Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Painted Lady

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
If only it was remotely possible to get proponents of intelligent design to relate their pseudo-scientific notion to real-world biology. Take, for example a very beautiful butterfly that, in some summers, is one of southern Britain's commonest large butterflies - the painted lady (Vanessa cardui syn. Cynthia cardui). In other summers you will be very lucky to see one.

V. cardui is a member of a wide-spread sub-group of the Vanessid butterflies, known as the Cynthia group, occurring over most of the globe with related species in Australia (V. kershawi) and North America (V. virginiensis and V. annabella). The British species occurs throughout the British Isles and is the only butterfly species in Iceland. It also occur throughout Europe, Asia and Africa.

One problem that insects face in temperate climates is surviving over winter. Most adopt the hibernation strategy when, particularly in hard winters, the population crashes, to be restored again the following year by the offspring of the survivors. A succession of hard winters can put a severe strain on population numbers for some species. Some butterflies, such as the closely related red admiral (V. atalanta) and peacock butterfly (Inachis io) hibernate as adults, others hibernate as pupae. A few will hibernate as eggs and fewer still as lava.

Basically, the species spends the summer building up a population large enough to have a few survive the winter from which to re-populate their range next year. Some British and Northern European butterflies, like the red admiral, also have their population reinforced each year by migrations from the south. Many of our red admirals, for example, will have spent the winter in the Atlas mountains of North Africa. So, even if they are wiped out in a particularly sever winter, it only takes a year or two for the population to recover.

Painted lady lava feed on the ubiquitous thistle, so it is never short of suitable food in adjacent territories into which it can expand without difficulty, so, unlike many butterflies which manage to get off one, two, sometimes three broods in the summer when it is warm enough and its food plants are growing, in Southern Europe and Africa it continuously broods. It is also highly migratory, a phenomenon which seems to be triggered by population density.

This migratory strategy is its salvation, because no painted ladies survive a British winter. The entire population is wiped out each year and the British Isles, together with much of Northern Europe and Asia is repopulated by migration from the south.

As the design of an intelligent designer, this strategy makes absolutely no sense at all. What on earth is the purpose of sending millions of butterflies north to succeed at producing one or, in a good year, two broods without giving them a strategy for surviving the inevitable winter? What is the point of producing maybe tens of millions of butterflies every year simply to have them, and their offspring, killed off as soon as the temperature falls.

The only way to make sense of this is to accept that it doesn't make sense in terms of intelligent design; that it is the product of an unintelligent process which doesn't have any concern for wasted effort and mass killings just so long as the genes survive and continue to make new carriers somewhere. The only way to make sense of the painted lady is as the result of unintelligent design, in other words, of the only natural design process we know of - Darwinian Evolution by Natural Selection.

The original 'Painted Lady' was Jezebel, of course, who has passed into history as a euphemism for a woman of easy virtue for the sin of putting on some lippy before being thrown from a window and her body left to be eaten by dogs, at the behest of King Jehu. Jehu led a palace coup after he had been anointed 'King of Israel' by one of the biblical 'prophet' Elisha's servants. Elisha was that nice man who got two she-bears to eat forty-two little boys who called him 'baldy'. Obviously, that in no way compared to the heinous crime of wearing lipstick. The other crime Jezebel committed was being the wife of King Ahab who consorted with 'false prophets' - presumably prophets who didn't feed children to hungry she-bears. (2 Kings 9)

How ironic that the painted lady gives the lie to the false prophets of 'Intelligent Design' who are trying to get real science thrown out of the window in favour of their own biblical mythology as part of their 'Wedge Strategy' for installing a biblical theocracy in America and elsewhere and abolishing democracy and constitutional government - a coup by another name. This theocracy would enforce a repugnantly primitive morality which sees a woman wearing lipstick as a heinous crime whilst holding in high esteem someone who reputedly fed children to bears for being naughty. The 'Wedge Strategy' is an attempt to get the pig of biblical creationism past the Establishment Clause by putting lipstick on it and dressing it up as a scientific theory called Intelligent Design, but, as a glance at Sarah Palin reminds us, you can put lipstick on a Creationist pig; it's still a Creationist pig.

Further reading: Why Creationists Lie To Us.

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