Re: Evolutionary Predictions

Pim van Meurs (
Mon, 03 Mar 1997 19:35:21 -0400

I found this one on The Talk.Origins Archive Post of the Month: Jan. 1997 <Bowen Simmons> wrote:

How about this with regard to the ancestry of ants?

"Journey to the Ants", Edward O. Wilson, page 75-78:

In 1966 the missing link of ant evolution, the Ur-ant that joins the
modern forms to their ancestors among the wasps, was finally
discovered...Prior to this find, there had been mostly frustration. The
known fossil record had stopped cold in Eocene sediments some 40 to 60
million years old; earlier rocks and amber pieces seemed to offer no
clues. The few specimens from the earliest, Eocene, record at the
disposal of myrmecologists were poorly preserved but clearly belonged to
modern groups. They were not much different in anatomy from living forms
and offered no clues as to how ants came into existance.
Creationists had taken note of this absence in their campaign to discredit
the theory of evolution. Ants, they argued, are an example of a group put
on earth by a single act of special creation. Those of us reconstructing
the evolutionary history of ants believed otherwise. We guessed that the
earliest species were simply very scarce, and that the fossil beds
containing them were just poorly explored, so that in time at least a few
specimens would turn up. We believed that the missing link existed in
deposits of early Eocene age, perhaps 60 million years old, or further
back still, into the Mesozoic Era. The Ur-ant may well have stung an
occaisonal dinosaur.

the Ur-ant was discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Frey...[they] sent an
amber piece containing two worker ants to Donald Baird of Princeton
University. Baird, recognizing its scientific importance, passed it on to
Frank M. Carpenter of Harvard University, the world authority on insect
paleontology and teacher of Edward Wilson.

Carpenter called Wilson on the telephone, two floors above him in
Harvard's Biological Laboratories.
"The ants are here," said Carpenter.

"I'll be down in two milliseconds," Wilson replied, adrenalin surging.

Wilson ran down the stairs and into Carpenter's office, picked up the
specimen, fumbled with it and dropped it on the floor, whereupon it broke
into two pieces. Fortunately, each fragment contained an ant still in
place and undamaged. Both pieces were composed of clear, pale, golden
matrix. When polished they provided beautiful views of the ants,
wonderfully preserved, as though the insects had been entombed only the
day before.

The amber was the fossilized resin of sequoia trees that grew at the
Cliffwood Beach locality 90 million years agao, near the middle of the
Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs were still the dominant large land

Wilson put the fossils under the microscope and began to sketch and
measure them from all sides. After several hours he picked up the
telephone and called William L. Brown at Cornell University. Brown was a
fellow specialist in ant classification who had for years shared his dream
of finding a Mesozoic ant and thereby, perhaps, to learn the identity of
the missing link to the ancestral wasps. Both men had guessed from
comparisons to living species what traits the ancestral form might, or, if
evolutionary theory is correct, SHOULD possess. Wilson reported that the
ants were indeed as primitive as expected. They had a mosaic of
anatomical features found variously in modern ants or in wasps as well as
some that were intermediate between the two groups. The diagnosis of the
Ur-ant was astounding: short jaws with only two teeth, like those of
wasps; what appears to be the blisterlike cover of a metapleural gland the
scretory organ (located at the thorax, or mid-part of the body) that
defines modern ants but is unknown in wasps; the first segment of the
antennae elongated to give them the elbowed look characterizing ants, yet
here, in the Mesozoic fossils, only to a degree intermediate between
modern ants and wasps; the remaining, outer part of the antennae long and
flexible, as in wasps; the thorax with a distinct scutum and scutellum
(two plates forming the middle part of the body); also a trait of wasps;
and an antlike waist; yet one that is simple in form, as though it had
only recently evolved.

We gave them the formal name Sphecomyrma Freyi. The generic name
Sphecomyrma means "wasp ant" and Freyi honors the couple who found

I would suggest that this is a multi-faceted prediction:

that an ant-wasp intermediate would exist at all.
the attributes it would possess.
the strata in which it would be found.

I think this fits the bill: a bold prediction based on a theory, directly
contested by those opposing the theory, stunningly confirmed by a