Moths navigating by the stars?

Alvesgaspar wikimedia commons pineprocessionarymoth
An adult male pine processionary moth.

Fantastic as it seems, navigation by the stars is likely to be the case for some moths and other creatures.1

Actually, the whole subject of animal navigation is fascinating evidence that it is not only human beings who are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’.

Many creatures perform annual return migrations involving many thousands of kilometres—organisms as different as the green sea turtle, the salmon, and the garden warbler bird.

Many of these feats of navigation are truly amazing, and appear to involve inbuilt, genetically programmed skills. What do these creatures use to orientate themselves, and how do they know when to go? There are still many unsolved mysteries about the mechanisms involved, but research shows that in varying degrees and differing combinations among different species, the following are various factors which may be involved.

Timing migration

Clues to direction

Evolving migration?

Cayambe wikimedia commons blackcap
Male blackcap eating from an olive tree.

The genetic program can vary within a species. Blackcap birds, for instance, migrate in several different directions. If you cross two of these which migrate in separate directions, the hybrid offspring migrate in a separate direction again from either parent. In each instance, they are able to cope by being able to develop a ‘map sense’ using certain landmarks, learning staging areas along the way, and so on.

Of course, where there is variation within genetic information, both breeding and natural selection can act on a population. Research has shown that some blackcaps have undergone a change in their migration patterns in only 30 years.2 This built-in ability for a population to respond and adapt to changing circumstances involves utilizing the built-in programmed information already present in its kind, not ‘evolving’ any extra information. It is crucial in conserving populations of wild animals.

In the case of migration patterns, such flexibility makes great sense. In a devastated, post-Flood world, climate and vegetation patterns would have been changing rapidly for centuries, making it necessary for migratory habits to change. If these populations had been created only with an inflexible ‘map’ and a rigid migration program, with no genetic variation and no built-in potential for ‘learning’, they would have rapidly become extinct. In any case, such a created ‘map’ would have been superseded after the Flood had changed the face of the earth.

References

  1. New Scientist, ‘Inside Science’ supplement #56, 1838, September 12, 1992. Return to text.
  2. Sutherland, L.W., Genes map the migratory route, Nature 360(6405):625–626, 668–670, December 1992 | doi:10.1038/360625a0. Return to text.
  3. (Further reading: Animal Migration, Scientific American Books Inc., 1989.)

New Scientist, ‘Inside Science’ supplement #56, 1838, September 12, 1992.
Sutherland, L.W., Genes map the migratory route, Nature 360(6405):625–626, 668–670, December 1992 | doi:10.1038/360625a0.

(Further reading: Animal Migration, Scientific American Books Inc., 1989.)

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Readers’ comments
Cameron N., United States, 23 August 2017
All the things you've listed above truly speaks wonders to the world that God has created! One of my great artistic loves happens to be video game design and development. Making realistic AI is hard to do. Even more so to create Artificial Intelligence based off of diverging systems and In-depth pre-programmed responses. No wonder Video Game Wildlife systems have yet to be as complex in their portrayal as their real world counterparts. However, studying God's creation does get the creative juices flowing and gives me inspiration to come up with ways to closely mimic it. Though, of course, it will always be a pale imitation.