1. Al Dente says

    Before I watched the video I was able to come up with basically the same answer as the video and Dawkins did.

    Pats self on back, sprains arm.

  2. says

    However, there is some terrain naturally flat enough for wheels to be useful without roads. Wagons were used on the Central Asian Steppe & the N. American Prairie before anyone build roads there. I think the 1st 2 problems mentioned in the video are more important for why no wheels on animals.

    BTW people in the middle east stopped using wheeled vehicles for over a millennium. See this book
    or this link
    for why.

  3. Omar Puhleez says

    The bacterial flagellum is as much a ‘wheel’ really as is the propeller of an inboard motor boat.
    As a continuous-rotation device, it works well on the microscopic scale. Nature has had about 3.5 billion years to work on scaling it up, but has obviously run into problems. There are size limits for bacterial cells.
    But best to wait and see, rather than regard the book as closed.

  4. badgersdaughter says

    Were wheels to evolve in animals, they would have to do so to take advantage of naturally occurring road-like structures. The video appears to presuppose that the wheel-bearing animals are also the road-makers, which I think is far less likely. “Roads” could, I guess, arise from erosion effects, volcanic eruptions, or something other lifeforms leave behind such as cleared trails, their own decomposed bodies, or a combination, such as pine needles on a hard forest floor preventing other undergrowth. Given enough time, I suppose it would not be impossible for animals to evolve ways to take advantage of human-built and human-maintained roads.

    I also don’t think there is no plausible path whereby “part of a wheel” could be useful. This sounds a lot like the failure of imagination that underlies the creationist “what good is part of an eye” argument. Wheels could, and probably must, evolve from some other structure in which hardness and roundness are necessary, or even incidental.

    Lastly, no mention is made of animals exploiting the wheel-like nature of found objects or even other lifeforms. Symbiotic arrangements could exist. Philip Pullman proposed such a thing in his book The Amber Spyglass, in fact.

    L, Frank Baum explored some likely issues in his book “Return to Oz” as well, but even the child I was when I first read the book could see that the wheels as presented were not on the whole very useful to the Wheelers and were unlikely to arise without the intervention of “magic”.

  5. badgersdaughter says

    Sorry, that’s the book “Ozma of Oz”, and the movie “Return to Oz” (which I have not seen).

  6. Omar Puhleez says


    “Were wheels to evolve in animals, they would have to do so to take advantage of naturally occurring road-like structures. The video appears to presuppose that the wheel-bearing animals are also the road-makers…”

    Oh, I dunno. They could be all-terrain 4WDs. Even 6 or 8 wheelers, like those oversnow vehicles. Fat tyres, and steered like a caterpillar tractor by braking one side or the other. No road required.
    The other thing is that much of the sea is shallow, with a flat sandy floor. Could have evolved there.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    jimbaerg @ # 2: Wagons were used on the … the N. American Prairie before anyone build roads there.

    This contradicts a lot of other accounts. Link, please?

  8. says

    Never mind the wheel, how would the axle develop? It would require either bone to be exposed or a limb-like extremity to intersect and interlock with another.

    A far more likely evolutionary “wheel” would be a castor or a ball point as in a pen, a free floating bone-like orb that could roll within a socket, otherwise unattached to the rest of the body. Imagine a rounded bone similar to the femur where it joins the hip, but externally like the eye. But even if it were sustainable (i.e. the bone survives without replacement or sustenance), it still isn’t beneficial because of the road problem. The knees and tiny feet of llamas in the Andes makes far more sense in terms of evolutionary progression.

    The spider mentioned isn’t the only animal that uses rolling as an escape mechanism. Consider the Venezuelan Pebble Toad:

  9. badgersdaughter says

    I think left0ver1under has a good idea in terms of a “ball-point pen”. Suppose the socket secreted some sort of heavy substance that both acted like a lubricant and hardened to form the “ball”. Members of the species might spend amounts of time grooming the socket area in order to remove debris and prevent accretions of the lubricant from hardening and blocking free motion.

    The biggest problem with all wheels and such is, how would the organisms get the power to get rolling? They would need to push off against the ground with the equivalent of a foot, or the air with the equivalent of a wing. Then how would they stop?

  10. says

    reply to Pierce comment 7:

    In the 2nd link I give there is the mention
    “And in the United States the pioneers crossed the continent in wagon trains without benefit of asphalt. No, roads are not the answer to the riddle.”

    In wooded country roads need to be made by at least cutting down trees. On shortgrass prairie, trails are made simply by running the vehicle over the land. I suppose biking on Nose Hill ( over paths clearly made simply by running cars & bikes over them makes this blindingly obvious to me.

    I will concede that the Wikipedia articles
    don’t explicitly state that was all that was needed to create the trails.

    “It also developed the trails, and by the early 1830s, an expedition from the Selkirk settlement driving a flock of sheep from Kentucky to the Assiniboine found the trail to be well-marked.”

    ‘Well marked’ needn’t mean anything more than prominent cairns to indicate which way to go.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    jimbaerg @ # 11 – I questioned the claim that “wagons” were used before “roads”. Your reply concerns “trails”, but says nothing about wagons, or any other kind of wheeled vehicle.

  12. says

    badgersdaughter (#10) –

    Ta for the response. A night to think about it gave me other ideas.

    Regarding starting and stopping, curlers have two different surfaces on the bottom of their shoes: one a rubber gripper for stability and traction, the other a teflon or steel slider. A four limbed animal with two “wheels” and two feet could push off to start, roll and then stop.

    Regarding the road and the argument of “benefit for the road’s creator”, think about coral in the ocean. The coral doesn’t form reefs out of the goodness of its heart, it forms reefs as a survival mechanism and food collector. Fish, anemone and other sea life (e.g. “barber shops”) gather around it, and the coral benefits from that.

    A grass, moss, lichen, fungus or something else could benefit from creating a “road”, the droppings and dead matter from animals. Plants do have the ability to affect and move soil in small amounts (some can break through concrete), so it could smooth out the ground providing a flat “road” for the “wheels”.

    This would actually make for a good sci-fi idea….

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