Change Over Time

It has been suggested that organisms increase in size over an evolutionary time scale. However, there is no evidence to support this suggestion, and perhaps natural selection acts on correlated traits that constrain the evolution of increased size. In fact, fossils reveal that some insects in the past were much larger than their extant relatives. For example, many winged Carboniferous and Permian insects, existing about 300 mya, had wingspans exceeding 45 cm; the largest was the Permian dragonfly Meganeuropsis schusteri, which had a wingspan of 71 cm. These insects certainly also had long, narrow bodies, to reduce the length of the trachea. During these prehistoric times, the atmospheric oxygen concentration was much higher (up to about 35%) than the present level (20.9%), which may have allowed sufficient oxygen to reach the innermost tissues of very large insects. However, such an oxygen-rich atmosphere also would have augmented aerodynamic properties in early flying insects. It has been suggested that later appearing insects could not evolve to a large size because of competition for niches with birds and other later appearing animals.

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