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No. 5: November 1978

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The Obscure Origin Of Insects And Their Wings

The earliest fossil insect is a wingless springtail found in Scotland's Devonian cherts, which conventional dating schemes tell us are about 350 million years old. Some biologists doubt that springtails should be classified as true insects. In any event, these ancient springtails are considered too specialized to be the ancestors of modern winged insects. The next insects in the fossil record appear suddenly in the Upper Carboniferous (300 million years ago) with fully developed wings. There exists an embarrassing 50-million-year gap between the fossil springtails and the more specialized insects.

Evolution requires that this gap be filled with many random experiments at insect construction, including the first attempts at fashioning wings. Whalley admits the gap and the total mystification of paleontologists about how insects and biological flight first developed. Perhaps, he surmises, wings may have been the natural extrapolation of flap-like outgrowths required for body cooling. Random mutations would have added the muscles needed to orient the flaps and move them to improve circulation!

(Whalley, Paul; "Derbyshire's Darning Needle," New Scientist, 78:740, 1978.)

From Science Frontiers #5, November 1978. 1978-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987