This blog is still alive, just in semi-hibernation. When I want to write something longer than a tweet about something other than math or sci-fi, here is where I'll write it.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Dumbass Design™: The Ruby Throated Hummingbird
For the record, I want to say I love hummingbirds. To any hummingbird offended by being included in my Dumbass Design™ series, I am ready at a moment's notice to apologize as profusely as a Republican who has said something untoward about Rush Limbaugh.
Some people who dislike the concept of evolution reject it because of the missing link problem, the idea that if two species have a common ancestor, why doesn't the fossil record show examples of middle steps in between the species? How evolution got from any other bird to hummingbird is very hard to understand. No other bird's flight method is even remotely like a hummingbird's.
This crazy idea of flapping your little wings thousands of times a minute obviously works, but the energy consumption curve is off the charts. The old adage "eats like a bird" is a misnomer. Birds eat a lot for their weight, and hummingbirds much more than most. Their life is endless cycle of flying around really fast so they can eat, so they can fly around really fast, so they can eat, so they can fly around really fast... you get the picture.
And, of course, getting fat isn't an option for them. There are times in the year when birds like sparrows look fat, but it may just be their feathers being all ruffled up. A fat hummingbird isn't going to be able to stay airborne. They are always trim, and given the effort it takes to keep their tiny wings moving, it's easy to see why.
While the hummingbird can be put forward as a question that natural selection is hard pressed to answer, it's also hard to call their lifestyle an example of intelligent design. Like many birds, the ruby throats who spend the spring months in the central United States fly south for the winter. It's the flights that are taking place right now that are a prime example of Dumbass Design™. Many of the ruby-throats, but not all, migrate north by flying across the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the Yucatan Peninsula bright and early one morning, heading north towards Louisiana. The 500+ mile, flown at a speed of about 30 mph, takes most of a day and much more time than there are hours of sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere winter. A critter used to very regular meals usually about a half hour apart decides to go all day and half the night without food to get from Yucatan to the southern U.S., without any way to know if the weather will cooperate, turning down a chance to take the much safer purple route home, staying over dry land pretty much the whole way, with plenty of chances for nice rest stops for nectar. The over the gulf option is fraught with danger. A modest headwind of 5 to 10 mph even for a few hours is fatal.
Why would an intelligent designer make the hummers do something this stupid? Are hummingbirds like gringo college students, spending time in Yucatan getting hammered and engaging in risky behavior? Where's the intelligence in that?