Believe it or not

By Carl Wieland CREATION.COM

Kamikaze caterpillars

caterpillar

When under attack by leaf-munching insects, many plants start manufacturing special substances which act as chemical signals to attract other species that prey on the leaf-eaters. The advantages to the plant's ability to survive are obvious, so evolutionists will of course point to natural selection as solely responsible for the phenomenon.

Researchers were puzzled, however, to discover an unusual aspect to the story in the case of tobacco plants attacked by moth caterpillars.1

It normally takes a few hours at least for such signal chemicals to be produced. Yet the caterpillar's enemies, called 'big-eyed bugs', came almost immediately, sensing the chemicals normally released straight away from any leaf damage. These chemicals are called green leafy volatiles (GLVs). They are released from the leaf irrespective of what is causing the damage, i.e. whether by a knife, or a caterpillar's bite. But the big-eyed bugs only came when the GLV release was caused by caterpillars. So how could they tell the difference?

The GLVs come in two varieties or 'isomers', Z and E.2 Experiments showed it was the Z/E ratio that enabled the bugs to tell the difference between 'normal' leaf damage and a caterpillar bite. So what changed this ratio to alert the bugs? Researchers found that it was not the plant, but the caterpillars themselves that rang the dinner bell for the bugs. The ratio is changed by caterpillar saliva, which converts much of the Z- to E-GLVs.

This "weird and novel twist" is seen as a conundrum, because natural selection3 would be expected to act against something which makes an organism less fit to survive.

1 Fields, H., Caterpillars sign their own death warrants, www.sciencemag.org, 26 August 2010.

2 Note for chemistry buffs: Z means that the most important groups are on the same side of a double bond, from German zusammen = together. E means they are on the opposite side, from entgegen = opposite.

3 A factual, though ultimately non-creative, process—see creation.com/muddy.

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