Saturday, 2 July 2011

Big Problem for Evolution: The Compound Eye Evolved Too Fast

The compound eye of the Antarctic krill Euphausia superba. Image courtesy of Gerd Alberti and Uwe Kils, Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

A research team from the South Australian Museum and the University of Adelaide recently reported on the discovery of a fossil with compound eyes as well-developed as those of the modern fly.

What makes the discovery interesting is that the fossil is assumed to be over half a billion years old.

The researchers found the “515 million”- year- old fossil on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. It had compound eyes with over 3,000 lenses. The team, led by Associate Professor Michael Lee, published their findings in the journal Nature on June 30th.

According to ScienceDaily, this Cambrian creature “would have seen the world with over 3000 pixels, giving its owner a huge visual advantage over its contemporaries.” This is a lot more that the living horseshoe crab (1,000 pixels). The record holder is the dragonfly with over 28,000 pixels.

According to the traditional understanding of Neo-Darwinian evolution, creatures should change slowly during immense periods of time. However, in contrast to what Darwin and Dawkins had speculated, the compound eye was fully-formed in the dawn of multicellular life.

Since then evolution has not succeeded in improving the compound eye.


New Fossils Demonstrate That Powerful Eyes Evolved in a Twinkling. ScienceDaily 30 June 2011.

Lee, Michael S. Y. & al. 2011. Modern optics in exceptionally preserved eyes of Early Cambrian arthropods from Australia. Nature 474: 631–634.