Aphids: A Change for the Better

Consider the lowly aphid and how it points to its Creator

by Jeffrey P. Tomkins on January 1, 2018; last featured October 9, 2022
Featured in Answers Magazine
Audio Version

Animals that can grow wings in a single generation—only an imaginative Creator could think of that!

Their home threatened by food shortages, shortening days, and overcrowding, the horde must prepare to start a new life. Transforming powers are activated. Their body armor thickens; their sensory equipment is enhanced. Legs are not enough for their new home. So the next generation sprouts wings and the muscles to power them. The horde is now ready to conquer the new world.

No, it’s not the latest Transformers movie. It’s a scene from your backyard. God created all kinds of transforming, morphing creatures. These wonderful examples of infinite creativity give glory to the Creator but pose serious problems for Darwinian evolution.

The mind-boggling metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly is only the best-known example of transformation. The process is actually quite common among many different kinds of insects. In some cases the radical transformation is just as amazing as butterflies. Consider the lowly aphid—an insect so small that most of us don’t even notice it exists.

This tiny pear-shaped creature is typically less than one-quarter inch long with long legs and antennae. Some are shiny, while others are waxy or wooly. They come in a variety of colors from green to red, brown, and black. Instead of chewing on plants as many insects do, aphids draw sap from leaves and stems through unique piercing, sucking mouthparts shaped like sophisticated hypodermic needles. But that’s not what intrigues scientists most.

Among the many unusual features of aphids is the ability of females to reproduce without males by literally cloning themselves in a process called parthenogenesis. This process is faster than sexual reproduction and allows aphid populations to grow quickly so they don’t die out. They do this in the spring and summer, when food is abundant. But it does not produce the genetic diversity needed to keep the population robust from year to year. So in the fall, something very different happens. Photoreceptors in the aphids’ bodies detect when the days start getting shorter and trigger big changes.

As food sources grow thin, these landlubbers produce offspring with huge wings seemingly out of nowhere. Shorter days can bring on this morph, but aphids can also produce offspring with wings in response to overcrowding or a depletion of food—anything that would require the next generation to move somewhere else.

This amazing transformation in response to environmental cues is called polyphenism. Needless to say, growing a set of functional wings is a major alteration. And it requires a host of other changes. Wings need flight muscles. Also, the stresses of flight require a stronger, thicker exoskeleton. Higher speeds and navigating in the air call for sensory changes as well. Their complex compound eyes become larger and more sensitive, as do their light-detecting bumps (called ocelli) and their antennae. These winged morphs are now equipped with a full-scale flight system to locate new habitats.

The fantastic complexity of the aphid’s ability to morph should be enough to convince anyone that this creature has an intelligent Designer.

The complexity of such fantastic morphing should be enough to convince anyone that this creature has an intelligent Designer. Evolution doesn’t even offer an explanation for how the original aphids came about. They show up abruptly in the fossil record an alleged 200 million-plus years ago with no fossil ancestors. And fossil aphids, including those exquisitely preserved in amber, are recognizable as aphids. Aphids have always been aphids.

Scientists are still unable to untangle how so many environmental stimuli could act on the aphid’s central nervous system and trigger a complete reengineering of its reproduction cycle through a large array of sensors and pathways. The complexity is both fascinating and fiendishly difficult to unpack. The only Person who could possibly engineer such a sophisticated and complex system is the infinite Creator God of the Bible.

Dr. Jeffrey Tomkins earned a PhD in genetics in 1996 from Clemson University. Director of life sciences at the Institute for Creation Research, he is the primary author of The Design and Complexity of the Cell and a contributor to Creation Basics and Creation Basics & Beyond.

Answers Magazine

January–February 2018

When winter arrives, this fox puts on his new wardrobe just for the ocassion.

Browse Issue Subscribe


Get the latest answers emailed to you.

I agree to the current Privacy Policy.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA, and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390