Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest (continued 2)
he Case of Mosquitoes
Consider now for instance, the case of a mosquito. There is so much in it to be explained logically and convincingly, that it would require generations of scientists to unfold each mystery attendant upon the exquisite and precise mechanism of all its organs and their constituents. Such a study would remain inexhaustive, because as they reach one level of understanding there would appear yet another level waiting for them to unravel its mysteries.
No wonder therefore, that the Holy Quran singles out this small miracle of God's creation to make people see the greatness of His creative wonders. Even in the modelling of a mosquito, which the humans look down upon as a small insignificant thing, there is nothing for the Creator to be ashamed of. Let us build this theme further and share with the reader the intricacies of this flying machine, which may put to shame even the best achievements of the most advanced masters of technology.
Let us begin with the Quranic account of a mosquito which is so different from that of all other animals. It is the only animal which is mentioned with an emphatic denial that its creation could present any cause for embarrassment to its Creator. Thus declares the Quran:
Allah does not feel shy (or embarrassed) at mentioning the example of a mosquito because of what is carried above it . . . 7
Here the word ( ) fauq literally means 'above'.* Yet other translators have not employed its literal meaning. The evident reason why they did not do so is because they had no knowledge that mosquitoes do carry things above them.
The following are some of the questions which stir the reader's mind. At least the author has always been intrigued by the implied message of this verse.
The very first question which stirs the mind is why should God deny any cause to be ashamed of for creating mosquitoes. Nowhere else in the Quran is such a denial made in relation to any other creation; everywhere it is mentioned with pride. Is the exceptional treatment of the mosquito's creation, as found in this verse, indicative of the fact that the Quran draws the attention of the reader to the apparent worthlessness of the mosquito? The denial of an element of shame or embarrassment related to the creation of a worthless thing is in fact a denial of worthlessness itself. The denial invites the attention of man to reconsider his attitude towards mosquitoes. It indicates the following implied statements:
(a) the mosquitoes are not worthless and insignificant as commonly understood, and
(b) they play an important role which is not as yet fully understood and needs to be further investigated.
When investigated, it is admitted, the role of the mosquito will emerge to be extremely harmful and horrendous. Yet despite this admission, the element of shame related to this harmful creation is emphatically denied. It is denied because to perform this negative role mosquitoes had to be built precisely to be able to fulfil this purpose. Secondly the mosquito's function, though negative in character, must have played a vital role in the scheme of creation. As such the inevitability of the mosquito's creation and the perfection with which it is accomplished has to be understood as a mark of pride rather than a mark of shame for its Creator. The inference we have drawn can only be proved right if mosquitoes display some exceptional constructional beauty which is even more wonderful than that found in the creation of other forms of life. And again, the role of mosquitoes in the general scheme of life and its evolution has to be that of a blessing in disguise—a discovery yet to be made by scientists. Presently, we can only suggest that mosquitoes may have played a vital role in developing and perfecting our immune system—a role which it still continues to play.
The possibility of all the above-mentioned implications of this verse to be simultaneously correct led the author to an in-depth study of mosquitoes, their anatomy and the role they perform in the animal kingdom—a task which is far more complex and difficult than it had appeared in the beginning. Most of the available literature on mosquitoes fails to explain the evolution of its organs—an omission which has especially attracted the author's attention. In many other cases, the results of their excellent study are available which describe the evolution of animal parts with minute attention. We have relied heavily on this material in the following discourse which testifies to the truth of the Quranic claim that mosquitoes are no ordinary things. Further research into the evolutionary aspect of the mosquito's creation is already taken up by a competent team of Ahmadi scholars from America and Canada. This, however, is a time-consuming process and as the publication of this book cannot wait till then, we have decided to finish this work with the help of whatever material is available.
The apparently insignificant minute mosquito is perhaps the most important insect in relation to man and other forms of life. Mosquitoes are thought to have originated in the Cretaceous period (65–140 millions years ago)8, when most of the modern taxonomic group of insects co-evolved with the origin of flowering plants. It is also speculated that mosquitoes may have originated in the Jurassic period (136–190 million years ago). As mammals were not created till then they must have sucked blood from reptiles, amphibians, primitive forms of mammals, or even perhaps from dinosaurs. This urge for blood, as conceived by the naturalist to have occurred during such a remote period of their creation raises many questions. Why had they developed this urge at all, when even without it they had survived for a very long period merely on vegetable produce? There were no flowering plants in that period so they may have fed mainly on honeydew.9
Mosquitoes are small two-winged insects belonging to the family Culicidae of the order of Diptera (two-winged flies). They essentially differ from all other flies by a long proboscis projecting from the head and some other features which are unique to them—like the presence of scales on the wing veins, a fringe of scales along the posterior margin of wings, and a characteristic venation whereby the second, the fourth, and the fifth longitudinal veins are branched.
Like other Diptera they undergo a complete metamorphosis during their reproduction, but many features of their metamorphosis are strikingly different from other flies. An active larva hatches from a passive egg bearing no resemblance to its parents, fully adapted to living and feeding in water.
It is amazing how all the highly competent authorities on mosquitoes, though thoroughly proficient in the knowledge of their anatomy and morphological cycles, do not present any sensible, logically acceptable scenario of natural selection playing any part in the design and manufacture of this tiny wonder of creation.
To modify a non blood-sucking mosquito into a blood-sucking one requires such changes as would take an interminably long period of time if left to chance. For them to develop patiently, bit by bit, each part developing separately yet simultaneously, in perfect coordination with each other, is an amazing proposition. Particularly when one considers that this bit by bit organic development could serve no purpose in the life of a mosquito until it had culminated into its final completely organized and fully developed form. Take for instance the need of the mosquito to find and locate blood. When scientists study this small requirement they discover a complex support system to justify its existence.
The anatomical, sensory and physiological changes needed in a mosquito just for the act of finding a suitable host on which it will feed are tremendous. The mosquito faces the routine task of finding a suitable protein source amidst all the extraneous stimuli with which the environment bombards it. Scientists say the strategy that they have evolved is to:
'...respond to visual cues, heat, and emanations such as carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and volatile fatty acids that are typical of those organisms that contain blood. 10
A further difficulty faced by the mosquito is the fact that chemical odour emanations are dispersed through air currents. Thus the mosquito must navigate an indirect route to the host. As the mosquito comes closer to the host, heat is used by it to home in on the host. During this chain of events in the mosquito's behaviour, a stimulus-response mechanism has to be perfected within it. The mosquito is not consciously seeking a host, but rather responding to stimuli for which it has been pre-programmed. Further complicating the issue is the fact that most mosquitoes are species-specific in their host seeking behaviour. For example, a certain species of mosquito may respond only to the stimuli of a cow and yet not respond to those of a human.
Scientists speculate this behaviour evolved in the Mesozoic era (over sixty-five millions years ago) with
'...the establishment of regular terrestrial dwellings (nests) by reptiles, birds, and mammals...' 11
|Plate 5: A Female Mosquito |
(click to enlarge)
It is suggested by some scientists that the emergence of parental care in birds, mammals and dinosaurs further promoted associations with mosquitoes by providing them well protected and secure habitats. They felt at an advantage in and around nests where the young of the birds were kept. The same applied to the dens of the beasts of the jungle and the habitats of the dinosaurs where they reared their young. This, they suggest, presented opportunities for the mosquitoes to suck the blood of the animals whenever they liked, undisturbed. An amazing suggestion indeed if they mean that this caused the development of the blood-sucking proboscis among female mosquitoes. It can only be taken seriously if it implies that female mosquitoes had already turned into blood-sucking machines before they began to seek easy targets. Either way this conjecture does not serve to provide any methodology which may have been responsible for the evolution of blood-sucking female mosquitoes. It has been observed that if a human host moves within five seconds of the female mosquito landing on it, she will fly off. (See plate 5). Considering the complex chain of instinctive behaviour involved just in the act of locating a host, the chances of an accidental switch to blood feeding seem highly remote.
|Plate 6: Stages of a Feeding Mosquito |
(click to enlarge)
A female blood-sucking mosquito did not require only some complementary changes in its system for finding blood on a host. It also required suitable instruments for piercing skin and locating vessels, and a transport system for the blood to be carried to its storage reservoir which had to be a sac different from the one to which plant nectars are carried—a staple source of nourishment for all mosquitoes, even for the blood-sucking females who need blood only during specific periods. (See plate 6).
As mentioned before, the scientific literature on the issue of mosquito evolution is largely silent. Scientists discussing the origin of various insects, point out that
'...some of the better known groups are highly evolved—parasitic forms such as the Culicidae [mosquitoes]—whose evolutionary origins are obscure.' 12
The cause of this obscurity, they say, is the insufficient fossil record, but that is no justification. They could and should have followed Darwin who studied the living finches of the Galapagos islands and not their fossil record in developing his theory of evolution. Likewise, it should have been possible to analyse the process of mosquito evolution even in the absence of a complete, detailed fossil history. The characteristics of modern mosquitoes as compared to other insects, or of the female mosquito in comparison to the male of the same species, can be studied to determine what steps in evolution must have occurred for the mosquito to have assumed its present form.
Before analyzing the unique characteristics of the mosquito let us very briefly examine the probable scenario for mosquito evolution presently put forth by scientists. They suggest that the mosquito progenitors prior to their feeding on vertebrate blood must have fed on soft-bodied insects. Later on, at some point in their evolutionary history, the adults switched to feeding on vertebrate blood.13 According to this view, the progenitors' mouthparts had already developed similarities to the finally evolved form of mosquito mouthparts. However, it is known that at the larval stage (analogous to the caterpillar stage of a butterfly's life cycle) these insects do not have dependence or association with vertebrate hosts that would have facilitated an evolution toward a blood requirement. Additionally, if dinosaurs were indeed among the very first mosquito hosts, a serendipitous switch from feeding on soft-bodied insects to a feeding behaviour that involved penetration of dinosaur skin would seem all the more improbable. Scientists themselves admit that this process of evolution would have required 'adaptations leading to a radical switch'14 from feeding on insects to feeding on blood. The explanation presented by them in support of this theory is a mere conjecture that these progenitors accidentally started feeding on hosts that frequented their damp, recessed habitats. As will be demonstrated below, the process of blood-sucking requires multiple specializations within the mosquito. In light of all of these interdependent adaptations, it is difficult to conceive of an 'accidental' switch in the feeding behaviour of mosquitoes.
It should be remembered that three major aspects of the female mosquito had to be adapted to the specialized task of feeding on vertebrate blood. Feeding on blood requires adaptations of anatomy and form,
'...such as a development of mouthparts able to penetrate skin; physiological adaptations, such as the proteolytic enzymes for blood digestion; and behavioural adaptations, such as the abilities to find objects that have blood and distinguish them from those that do not.' 15
All this requires immense scientific knowledge and technical know-how.
The blood-sucking ability of a female mosquito, apart from its inbred system of locating the host and homing in on it, requires a host of other highly specialized precision instruments such as the proboscis. In itself the proboscis of a female mosquito is far more wonderful than the seven wonders of the world. It is a masterpiece of an artifact. The entire digestive system of a mosquito in fact, is to be keenly studied to realize that it is no product of the blind forces that model and shape the evolution of life. Returning to the proboscis, even a cursory examination of its construction should be sufficient to dispel the notion that it could have been constructed by natural selection, working patiently at it for over a million or so years. In adult females a proboscis, which is the apparatus for piercing and sucking blood, consists of six elongated parts enclosed in a flexible sheath.
The six include mandibles for cutting through the host's skin. They are blade-like tips which are enclosed within the proboscis and are protruded to its tip only when the mosquito requires a blood meal. Only then are they protruded through the outer tube to make a sharp surgical incision.
Then there is the labrum-epipharynx which during the act of biting, becomes a complete tube called the food canal through which blood is drawn. Whenever the mosquito bites, its saliva is transferred to the wound through the hypopharynx.
There is also a pump to suck and transport the blood into a sort of stomach and to channel the plant nectars separately to the gut.
Expert naturalists maintain that by the selective action of the Cardia, a thickened portion at the anterior end of the mid-gut, blood is admitted directly into the mid-gut. The remaining food such as vegetative juices are led into the diverticula and held there for a while.
The unique salivary glands embedded in the proboscis present a wonder not to be witnessed elsewhere in the entire animal kingdom. But for these glands the entire blood-sucking exercise of a mosquito would have come to naught. In the saliva produced by them is a rare chemical of anticoagulant qualities. Typically, when a blood vessel is ruptured, platelets in the blood rush within a few seconds to start the process of clotting to close the leak. In order to make possible the process of feeding on blood, the female mosquito has within its saliva an enzyme known as apyrase. Apyrase is rare in animal tissues, but the mosquito salivary glands are rich in this enzyme. This chemical counteracts the fast acting chemical response in blood that leads to platelet coagulation.
Even more amazing is the fact that the digestive system of the mosquito and its blood stream is completely protected from this singularly dangerous enzyme. It is utilized exactly where it is needed—just at the point of incision.
Yet it is present in the saliva which is extensively used by a mosquito when it dissolves dried-up plant juice or nectar to render it suckable. It is said that almost a continuous stream of saliva flows from the mouth of a mosquito to facilitate this task, yet apyrase in the saliva is not utilized at all because there is no blood in the juices. All this unutilized apyrase is digested by the mosquito without doing any harm to its own blood circulation. Anyone can see from this that it is not just a game of chance creation on which natural selection is dependent, it is a case of wilful design. The entire negative role that the mosquito plays in the animal kingdom depends just on this factor. If the spitting of saliva containing apyrase into the host bloodstream was not made intuitively essential for female mosquitoes, the immense negative role of spreading disease worldwide among a variety of animals could not be made possible. The entire anatomy of the mosquito seems purpose-built to achieve that objective.
Of the five hundred or so viruses so far known to scientists, almost half that number are found in mosquitoes and about one hundred of them are responsible for spreading disease among humans alone. Some mosquitoes are host-specific for other animal species, yet they too carry viruses which may cause diseases which can also be shared by humans. There are some viruses for instance, which transfer from monkeys to man or vice versa by mosquitoes which feed on both. Mosquitoes may not necessarily be carriers of only one virus, they can carry many simultaneously. Again, they can be strong active vectors in one area while in other areas they may remain idle.
Among the major mosquito-conducted diseases which may be universal or regional, malaria leads them all. Then there are other widely known diseases like filariasis, yellow fever, dengue and encephalitis. The damage done to humans alone, over and above the vast damage caused to other animals, is horrendous. Malaria does not always kill directly but prepares the soil for so many dangerous diseases by disturbing the physiological economy of malarial patients.
The largest killer in the world, malaria is not always identified for the deaths it causes. Many malarial deaths are either not registered at all in Third World countries or not identified as malarial deaths. Many malarial patients die of diseases which result from malarial effects like tuberculosis and pneumonia commonly prevalent in malarial districts. Likewise there are many other diseases which actually relate to malaria because it damages the vital organs of the host resulting in a number of different diseases.
Two species of filariasis are widely transmitted by mosquitoes. Prolonged infection by them may cause elephantiasis both among humans and domestic animals.
Yellow fever, another mosquito transmitted disease, comprises both urban and jungle forms of yellow fever. The latter is transferable from animals to humans or humans to animals by the mosquito vector. The horrors which yellow fever has spelled in human history are but common knowledge. West Africa was called the white man's grave, solely for the presence of yellow fever there.
The colossal worldwide damage done by mosquitoes is not limited to the immense loss of human or animal life alone. The adverse influence of mosquitoes on human economy varies widely from a great loss of working hours in offices, factories or fields to a depression in prices of lands because of their nearness to mosquito habitats. Limitations are also imposed on residential areas in many ways. The history of World War II proves that many important battles were lost or won or the progress of war was seriously hampered because of this tiny, apparently insignificant, animal.
Returning to the subject of natural selection having played any role in this grand, yet bizarre scheme of things, we beg the naturalists to readjust their position regarding the factors which evolved and modelled life. It could be an eye-opener for them to concentrate on just one enzyme called apyrase. What mechanism or creative potential of natural selection could manage to produce this enzyme in the saliva of only female mosquitoes to the exclusion of the males? Again, they are respectfully requested to quote one good reason why and how natural selection could compel female mosquitoes to add a blood meal to their customary vegetable diet. Why, again, is it only the female mosquitoes which feed on the blood of hosts while both male and female feed on nectar and other plant sugars as a common source of their survival? Is it not because the female mosquito requires the protein found in the blood of its hosts only in order to synthesize yolk and develop its eggs—a task certainly not needed by the male mosquito? How could natural selection teach only the female members of the species that protein is good for their reproductive organs so they must evolve a most complex system of blood-sucking? Why did the mosquitoes survive long before this female urge to seek more readily available protein from blood? How long did it take the female to bring about all the essential fundamental changes in its anatomy and synthesize the wonder drug apyrase to transfer to a new mode of survival without which it had already survived for hundreds of thousands of years?
The only sensible answer to this question is that it was purposefully designed and could not accidentally be created by natural selection. Evidently, the negative yet essential role which the mosquitoes were designed to play in the scheme of life must have necessitated the mosquito's propensity towards animal blood. The bloodsucking capability of female mosquitoes remarkably illustrates design in the process of evolution.
Evolutionists consider natural selection to somehow invariably take the right decisions and preserve only that which is good for life. Is the mosquito—the greatest threat to life—really the choice and product of natural selection?
According to the Quran, on the other hand, the threat to life created through the mosquito was intended and planned to serve a wide purpose.
The masterly perfection and exquisite implementation of this
design has already been discussed above. Now we should like to point out that
the Quranic verse on this subject is itself a miracle of literary excellence.
Of particular note is the expression and what is carried above it ( ) (2:27). It can be translated to indicate the creation of similar living things
beyond mosquitoes, but the evident literal
meaning of Fauq which has eluded translators in the past,
is: and what it—the mosquito—carries. When
the Quran speaks of the Earth and all that it bears, it uses
the same word Fauq (). Wa Ma fauq-al-Ard means
whatever is upon the earth.
Now when one re-translates the verse in question literally, it will read as follows: 'God does not feel shy of quoting the example of a mosquito and whatever is on it or whatever it carries.'
Now we know better why the previous generation of scholars failed to grasp its evident meaning. They had no idea that mosquitoes do carry viruses invisible to the naked eye.
Why God is not embarrassed of creating a disease carrier of such high magnitude is because it was intended and purposefully done to create balances in the grand scheme of life. Also it may be so because the very construction of this fantastic flying machine is in itself a grand tribute to its Creator. We also propose that mosquitoes must have played a most vital role in promoting the immune system in life. One example of this function we already know relates to the sickle-cell anaemia, which largely prevails among the Gambians. The presence of this anaemia creates resistance against even the most deadly forms of malaria. It is not at all unlikely therefore, that apart from some as yet unknown purposes which mosquito related diseases serve in the scheme of life, they may also have served the purpose of promoting and evolving the immune system. That may or may not be so, but the general declaration of the Quran is undeniable that the factors which lead to life and those which lead to death are both integral to the plan of creation.
Another rather strange fact which has to be noted is that mosquitoes carry hundreds of disease sources without ever being inflicted by them. No naturalist can ever recall a mosquito trembling with pre-malarial chills. Nor can he ever locate a mosquito suffering itself from any disease which it carries for others, within its own system, and not upon its feet or wings. The microscopic elephantiasis-causing worms that it carries have never stricken its own proboscis, enlarging it to the size of a baby elephant's trunk.
So much scientific knowledge goes into the making of the mosquito and such complex technology is required, that even today man cannot manufacture the mere proboscis of a mosquito. The mosquito can buzz the challenge into the ears of the most sophisticated and adroit modern genetic engineer to come and get him if he may and make him if he can. But, alas, all the mosquitoes in the world cannot bite an atheist enough to stir him out of his atheistic slumber! Let them fly away singing their mosquito songs! The deaf will never hear, the blind shall not see!
O RECAPITULATE, we again emphasize the characters and features of all animal species which present a systematic unfolding of precisely encoded messages in their cellular genetic symbols. The proteins of the cellular content are the guardian angels of their destiny. The character bearing strands, which make the DNA, RNA, somatic and reproductive cells of all living organisms, are totally independent of the outer environments and their influences upon them. The mindless environment has no mechanism to dictate terms to the genetic custodians of life, and the genetic custodians of life could not have designed themselves nor could they have set the precise sequence of amino acids within them which, if disturbed at any of their links and positioning, would rob the fundamental bricks of life of all their purpose and creative potential. That is why many a scientist has calculated that chance could certainly not have moulded them into shape even if it had worked upon them for trillions of years. Yet they are created somehow, having a world of their own, completely independent of climatic and environmental influences.
If God is removed from this intricate scheme of things, another creator must be found to replace Him. Let alone the mysteries of the inanimate universe, the living wonders which occupy the planet Earth will cry out for the Hand which shaped them and filled their existence with fathomless intricacies. Rule God out and their cries will forever remain unheard and unanswered. Man can only be sure of one thing: that Life did not create itself, and Death did not create Life. Natural selection is neither conscious nor alive. It is no more than a dead phenomenon like gravity. It can pull a rock deep into a ravine without ever realizing whether it fell upon a deer or a porcupine.
| || |
|(click to enlarge) ||(click to enlarge) |
- Translation of 2:27 by the author.
- LANE, R.P., CROSSKEY, R.W. (1993) Medical Insects and Arachnids. Chapman & Hall, London, p.120
- DOWNES, W.L., DANLEM, G.A. (1987) Key to the Evolution of Diptera: Role of Homoptera. Environmental Entomology: 16:852–853
- KLOWDEN, M.J. (1995) Blood, Sex and the Mosquito. Bioscience: 45:327
- WAAGE, J.K. (November 1979) The Evolution of Insect/Vertebrate Associations. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society: 12:216
- WAAGE, J.K. (November 1979) The Evolution of Insect/Vertebrate Associations. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society: 12:188
- KLOWDEN, M.J. (1995) Blood, Sex and the Mosquito. Bioscience: 45:326
- WAAGE, J.K. (November 1979) The Evolution of Insect/Vertebrate Associations. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society: 12:195
- KLOWDEN, M.J. (1995) Blood, Sex and the Mosquito. Bioscience: 45:327