You thought the bendable teeth were amazing? Get this: In “First evidence for photosynthesis in insects” (Nature, 17 August 2012), Kathryn Lougheed tells us, “Aphids may have a rudimentary sunlight-harvesting system.”:
The biology of aphids is bizarre: they can be born pregnant and males sometimes lack mouths, causing them to die not long after mating. In an addition to their list of anomalies, work published this week indicates that they may also capture sunlight and use the energy for metabolic purposes.
Aphids are unique among animals in their ability to synthesize pigments called carotenoids. Many creatures rely on these pigments for a variety of functions, such as maintaining a healthy immune system and making certain vitamins, but all other animals must obtain them through their diet. Entomologist Alain Robichon at the Sophia Agrobiotech Institute in Sophia Antipolis, France, and his colleagues suggest that, in aphids, these pigments can absorb energy from the Sun and transfer it to the cellular machinery involved in energy production.
It’s not certain, to judge from the article, but it wouldn’t be that surprising. Apparently, the sea slug incorporates algae’s genes and chlorophyll factories (chloroplasts), to produce its own food, like a plant.
It’s not clear why the aphid does this:
Nancy Moran, an insect geneticist at Yale University in West Haven, Connecticut, who was responsible for the original discovery that aphids have the genes for carotenoid production, points out that there are many unanswered questions. “Energy production seems to be the least of an aphid’s problems — their diet is loaded with excessive sugar, most of which they cannot use,” she says.
Prediction: It won’t turn out to be an accident.
Evolution isn’t what it used to be. Never was.