Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
Science Specialist Ed Yeates reporting Science may have to take a fresh look at the theory of evolution after a Utah study of an insect which can evolve in a way never thought possible.
In fact, it's so amazing - the study appears as the front-page story today in "nature" magazine.
Biologist Michael Whiting and his colleagues at Brigham Young University travel the world collecting insects. They're building a family tree of all the species.
A couple of years ago, they discovered a whole new species of insect. But this latest find is even more remarkable.
This bug we find in many places can reverse evolution - regaining the ability to fly after 50 million years of not having any wings at all.
"For entomologists, for people who study bugs, this is the equivalent of finding what a mammalogist would find if they saw a whale walking along on its hind legs. This is a feature that was lost and later re-evolved in evolution," Whiting says.
Out of the 1.5 million species of insects now identified, this walking stick which dates back about 300 million years is probably one of the more adaptable insects.
The study shows the bug's genetics for growing wings - though it remained flightless for 50 million years - did not disappear but stayed intact ready to sprout them again. In fact, walking stick has done this not just once but multiple times.
This doesn't quite fit conventional thinking that says evolution moves in one direction. Either you USE it or LOSE it.
That's not true anymore.
"Biologists start looking back at their organisms in greater detail. They might in fact see that this is a general trend in evolution which has simply been overlooked up to this point," Whiting says.
For example, the same genetics may be intact in earwigs and cockroaches. Imagine those creatures flying about again. Whiting says the same genetics may linger for making legs or other things as species need them.