Friday, April 13, 2012

Convergent Evolution

Long, skinny nosed, fish eating fish  North America
Convergent evolution explains why 4 different animals from different parts of the world look very similar and exhibit almost identical adaptations. Animals will evolve over time to take advantage of niches in the local ecology and if that niche is similar in widely separated places like Southeast Asia, North America and Africa, different species will evolve to use those resources. One of my favorite examples is an adaptation that both fish and reptiles have used- the long, skinny, tooth filled mouth. Longnose gar here in Eastern North America exhibit this adaptation, but so do gharial in India, houndfish in the ocean, a variety of fish species in South America and Africa. All these different species evolved to take advantage of abundant baitfish populations. The long skinny "beak" is very effective at grabbing bait so a wide variety of animals have come to look and feed similarly. Looking through the fossil record will show the same thing has happened for millions and millions of years.
Long, skinny nosed, fish eating crocodilian India

The same thing happens with fly design. We develop fly patterns to take advantage of situations that we see on the water. That is one of the greatest things about fly fishing and fly tying; when you see a need for something you just make it up. It comes as no surprise that people chasing the same species in different parts of the country will come up with extremely similar fly patterns. Was this done intentionally to steal thunder or business from someone else? Nope. I look at some of the fly patterns that I have seen for muskies, pike, or other species and see flies that I have been tying for over 15 years. There are subtle differences in how they look, the materials they use, and the artistry involved in the creation of the pattern. 

Most of the time these flies all have a common ancestor. Lefty Kreh's Deciever, Bob Clouser's Deep Minnow, and the venerable wooly bugger and muddler minnows are all flies that have been used for years as the basis of so many new and different and wonderful and fish catching new patterns. The basic form has been used and changed to adapt to a situation on the water. It should come as no shock to anyone that someone fishing for a species in the Midwest and another fishing for that same species in the East come to a similar conclusion for the design of a fly. It happens all the time. 
Whole lot of convergent evolution going on circa 2008...

Does it mean that someone was stealing a pattern from someone else? Nope. It is simply a case of convergent evolution. It has happened for billions of years in the natural world and we humans could do well to take a lesson from that. Let's all just keep evolving fun flies to tie that keep catching the fish we love to catch and when two people come up with the same pattern, we need to laugh about it and let it pass.


  1. Drew, ever the teacher! Thanks for the insight, wonderful story!

  2. Convergent evolution ... nope ... I'm just a wholesale plagiarist ;)

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