Geek Trivia: Flowering intellect

What species of insect did Charles Darwin predict would exist--years before it was discovered--simply based on his examination of Madagascan orchids?

What species of insect Charles Darwin predicted would be discovered, based on his observances of a Madagascan orchid?

The creature in question is the Xanthopan morgani praedicta, or "predicta" moth (so named for Darwin's foresight of the species' discovery). The predicta moth serves as one of the primary examples of the theory of co-evolution, which holds that two or more species evolve in concert to provide mutual advantage to each other.

Darwin proposed the moth's existence in 1862 as part of a detailed, published study of orchids that included the Angraecum sesquipedale, commonly called the Star of Bethlehem or Christmas Star Orchid. This orchid boasts a nectar well that often reaches about 12 inches in depth, which is far too deep for the average moth or bee to reach the nectar and therefore unlikely to attract the insect assistance the orchid needs to pollinate. Darwin suggested that some species of insect existed on Madagascar with a physical attribute -- possibly a retractable proboscis -- that allowed it to tap the star orchid's nectar well.

When the predicta moth was discovered decades after Darwin's prediction, it was found to have a coiled proboscis that, when unfurled, measured 10 to 12 inches. Moreover, Darwin also correctly predicted that the insect would be nocturnal, as the star orchid only releases its fragrance at night. While not all of Darwin's scientific hypotheses have borne true, in at least one case, he was on the right track.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the June 20 edition of Geek Trivia, "The ice is right." TechRepublic member alan.hauxwell slammed my notation of extreme temperatures:

"You mentioned degrees Kelvin in your article about ice crystals. I believe it should be Kelvin without the degrees bit."

Right you are, sir, as has been the case since 1968, when the old "degrees Kelvin" notation was dropped in favor of simply referring to Kelvins. Thanks for the correction, and keep those quibbles coming.

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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

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