Major traits, can someone please help me understand?

Hello! I am fairly new here, I am an ex OEC, now I sit somewhere between that and EC.

Anyway … that brings me to my question. Does anyone really understand how an organism family can obtain “major feature upgrades”? I often hear blanket statements like “we needed to get all the energy out of our food so we evolved teeth” etc. What drives me nuts about that statement is that it makes evolution sound like some kind of super brain that knows what we need, isn’t all just random chance (which I guess God started up or guided or something?). Leaving out even the theological portion of it, how might an organism even adapt something like that? I just don’t understand how this is something people can swallow hook line and sinker, when in reality there’s a whole lot more to it than just natural selection. Are there other methods of evolution that are too complicated for the public to explain so they just are grossly oversimplified?

These are things I struggle with daily … :slight_smile: I figured I would post this here because people will take it seriously vs when I’ve tried asking these kinds of questions on Reddit I get eaten alive and yet no one is willing to even attempt Explaining it …

(Welcome to our forum. :slight_smile: )
Evolution isn’t driven by needs or wants of organisms, so the people presenting it this way are not being accurate. Otherwise, female primates would have evolved a third arm by now, because there are never enough free hands when you have little kids.

I think a lot of people just don’t want to acknowledge the potential natural selection has to capitalize on random events for adaptive purposes.

I assume by “major upgrades” you mean beneficial adaptations. I think the mechanisms are pretty well understood and are more than just natural selection (more on them in this Khan Academy article) but it’s also pretty well understood that selective pressure is not what causes a mutation. They are random.


Thank you for the warm welcome!

That is refreshing to hear, haha. This link looks very informational, Just what I was looking for, just hard to know where to start so thank you for that!

That is what I meant “major upgrades”. I guess it’s just hard for me to picture how one goes from a single celled organism with no legs to a multicellular organism with specialized appendages. I guess I just need to do more studying :-).

Indeed, it is almost as inaccurate to speak as if natural selection drives evolution. Even if there were no natural selection at all you would still have evolution because it is driven by variation. Natural selection is just a filter… though that does provide what directionality you can find in the process and thus that is generally where you look for reasons and justifications for most features. But in reality not all features can be justified in this way. Sometimes it is just variation.

Yeah, that is a conceptual challenge and there isn’t as much evidence to look at when you are talking about that far back in evolutionary history. I think studying algae has given scientists some recent insight into the jump from single cell life to multicellular life.

If you get into reading up on this, one book I found interesting was Your Inner Fish. It’s not an apologetic for evolution, it takes it as a given, but it goes through all sorts of traits that humans have and traces them genetically and structurally back to different organisms so you can see how features were appropriated in different ways for new functions. It gives some insight into some of the weirder aspects of our anatomy. Even though creatures are amazingly adapted to their environments, when you look the close, there is a lot of biological MacGyvering going on.

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I was snorkelling for the first time off Nerja 5 years ago when my ears started clicking. It wasn’t me. It was fish talking. As I passed over their reef they all tilted their heads and watched me watching them. Cousins.

Along those lines, i was watching a program on slime mold, and it is incredible how this essentially single celled organism has growth patterns and protoplasm flows that look remarkably like vascular beds. Amazing creatures.


I saw that, too. It is interesting that “What is intelligence?” came up. :grin:


One thing that may help understand it is to look at the ecological purposes of basal vs derived traits.

One of my favorite examples is of the Passion flowers and Heliconiine butterflies.

When we look at the mimicry , it at first seems to scream intelligent design. But it’s not. At least not in the sense of a supernatural requirement of the process. The other really cool example is island evolution such as dwarfism and gigantism.

By studying those out you can get a good grasp of evolutionary processes. It can help to also focus on individual species. Such as teeth evolution of Romundina stellina. ( i don’t know anything about this particular species or subject “ teeth evolution” myself.

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