Grasshoppers Grow and Gain Function

Transformers (locusts in disguise)! Amazing Animals, part 4 of 7

by Calvin Smith on May 3, 2021
Featured in Calvin Smith Blog

“Oh, I didn’t know that was in there!”

As a boy, having my own knife seemed like a kind of rite of passage to me. Despite my Mom’s (legitimate) apprehension in me even using one (let alone having my own), it just seemed like something a guy was supposed to have. And even though one of my big brothers still carries a large scar from where he sliced his thumb quite severely with one, I don’t remember the incident deterring me much from wanting one.

As I got a little older and began to realize the benefit of subtlety and compromise rather than simply yelling, “But I want one!” to my parents, I hit upon an idea that eventually gave way to me owning my own knife, even if it seemed a little lame to me at the time. I got a knife that wasn’t just a knife: it seemed to have one of everything inside it—a Swiss Army Knife.

Originally adapted from knives issued to Swiss soldiers in 1886, there are now hundreds of models of these knives designed for specific users: hunters, handymen, homeowners, computer repairers, etc. They incorporate attachments like scissors, saws, files, fish scalers, pens, pliers, whistles, wire cutters, compasses, lights, tweezers, and even altimeters. Most people are surprised at what they can find inside one, to the point that the name Swiss Army Knife has become a metaphor for any ingeniously designed tool that is fairly compact and has multiple uses.

What’s Under the Hood?

This brings us to our somewhat heavy-handed segue into the study of epigenetics, which, if you are not familiar, is the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. It’s the study of the ability for the same source code (DNA) to express different programming under different environmental conditions and is actually quite common in creatures. This is also known as phenotypic plasticity.

The concept of epigenetics was first introduced in 1942, but the study has grown immensely since the year 2000. It has taught us a great deal about how genetic information that was previously inactive can be brought “online,” so to speak, without a change in the DNA of the creature involved. The epigenetic code is a set of switches that turn genes on and off in response to environmental stimuli and is a main contributor to the ability of the “finished product” to vary despite the same DNA instructions (and should not be confused with natural, life-cycle programming, such as caterpillars to butterflies or tadpoles to frogs).

Scientific experimentation has shown that previously “hidden” genetic information can be activated under differing environmental conditions. A great example of this is in grasshoppers and locusts. Up to the 1920s, scientists used to classify grasshoppers as a separate species to locusts. The reason was the significant physical and behavioral differences between them.

For example, locusts swarm, yet grasshoppers are solitary. Locusts have smaller legs, wings, and bodies but have larger muscles and a 30% larger brain1 than grasshoppers. However, because of recent observations, scientists have determined they’re the same creature that can transform from one variant to another (and back again under certain conditions), while the DNA of the two creatures remains identical.2

Grasshoppers “Hulk Out”!

Similar to how the fictional comic-book character “the Incredible Hulk” transforms from mild-mannered scientist Dr. Bruce Banner into the rampaging green monster known as the Hulk under duress, grasshoppers also undergo a transformation under certain (laboratory-reproducible) circumstances and exhibit a sort of Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation that is truly startling!

According to a Scientific American article,3 serotonin seems to be the spark. In the wild during droughts, when grass becomes scarcer and more parched as it “shrinks,” the normally solitary grasshoppers get pushed into smaller areas. As their legs begin bumping into other grasshoppers at a certain point of density, a swarm-inducing serotonin dump gets triggered. A transformation results in behavioral differences and significant physical changes in neural, muscular, and exoskeletal expression that allow them to swarm out of the area.

This transformational ability seems to be an in-built survival mechanism that kicks in when the environment demands an adaptation.

Pre-planning Requires Pre-programming

So, this transformational ability seems to be an in-built survival mechanism that kicks in when the environment demands an adaptation. Similar to how, in the popular children’s show, Transformers can morph from a car, truck, or airplane into a robot and back again, this hidden genetic information is tremendous evidence of design and foresight. Obviously, if grasshoppers in a drought situation did not already have the ability to transform, they would perish before they could have “evolved” it. But what “adaptation pressure” or survival benefit is there to having an ability you don’t yet need?

So obvious are these challenges to the story of naturalistic origins that some evolutionists have been speaking about it as if it had a mind that could account for such pre-planning and forethought:

Evolution may be more intelligent than we thought, according to researchers. In a new article, the authors make the case that evolution is able to learn from previous experience, which could provide a better explanation of how evolution by natural selection produces such apparently intelligent designs.4

And such statements reveal that, far from being scientific, these ideas are simply imaginations.

When we look at the amazing, apparently intelligent designs that evolution produces, it takes some imagination to understand how random variation and selection produced them.

Don’t Be Intimidated by Evolutionary Storytelling

Foresight design on the scale we see inside creatures in what we deem “the natural world” (actually the world God created and then cursed due to man’s sin), requires the attribute of omniscience.

Just like Swiss cutler Karl Elsener (the clever designer who made the Swiss army knife popular) needed to anticipate the possible needs of his patrons and incorporate multiple utilities for work/survival into his design, so too did the loving Creator God of the Bible, foreseeing the fall, incorporate an incredible amount of genetic information into his creatures that allow them to adapt and survive in a sin-cursed world.

Foresight design on the scale we see inside creatures in what we deem “the natural world” (actually the world God created and then cursed due to man’s sin), requires the attribute of omniscience. All the more confirmation that “the beasts . . . they will teach you . . . the birds of the heavens . . . they will tell you . . . the bushes of the earth . . . and the fish of the sea will declare to you . . . the hand of the Lord has done this . . . ” (Job 12:7–9).

This week’s question: How could a “no-mind” process like the story of evolution account for the pre-planning required for producing genetic information that wasn’t needed yet?


  1. Swidbert R Ott and Stephen M Rogers, “Gregarious desert locusts have substantially larger brains with altered proportions compared with the solitarious phase,” Proc Biol Sci 277, no. 1697 (2010):3087–3096, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0694.,".
  2. Cassandra Falckenhayn et al., “Characterization of genome methylation patterns in the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria,” The Journal of Experimental Biology. 216, no. 8 (2013): 1423–1429.
  3. Katherine Harmon, “When Grasshoppers Go Biblical: Serotonin Causes Locusts to Swarm,” Scientific American January 30, 2009,
  4. University of Southampton, “Is evolution more intelligent than we thought?” ScienceDaily, December 18, 2015,

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