You know who wanted to see evolution in action? Katydid.

The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 8 2011 7:00 AM

You know who wanted to see evolution in action? Katydid.

A few nights ago, my wife went outside for a moment, only to come running back in a minute later, grabbing me. "Phil, come out here, you have to see this!"

So I went out, and she pointed out this lovely lady to me:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I recognized it right away: a katydid, though that's a fairly generic name. I think that's actually an example of Microcentrum retinerve, or the Lesser Angle-winged Katydid (though it's possibly Microcentrum rhombifolium; it's hard to tell in these pictures*). They're pretty common in North America, though usually not this far west from what I can tell. It was roughly 5 - 7 cm long, and quite pretty. I suspect this one is female because there are no brown spots near the tops of the wings, which males have (I wondered briefly if it may have been a nymph, but this late in the season that seems unlikely). I would've checked for an ovipositor, but c'mon, have some respect.

Check out those wings: they look amazingly like plant leaves, which is of course why my wife was so excited. The obvious conclusion is that long ago, the insects like this that had greenish wings with vein-like structures were harder to spot by predatory birds, and were able to pass this characteristic down to their kids (ones that were easier to see got eaten, and didn't get a chance to reproduce as much). Little by little, bit by bit, every time one insect's wings looked a bit more leafy than its siblings it would tend to live longer, and reproduce more. Over thousands, millions, of generations of katydids we get this: an insect that would be incredibly difficult to see from the air. Natural selection at work, my friends. Some people would even call this evolution. I know I would.

A very cool thing to see, and a fun example of how wonderful and subtle nature can be.

But sometimes subtlety is overrated. Wouldn't it have been cooler to see one like this?

[If you like pix of insects, my Hive Overmind co-blogger Ed Yong just coincidentally mentioned the blog Myrmecos by Alex Wild, which has stunning photography.]



* And duh, of course I had to look those names up online. I'm an astronomer, not a bugologist.



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