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Deceit as Strategy and Catalyst for Evolution
|by Gaurang Bhatt, MD|
Smell, sound, sight, taste and touch are five common senses which guide living beings in their survival and search for food and mates. Deception by the senses of touch and taste are not a common occurrence. The sense of smell is often the most important in some of the earlier animal phyla and is used by many orchids to deceive male insects (wasps) and make them function as pollination messengers. A number of orchid species utilize this strategy and the tongue orchid secretes a specific chemical, the pheromone of the wasp Lissopimpla excelsa, which wafts into the air and attracts the wasp. Its compound insect eyes see the orchid surface as the color and ultraviolet reflection of the back of a female of its species and it lands and fits snugly into the shape and form of the flower and at times its attempt at copulation even leaves behind its sperm drops on the orchid. It collects the pollen from the plant and flies onwards to be fooled again, to achieve the objective of the orchid, leaving its own female in the state of Laxman’s wife Urmila.
Mastophora cornigera, a species of spider emits the pheromone of a moth species. A male moth is lured to its web by this and subsequently becomes a meal to be sucked by the predator. The hornet Vespa bicolor preys on honeybees. Honeybees when alarmed release a pheromone which is the chemical Z-11-eicosen-1-ol. The hornet is attracted by this scent. The flowers of the plant Dendrobium sinense emit the same chemical to attract hornets which pounce on them and serve to carry its pollen to another plant of the same species.
Later in time animals evolved to have sight as their most prominent sense.
Sight deception maybe passive as in stick insects, butterfly mimicry, striping of zebras, spots on leopards, and blotches on giraffes, to fade in the background by play of light in Africa; and stripes in tigers in Asian jungles. Deceit could be more active as in angler-fish (Lophiiformes) or active and variable in the changing color patterns of cuttlefish and octopuses. The prize goes to the femme fatale (female) fireflies of the genus Photuris which flash the light signals in a frequency pattern which signals and attracts males of a different species. These eager suitors become a meal for the crooked and clever photuris female. An even more interesting form of visual deceit is that by the female cuckoo. It lays a solitary egg in the nest of other birds and the cuckoo chick hatches first before its other nestmate eggs. It then pushes the natural eggs of its foster parents out of the nest and monopolizes the attention and feeding attention of the foster parents for itself alone. Female cuckoos have probably more than ten gene alleles for the color and pattern on their eggs and deposit the egg in the nest of the specific nest of that species of foster parents whose egg color and pattern match those of her own egg color and pattern gene to reduce the chance of the foster parents rejecting the egg of the cuckoo (pretty smart eh). Other visual deceptions tend to convey an appearance of being more sexually attractive or more threatening (see my article on Evolution of Mimicry, Lying And Self-delusion).
During WW2 Britain developed radar which uses radio waves and their reflection to detect airplanes, rockets and missiles in the air. Sonar is the use of sound waves in a similar fashion in the water to detect submarines and launch torpedoes or missiles to destroy them. As is often usual, nature by blind trial and error with retention of beneficial mutations by survival of the fittest over long periods of time, had developed an acuity of hearing to locate prey (rodents in the field) by owls. The eyes of owls are adapted to better night vision but to compensate for the darkness during which they hunt, evolution has given them much more refined hearing. In the case of other nocturnal foragers, bats and dolphins, sonar has evolved. They send out sound waves at regular time intervals and frequencies which impinge on their prey (moths and insects) and are reflected back to the bat ears and serve to locate the flying food which the bat swoops down on and consumes. Radar is used by air defenses to locate enemy planes to aim their anti-aircraft guns and surface to air missiles to destroy the attacking plane. It is said that the Israeli air-force planes which bombed the Iraqi Osirak reactor had to cross the airspace of Saudi Arabia and their pilots spoke Arabic with a Saudi accent to fool the Saudi air defense.
Countermeasures by air planes are like the use of aluminum chaff to divert and fool heat seeking infrared missiles. The movie Airforce One had a scene showing this and the scum bucket leaders of India have ordered VIP use helicopters equipped with such air defenses to protect themselves while leaving their citizens and foreign tourists to be slaughtered without protection or retaliation by the terrorist state of Pakistan and its terrorist leaders, secret services and factions. The US developed its first stealth plane in the F-117 with its specific geometry and radar absorbing non-reflective skin. It has gone on to develop the B-2 bomber and the F-22 Raptor but these are prohibitively expensive. China is developing the JF-17 and Russia (jointly with India) is developing the PAKFA.
Once again nature has beaten our research laboratories as two examples reported in the current issue of Scientific American show. Tiger moths are hunted and eaten by bats using sonar. One species of tiger moth has evolved to emit warning clicks that bats have learned to associate with unpalatable prey. In this the tasty tiger moths have evolved to emit a click similar to one that noxious moths emit and a bat which has had the bitter experience before will give up and seek tastier prey with no defensive sound emission. It is interesting that there is a newt in Oregon whose skin is so poisonous that three campers in whose coffee pot the newt fell in, died after drinking the coffee. Wonder how toxic a Washington newt will be?
An even more double deceit case is that of the caterpillar of the large blue butterfly Maculinea arion. They begin life by eating thyme plants and drop off the plant after the third molt. They emit a chemical signal which makes ants of the species Myrmica sabuleti carry and take the caterpillars into their underground nest, where the caterpillar feeds on the ant larvae for ten months when it metamorphoses into a butterfly. Now that is even one better than the Hindu custom of “Atithi Devo Bhava” (The guest is a god) or the code of Pashtunwali and is in the class of the Hindu myths of King Shibi or that of Kelaiya.
Finally because we humans are a weak but social species with repeated interactions with one another, we have evolved to co-operate but also to deceive and for survival have learned to remember who was nice and helpful and who was nasty and unhelpful. Deceit then becomes not only a strategy but also the stimulus for the relatively rapid increase in our brain size from our common ancestor with chimpanzees. And since attainment of adult brain size in humans at birth would lead to a cephalo-pelvic disproportion during birth, human babies are born helpless and remain so for a longer time than other primates, but attain a bigger and more plastic or malleable post-natal brain in most, but not necessary all cases.
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05/21/2011 14:13 PM
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