Synopsis Of The Third Chapter Of Nature’s IQ By Balazs Hornyanszky and Istvan Tasi
Mutualism and symbiosis are terms that budding biologists are all too familiar with by the time they begin their university careers. We all learn about the cooperativity that exists amongst many of our world’s creatures and the benefits they can reap from each other’s presence. Goliath groupers that open their mouths to cleaning ‘minions’ such as the blue-streak cleaner wrasse defy deeply held expectations of nature’s ways as do sharks that extend their vicious jaws to pilot fish that then pick out food remnants from between their teeth.
Extraordinary from a predatory perspective is the finding that wrasses and pilot fish are rarely (if ever) eaten by their much larger hosts. Discussions on the evolution of such partnerships leave the non-expert believing that chance mutations could simply turn predator ‘fearers’ into predator ‘lovers’ that naturally bond with their otherwise mortal enemies. Evolutionists weigh in by further supposing that reciprocal mutations led these same enemies to offer VIP treatments to their tasty servants.
Hornyanszky and Tasi nevertheless spare little in their decrial of the evolutionists’ hand-waving ideals. In their own un-minced words “it is nonsensical to suggest that, because of chance mutations, a small fish would suddenly approach a predator without inhibitions with the idea of getting food from its mouth…and that the former predator and prey would then propagate generations of fish that continued this symbiotic relationship” (p.47).
Symbiotic partnerships are of course hot favorites for television naturalists eager to spread their own vision of a world where faunal allegiances are mere products of an overarching process of evolutionary adaptation. No more so than for the Egyptian plover and the voracious Nile crocodile both of which have featured prominently in many a natural history documentary. The plover’s shrieking call, which signals the whereabouts of a potential meal, is an invaluable asset for the Nile crocodile as are the rich, bite-sized pickings on its own skin that supply the plover with its daily food rations.
Other partnerships can be vitally indispensable for the parties concerned. With its own cohort of formic acid-spraying weaver ants, the centaur oakblue caterpillar for example is dutifully protected from its enemies. Without them it would be hopelessly vulnerable. In turn the caterpillar supplies ants with a rich sweet milk, attracting them to its bounty through vibrations and special scents that they can quickly recognize.
Devotees of Pixar’s animated blockbuster Finding Nemo will no doubt tell of the symbiotic lifestyles that unite both the clownfish and the sea anemone. While the anemone’s stinging tentacles are of little consequence to the adult clownfish because of its protective gelatinous coat, the young unprotected fry relies on its instinctive ‘cautious first’ approach to avoid the deadly stings of its newly-found roommate.
And yet the seemingly intractable problem that Hornyanszky and Tasi repeatedly draw attention to in their own consideration of the facts is that of how the integrated cooperativity so visible in such partnerships gradually evolved. How might an ancestral anemone-dwelling clownfish have co-evolved the vitally important cautionary approach of its youth and the equally critical gelatinous covering of its older self? Any ‘half ready’ evolutionary intermediate would have suffered a prompt demise. And how might ancestral weaver ants have evolved a response to the caterpillar’s vibrations and scents as well as the ability to search for its milky secretions? As the authors’ duly note:
“The weaver ants would have no concept of [the caterpillar’s] existence; therefore, they would take no notice of the scent and sound signals emitted by it. And if they had accidentally bumped into each other in the forest, the ants would have ruthlessly torn the novel caterpillar apart. Thus, we can hardly consider their relationship the result of an evolutionary process” (p.53)
A scrumptious wrasse picking inside the mouth of the Goliath grouper is the image that best epitomizes the attack on the Darwinian edifice that Hornyanszky and Tasi lay out in the third chapter of their book. And what a well-orchestrated attack it has turned out to be.
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