Insect pollinators were created after plants (Day Three) on Day Five or Six (probably both). I think it is reasonable to assume that plant kinds (off the Ark) and insect kinds (those without aquatic larval stages likely on the Ark) that survived the Flood were more generalized anatomically, physiologically, and behaviorally. Because both plants and insects had the divinely designed genetic and epigenetic potential to form highly specialized plant-pollinator relationships, many did so to minimize competition and niche overlap during ecological succession in the centuries after the Flood.
Nevertheless there are always niche opportunities available for generalists that excel in changing or disturbed habitats. Our creationist models seeking to answer these and other interesting questions should remain in an open hand while attempting to be faithful to Scripture and the scientific evidence.
Keywords: Epigenetic, baramin, niche, ecological succession, climax community
It is clear from Scripture that God created the vast group of animals we call insects (Genesis 1:20, 24). More specifically we see that God the Son was the person of the Godhead who did the creating (John 1:1–3). What is not as clear in Scripture is when he made them since insects, as a huge, disparate group could be considered flying creatures (vs. 20), creeping things (vs. 24), or both. We classify animals today in different ways than Adam. We generally classify plants and animals based on morphology, anatomy, physiology (details of external and internal form and function), and genetics. For example, mammals have hair or fur and produce milk for their young; insects are arthropods with head, thorax, and abdomen with six legs and two pairs of wings (usually) on the thorax. But in Genesis 1 we find classification based on habitat or mode of locomotion. For example, “sea creatures” could span many different taxa of animals including invertebrates, fish, reptiles (sea turtles and sea snakes), cetaceans (whales), dugongs (similar to manatees but marine), and pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses). This would also include manatees and aquatic amphibians if “sea creatures” include all aquatic animals. Flying creatures (some translations say “birds”) created on Day Five would include birds, bats, pterosaurs, and winged insects that readily fly (e.g., butterflies, mosquitoes, and flies). “Creeping things” (vs. 24) would also include a broad array of creatures ranging from small mammals, reptiles, amphibians (more terrestrial kinds), and many different invertebrates. This latter group may have included flightless insects and winged insects that do not readily fly (e.g. many beetles). Whether or not these insects were considered flying creatures or creeping things is not clear in the Hebrew. So, in short, insects could have been created on Day Five or Day Six, but probably on both days of Creation Week.
So what about insect pollinators? By the way, not all pollinators are insects. Although most agents of pollination are insects, the following can also do the job: certain bats, lemurs, certain mice, honey possums, birds, lizards, wind, and water. Plants, including flowering plants, were created on Day Three. One interesting argument against “the Day-Age Theory” is that plants could not survive for thousands of years until the appropriate pollinator evolved or was created. Because young-earth creationists hold that each day of creation was a normal day, flowering plants (requiring an animal pollinator) would only have a two-to-three day wait before their appropriate pollinator was bumbling about in their blossoms for nectar and pollen.
It has long been known that many plant species have a very intimate mutualistic relationship1 with one specific type of pollinator (species or a group of very closely related species). In these cases, flower anatomy is designed to exclude all pollinators except one specific type of insect. One amazing textbook example of this is the star orchid, Angraecum sesquipedale. Its nectary is at the bottom a foot-long floral spur. The only insect (or any animal for that matter) that has the mouthparts (also about a foot long) to reach the sweets is a type of sphinx or hawk moth called Darwin’s moth (Xanthopan morganii praedicta). In this case (and many others), the insect is highly specialized anatomically and behaviorally to seek out one species of flower for nectar and pollen. This pollination relationship is so intertwined that the plant and the insect cannot exist in the wild without each other. The insect depends on the plant for nectar and pollen, and the plant depends on the insect for pollination services. No other insect can pollinate the plant. No other plant can feed the insect. So how should young-earth creationists explain the formation of these highly specific relationships in light of our current understanding that Ark kinds may have been more generalized on (insects) and off (plants) the Ark?
Before I attempt to answer this, I want to discuss an important concept in ecology. Immediately after the Flood, the earth was in a state of geological, biological, and climatological upheaval. Plant seeds germinated wherever the conditions were right, but highly stable ecosystems having specific communities of plants and animals exhibiting specific relationships were destroyed. Ecologists call this highly integrated and stable community of plants and animals (and organisms of other kingdoms) within an ecosystem a climax community. After an area has been denuded of plants and animals, the first plants to grow are called pioneer species. These are capable of quickly germinating and establishing themselves in very disturbed sites. (Today we often call pioneer species in agricultural areas weeds). Eventually other plants move in and outcompete the pioneers. Yet other plants slowly replace these. Over many years, a slow succession of different plant communities grow in an area before we finally reach a climax community. Ecologists call this process ecological succession. Ecologists who study ecological succession would have been overjoyed to do their research right after the Flood.
Though some plant kinds were brought on the Ark for food for human and animal consumption, God did not command them to be brought on the Ark to “keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth”(Genesis 7:3b). God made plants capable of surviving outside the Ark. One example mentioned is the olive (Genesis 8:11). However many plants have ecological requirements that are extremely narrow. It is very hard to imagine how these very fussy, specialized plants could survive in the post-Flood world. Even botanists have a hard time figuring out the correct set of conditions that prompt them to grow in a greenhouse. It may have been possible, given the heterogeneity of climate and soil after the Flood, that some seeds of highly specialized plants could find (somewhere) an adequate place to germinate after the Flood. The problem would be how long it would take their specialized pollinator to find them after the Flood. It is likely that highly specialized plants died after the Flood. Though they may have germinated, the absence of their specialized pollinator would have led to their demise. However, certain generalist representatives (within the same baramin2 as the specialist plant) could have made it through the Flood. Their climate, soil, and pollinator requirements were much more cosmopolitan and therefore enabled them to survive and reproduce after the Flood.
Some creationists maintain that because insects do not breathe with nostrils, they therefore were not required to be among the kinds brought on the Ark (Genesis 6:17–20, 7:22). I believe this is an unnecessary distinction. I would maintain that the entire body of an insect acts like a lung in that all the tissues perform gas exchange directly with the atmosphere.3 Simply because they ventilate their body with holes called spiracles4 does not necessarily disqualify them as nephesh-bearing animals. If they were brought on the Ark, it is more reasonable to assume that Ark insect kinds were more generalized to cope with the post-Flood chaos. For further discussion on this topic, read “Were Insects on the Ark?”5
I think it is reasonable to assume that immediately after the Flood, highly specialized relationships had not yet formed between plants and their pollinators. For other examples besides the star orchid and Darwin’s moth, see “God Created Plant Pollinator Partners.”6 The plant kinds that survived outside the Ark and the insect Ark kinds were very likely more generalized and hardy in every way. The plants that survived the Flood were either fortunate enough to have their seeds land in the correct conditions to germinate and grow, or they were able to germinate in a variety of soils. Their floral anatomy was still indicative of their kind, but not as specialized. In other words, they could receive a wider array of insect pollinators. The insect pollinators were also less specialized. They could forage for nectar and pollen on a wider array of plant kinds. Over the hundreds to thousands of years after the Flood, ecological succession was occurring. Ecosystems were becoming more stable, defined, and crowded. Competition for soil, for light, and for pollinators greatly increased among plants. Likewise competition for nectar and pollen became increasingly intense among insects. Natural selection works to minimize competition between plants and between their pollinators. If ecological niches between competing species overlap too much, competition may eventually eliminate the less-adapted species. Specialization into a narrow ecological niche reducing niche overlap (e.g., specific soil, climate, and pollinator for the plant and specific nectar or pollen for the insect) helps species avoid competition, and therefore they are more likely to survive.
The following illustration may help explain the progression from the generalist to the specialist. It is hard to imagine the average person who has a very specialized office job surviving in the harsh American frontier. They would likely be incompetent in all sorts of bushcraft (e.g. building a cabin, digging a well, hunting game, fishing, building a fire, cooking food, growing a garden, and skinning and tanning hides).
In the same way, post-Flood plant and insect kinds were probably pioneering generalists, and many in the ensuing centuries became more and more specialized in their ecological relationships. It is important to realize that the generalized plant kinds cannot simply evolve anatomy without the divinely-designed genetic and epigenetic7 potentials already knit into their bodies, enabling them to adapt to changing climate and soil. They also must have had the genetic and epigenetic potential to eventually adapt to one specific pollinator. These created potentials allowed them to specialize and adapt to the prevailing conditions. This, in turn, gave them a competitive edge against others who were less specialized in a highly competitive climax community. Natural selection acting on divinely programmed variability adapted each plant species to be suited for one particular type of pollinator. Likewise, certain insect pollinators were able to develop adapted anatomy and behavior to forage for the pollen and nectar of “their” plant species so the plant could be successfully pollinated. In both cases, competition and wasted resources are minimized. This coadaptation enables the insect to collect their food more efficiently than any generalist and therefore outcompete generalist pollinators. Likewise, the plant adapted for one highly effective pollinator can outcompete other generalist plants because reproduction is accomplished more efficiently with minimal waste of pollen and nectar.
But keep in mind, there will always be generalists. If ecosystems are disturbed (and they often are), the generalists will shine. Going back to the analogy of a pioneer on the frontier. He has all the general skills to survive an untamed land (like the Ark kinds). In other words, he can do many different tasks necessary for survival adequately, but he would be at a severe disadvantage in a highly civilized metropolis where some highly specialized professional can outcompete him at a given task. Conversely, if the city is destroyed, the generalist pioneers will shine. Over time, this coadaptation between flowers and their pollinators leads not only to specialization but also to reproductive isolation. The relationship between plant and insect becomes so specialized that gene flow8 effectively ceases between closely related plants and closely related insects. At this point, speciation has occurred.
Much of this article is proposing a model. We are trying to reconstruct the unobserved past that Scripture has not specifically addressed. Therefore, it is outside the realm of observational science and special revelation. Nevertheless, it is still worthwhile to seek an explanation for the diversity in the world around us and to understand the existence of the highly specialized plant-pollinator relationships. This should be done in a way that is harmonious with the inspired Word of God and scientific evidence. Our models and theories should always remain in an open hand. They may be harmonious with Scripture, but new scientific evidence may be sufficient to overturn them. Creation science models can come and go, but the Word of the Lord abides forever. God hasn’t given us all the answers to specific questions. It is to our glory, King Solomon says, to search things out (Proverbs 25:2).