Armadillos are curious little animals but were all of them as small as they are today? DNA extracted from a 12,000 year old bone of an extinct glyptodont the size of a small car revealed a genetic code that clearly places this huge animal inside the group (clade) of diverse animals we collectively call armadillos. These results just published (see references) strongly suggest that the ancestral armadillos where similar in size to those that are alive today. However, some of the descendants of those ancestral armadillos clearly evolved much larger body sizes and the hundreds of adaptions needed to support that size to become a large species-rich group of extinct armidillos we call the glyptodonts. Some of these species survived right up into the last Ice Age before finally going extinct.
We are not just talking about one unusual and rare species but rather glyptodonts refer to a group of 20 or more genera and probably a 100 or more species most of which were far larger than any living species of armadillo. We have a rich fossil record of these species. Many had large bony projections on their tails and huge armored shells that resembled something more like a turtle than an armadillo. Yet, all of these are descendants of an armadillo-like ancestor that may not have been too dissimilar to those we see today.
Armadillos – another failed test of the creationist’ post-flood dispersal and speciation model.
Here on Naturalis Historia I have written numerous times about the increasingly strong stance that literal six-day creationists have taken with respect to the rapid diversification life (eg. Ken Ham’s Darwinism: on the Origin of Species by Means of Hyper-Evolution). Their biblical evolutionary model includes the special creation of “kinds” or types of ancestral animals which were endowed with the capacity to diversify into a multitude of species. Most of this diversification, or speciation, is said to have occurred after representatives of each “kind” of animal was preserved on Noah’s ark 4350 years ago.
Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter theme park being constructed in Kentucky right now intends to show its guests what the animals of this post-Flood world looked like just 4350 years ago. Those who pay $40 to see these artistic impressions will see many animals that only bear a general likeness to those we see today. These creatures will consist of an amalgamation of characteristics that combine elements from all species of a kind. For example, there will be a single cat-like creature that will represent the common ancestor of tigers, lions, panthers and house cats. There will be a single dog-like creature that represents a mix of fox, wolf, African wild dog and domestic dogs. Will there be an artistic rendition of an armadillo common ancestor in a stall on the Ark? I don’t know but if there were how will they portray it?
You might ask, does Ken Ham and the Answers in Genesis (AiG) team believe that God created one or many kinds of armadillo? The answer is they do believe that God made but a single type of armadillos – see Jean Lightner reference. Yes, the 21 living species that biologists place into 9 different genera Ken Ham believes are derived from but one initial species. Even if that original species diversified into many species from Creation (6000 years ago) to the Flood (4500 years ago) only a single set of representatives were preserved on the ark according to AiG. Since those armadillos departed the Ark they then diversified, according to AiG, via the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection into the 21 living species we see today.
What I have described above has become commonly believed among literal six-day creationists. They seem to think that species can be created from a common ancestor in the blink-of-an-eye via naturalistic mechanisms. More and more I see followers of YEC literature saying that a lion and panther coming from a common ancestor is no different than two breeds of domesticated dogs being derived from a wolf. This is a woefully un-informed view of genetics but one that AiG has been promoting with great vigor in recent years.
Setting the enormous genetic obstacles to this view aside for a moment what can armadillos tell us about the YEC hyper-evolution model?
A challenging fossil record and modern geographic range: You need to know that no fossil of an armadillo has every been found outside the new world (South and North America). And 95% of the thousands of fossils representing hundreds of species of extinct armadillos have been found in South America. The glyptodonts which are all extinct are also mostly from South America with a few that made it up to North America.
You also need to know that all 21 species of living armadillos are found only in the new world as well. Only two species are in North America with the 9-banded armadillo now spread across much of the southern USA.
This raises a several challenging, though by no means uncommon, questions for the young-earth hypothesis:
1) If there were armadillos before the flood how come there are no fossils of them anywhere except in South America? And if all of those fossils are what I expect YECs believe are only post-Flood fossils then there is an utter lack of evidence that armadillos lived before the Flood.
2) If a single common ancestor of all of these hundreds of species of armadillos were on Noah’s Ark how did those armadillos make it all the way from the Middle East to South America without leaving any evidence of their existence on other continents?
3) How did all of these species of armadillos including the extinct evolve within just a few hundred years. All the fossilized extinct species disappeared by the end of the last Ice Age. Ken Ham believes a single Biblical Ice Age occurred within just a few hundreds years after the flood. If this is true armadillos had to migrate all the way from the Middle East to South America and speciate into hundreds of species including giant ones. Some had to get fossilized and most had to go extinct within a hundred years of arriving and speciating.
3) What about the giant armadillos? Ken Ham loves to talk about how natural selection just sorts genetic information and always leads to a “loss of information.” This is why he doesn’t refer to speciation from a common ancestor as evolution but think of it as de-evolution. So where did these huge armadillos come from? To grow to such an enormous size, these animals must have had many specialized physiological and anatomical functions compared to their smaller relatives. How does that constitute de-evolution?
Natural selection or super-natural hyper-evolution?
Ken Ham’s staff believes that all species broadly called armadillos descended from a common ancestor just 4350 years ago. They claim this was accomplished via natural selection. These 21 species though vary in tooth number, placentation type, construction of their leathery armour shells and many physiological and behavioral traits. How could all of these traits not to mention the massive bony tails and bony armored shells including a bony shell on their heads which no living species displays, have evolved in just a few hundred years? Natural selection, though a powerful mechanism for adapting organisms to their environment, does not have the ability to make such fundamental changes in such a short period of time.
Ken Ham’s Darwinism is not really Darwinism at all but an appeal to un-observed forces of change which he has clothed in what he thinks is observational science – the process of natural selection. But his “observational” science provides no support for his view of rapid evolution. Molecular and fossil data suggest that it has taken as much as 30 million years for the glyptodonts to achieve their amazing size and features compared to their armadillo relatives. YECs have only a few hundred years to achieve the same amount of genetic and morphological diversification. We do not observe natural selection acting at this pace and thus natural selection does not provide an explanatory mechanism for the YEC view of species formation.
Even if it was possible that all the genetic information for making a 100 separate species could be contained at one time in an ancestral pair of parents, natural selection as a mechanism for segregating that variation into defined species would take hundreds of thousands of generations to produce the complex combinations of genomes observed in species that we see today. Genetic sorting takes a lot of time. There is no known mechanism for creating species at the pace that creationists are proposing. The options left to them are supernatural intervention or hypothesizing that there is an entirely different mechanism of species formation that scientists have yet to discover. When the Ark Encounter opens Ken Ham will be proclaiming to the world the wonders of natural selection but this is a form of natural selection that has never been observed and for which there is no biblical evidence. Rather than observational science, Ken Ham is relying on the unseen and hypothetical. Ironically this is just what he claims are the tools are evolutionists.
The Phylogenetic affinities of the extinct glyptodonts. Delsuc et al. Current Biology 26 (2016) http://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822%2816%2900121-4.pdf
AiGs view of armadillos can be seen in the following article by Jean Lightner at the Answers in Genesis website: Mammalian Ark Kinds