the new host but only one fixed in the end. When the different mutant forms were isolated they all had the same fitness, within measurement error.

    Fourth, I read the article you posted and I don’t see how it is relevant to your point.

  36. jdd,

    The article is very relevant (in fact the evidence in the article is a crucial key) to the whole beneficial mutation debate, because it points to a consistent fact, That fact being that ancient bacteria consistently do not “evolve” as is required by the “molecular clock” of the Darwinian scenario.
    Evolution is absolutely required to have a certain amount of change in bacteria over 250 million years. Yet all change to bacteria is negligible and in fact has been argued to be within the “diversity range” of modern bacteria and thus “just” a modern contaminant(I argue that the slight change just may in fact be due to Genetic Entropy). I find it very interesting that Darwinists require a certain amount of change to DNA even though the morphology was/is expected to remain the same in the bacteria.
    Yet what is found time after time when the bacteria are tested…NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGE!!

    If you read the paper, then you see how they try to go through all sorts of contortions trying to get the evidence to fit a evolutionary scenario. (And fail)

    But the fact remains that the evidence fits the ID/Genetic Entropy mo^del to a tee and could very well falsify the evolutionary hypothesis is the evidence is pressed by ID advocates to its fullest.

    The paradox is so overwhelming that , even though the test they preformed are rigorous and consistent with many fail safe checks, “they can’t believe what their eyes are seeing” and say the evidence just very well may be a modern contaminate. (Can’t doubt good ole’ Darwinian evolution can they?)

  37. BA77,

    the question from Jehu was “How do you prove that a trait not getting selected is a slight advantage?”. The experiments that I was talking about showed that several mutations arose and then tested the fitness of each mutation and found that several were advantageous but only one was “selected” that is fixed. This shows how you can show that a trait not being selected is advantageous.

    The paper you posted shows that some bacteria that lives in a layer or rock thought to be 250MYA has a few genes that have not changed much since it diverged from it’s ancestor. I don’t see how this is at all relevant to the question that was asked.

  38. jdd,

    Overall in the big picture, Your papers are asserting that beneficial mutations do indeed happen and that they may become permanently fixed “if the environment changes permanently”. (They, a-priori, believe evolution is true in other words)

    I hold that more information will never arise by natural processes once the bacteria have been designed, and that all adaptations away from original bacteria to new environments (although advantageously selected for) will always come at a cost of the highly integrated, poly-funtional and poly-constrained, information in the original bacteria (The paper I cited supports my position in dramatic fashion; no significant change in 250 million years though the environment has surely fluctuated). I point out, that my position is also consistently upheld with many other test (antibiotic resistance, nylon adaptation, heavy metal adaptation, etc..etc.. have all been analyzed and shown to always occur at a cost of information in the original bacteria) Whereas your position requires a “belief” that the environment change is permanent and that the mutation is truly beneficial through and through. I maintain that your test (papers) will be found to overlook complex symbiotic relationships that are in fact detrimentally affected when the “beneficial” mutation occurs.

    You stated:
    The paper you posted shows that some bacteria that lives in a layer or rock thought to be 250MYA has a few genes that have not changed much since it diverged from it’s ancestor.

    jdd, you used the words SOME and FEW, this test IS NOT an anomaly, it is a consistent finding;

    “Almost without exception, bacteria isolated from ancient material have proven to closely resemble modern bacteria at both morphological and molecular levels.” Heather Maughan*, C. William Birky Jr., Wayne L. Nicholson, William D. Rosenzweig§ and Russell H. Vreeland ; (The Paradox of the “Ancient” Bacterium Which Contains “Modern” Protein-Coding Genes)

    The point being is that your paper is not rock solid conclusive proof for beneficial mutations being proven true, by a long shot, and should not be taken as such, as you are in fact doing.

  39. jdd

    the question from Jehu was “How do you prove that a trait not getting selected is a slight advantage?”. The experiments that I was talking about showed that several mutations arose and then tested the fitness of each mutation and found that several were advantageous but only one was “selected” that is fixed. This shows how you can show that a trait not being selected is advantageous.

    I didn’t see where you posted a link to a paper. And I am curious to know how you determine the fitness of a mutation that does not get selected. Also, you are aware that bacteriophages are viruses and as such cannot reproduce on their own? Think about it.

  40. Off Topic; Here is a song for everyone who is writing a book;

    http://video.google.com/videop.....;plindex=0

  41. Ordinary squirrels have been observed to fall from great heights with little or no injury.

  42. Hu,

    Ordinary squirrels have been observed to fall from great heights with little or no injury.

    Interesting. So a little extra skin would provide even less of a selective advantage.

  43. Considering the overlap of subject matter I ended up addressing flying squirrels here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-150893

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