The Descent of Odonata

Odonata is the taxonomical order that is made up of Dragonflies and Damselflies. Complicating matters somewhat, all of Odonata is sometimes referred to as ‘Dragonflies,’ which is why I, at least, am going to differentiate in this post between Odonata, Damselflies, T. (for True) Dragonflies, and the ambiguous, plain Dragonflies, which includes (as you will see) organisms that aren’t classified as Odonata.

What am I talking about? The DpSU from the ICR for October 20 is called Did Dragonflies Really Predate Dinosaurs?, and is as bad as anything else we’ve seen from Mr Thomas all week. While it is possible that, during the recent lengthy drought of articles from him, I became a little less prepared for the… stupidity that B.T. puts out, I still say that this week has been particularly bad.

The T. Dragonfly Sympetrum flaveolum

As you might expect, Mr Thomas has no evidence in favour of Dragonflies not pre-dating Dinosaurs – he is merely attacking the not-inconsiderable evidence that they do. Or rather, he is attacking the fossil record in general, along with the ability of dragonflies to evolve. Dinosaurs don’t actually feature prominently.

The article begins in the style of many DpSUs of the kind I sometimes call Type Io – he mentions here a random article/video about dragonflies, and uses this to go off on a creationism-related tangent, objecting to the following paragraph from the video:

Dragonflies have had a long time to evolve their skills as predators. They have been on the planet for about 300 hundred [sic] million years and predate dinosaurs. They can fly straight up, straight down, hover like helicopters and disappear in a blur.

First, he dismisses the fossil evidence, i.e. that the first Dragonflies appear below the first Dinosaurs in the rocks:

It is true that dragonfly fossils are found in sedimentary rock layers below those containing dinosaurs. However, if most fossils were deposited in just one year by the worldwide Flood of Noah, then the geologic “periods” are not separated by millions of years. Instead, they represent different biomes. In other words, some swamp-dwelling dragonfly habitats were inundated prior to the more terrestrial habitats that contained the dinosaurs, conifers, birds, and mammals that are found together as fossils. But since they show catastrophe and are broad in extent, both the rock layers containing dragonfly fossils and those with dinosaurs appear to have been deposited as phases within the overall Flood year.

This ‘biome’ nonsense is plainly absurd, and is generally recognised as such by (most) creationists, who generally recognise the different geologic layers as different times – although the sum-total of the time-span that they are willing to concede is obviously much shorter. Indeed, they will even take evidence such as raindrops on ground that has later hardened to show that a given geologic layer could not have been laid down by the flood itself. As I have mentioned previously, they have in fact managed to rule out the entire geologic column as being a direct result of the flood, apparently without noticing. It’s possible that Mr Thomas has noticed this, and is backing away from that position to one that is slightly less embarrassingly wrong, but I don’t intend to give him that much credit at this point.

The biomes idea can be shown to be false simply by the existence of the entire geologic column in many places – you simply could not have one ‘biome’ being deposited over the next if they existed concurrently, especially if they contain fossils buried in situ.

In addition, researchers can test the idea that dragonflies evolved their flying skills. Dragonflies were catastrophically buried in mud—which evidently flowed faster than the insects could fly—that later turned to stone.

That doesn’t follow. It’s perfectly possible that the Dragonflies just died, and happened to fall somewhere (perhaps into a perfectly still pond) where they got buried and preserved. Dragonflies fly pretty fast, and mud travelling at that speed most likely has quite a pressure wave in front of it, which could well give the insect a chance to escape. That’s not to say that Dragonflies can not be captured alive by flowing liquid at this speed or any other – I’m merely attacking the suggestion that all fossilisation must happen via flood, and by extension the Great Flood.

If the dragonfly fossils show partially evolved features, then that would support the claim that they might have evolved. But their fossils don’t. Instead, ancient dragonflies are identical in core construction to modern ones. That, of course, supports the idea that they were created perfectly equipped for flight from the beginning.

How identical is identical? There is a stunning variety of T. Dragonflies in existence, if we are talking about them specifically. And if we include Damselflies and go the full Odonata, then this balloons out much further. The point is that Mr Thomas cannot give examples of extant Odonata that is identical to a 300 million year old fossil, which is what is needed before this argument has even has a hope of going anywhere. There is no requirement on life to change its body plan every 50 million years to such a degree that creationists will actually notice. Successful organisms are successful.

In fact, the biggest difference between modern and fossil dragonflies is that many of the fossilized ones were several times larger, some having wingspans of over three feet! If anything, dragonflies have “devolved,” not evolved.

Ah, Meganeura and Meganeuropsis. These are the groups that I was alluding to when I mentioned that not all ‘Dragonflies’ were Odonata (though all extant ones are). I’m guessing that there is a reason for them not being in the same order as the modern Dragonflies.

According to the Wikipedia article for the order Meganisoptera, to which those geni (genuses?) belong – Meganisoptera is at the same taxonomic level as Odonata, and comes under the same superorder, although all its members are extinct – there are indeed key features of that order that make them separate:

The fore and hind wings are similar in venation (a primitive feature) except for the larger anal (rearwards) area in the hind wing. The fore wing is usually more slender and slightly longer than the hind wing. Unlike the true dragonflies, they had no pterostigma, and a somewhat simpler pattern of veins in the wings.

There you go then. Not only can you not say that Meganisoptera has ‘devolved’ to the modern Odonata, as it is not ancestral to it, even if they were there are still clear differences. An organism is not more ‘evolved’ just because it is bigger – in fact, as giantism is likely a result of a higher oxygen content in the air, if an organism manages to survive (albeit in smaller form) when the levels decrease than that may well mean that the smaller version has had to ‘evolve,’ even by the creationist definition which apparently requires ‘information gain’ or somesuch.

So, there is no fossil evidence whatsoever that dragonfly flight evolved.

Yes there is. You’re just trying to ignore it.

In fact, since fossilized and living dragonflies share the same structure, they show no sign either of millions of years or of evolution.

Wrong, very wrong.

This is because, like man-made flying machines, dragonflies were also recently and purposely designed.

That is what we call a ‘non sequitur.’ Quite a large one, in fact.


On a related note, view the video in the link above – there’s an interesting shot of a T. Dragonfly with a damaged wing still successfully catching its prey.

“What use is half a wing?”

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6 thoughts on “The Descent of Odonata

  1. Interesting there is no mention of the quote “engineers are looking to the dragonfly for inspiration…” in the article.

  2. Pingback: IEE: What’s in a Number? (6-12) « Eye on the ICR

  3. Pingback: O Canada! « Why Evolution Is True

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