walking stick, flying stick

Stick insects, famed for their extraordinary ability to look just like, well, sticks, are now famous for something altogether different. They are the first creatures known to have re-evolved the ability to fly. Michael Whiting and his colleagues at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, reported in the Jan. 16 issue of Nature that the insects have lost and re-evolved wings at least four times over the past 300 million years. That’s not supposed to happen: A key evolutionary concept is that once a complex anatomical feature such as a wing or a leg is lost, it can’t come back. The surprising finding comes from DNA data from 37 stick-insect species that was collected as researchers were constructing the creatures’ family tree. Whiting suspects that re-evolution may have taken place in cockroaches and other insects as well. The theory of evolution may undergo a revolution if re-evolution does indeed exist.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 1/28/2003.
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