Somebody is going to have to revise the FAQ

In the Index to Creationist Claims, rebutting the claim by Henry Morris that No new species have been observed, it is written:

New species have arisen in historical times. For example:

A new species of mosquito, isolated in London’s Underground, has speciated from Culex pipiens (Byrne and Nichols 1999; Nuttall 1998).

This claim that a new species arose since the London Underground was built has been widely reported.

In 1999, an English researcher named Katharyne Byrne went underground to investigate further. When she compared Underground mosquitoes and compared them to others found in London houses, she learned that they were a distinct subspecies.

After ruling out migration from elsewhere in the continent, Byrne concluded that the London Underground was colonized by mosquitoes a single time, then achieved “reproductive isolation,” or barriers to reproduction with different species, in the subway tunnels.

“In the continent” is the critical phrase here. As it turns out, they didn’t look far enough afield — they needed to look at species in North Africa. The London Underground mosquito has a deeper history than the London Underground!

The northern house mosquito Culex pipiens sensu stricto is one of the most important disease vector mosquitoes in temperate zones across the northern hemisphere, responsible for the emergence of West Nile Virus over the last two decades. It comprises two ecologically distinct forms — an aboveground form, pipiens, diapauses in winter and primarily bites birds, while a belowground form, molestus, thrives year-round in subways, basements and other human-made, belowground habitats, bites mammals, and can even lay eggs without a blood meal. The two forms hybridize in some but not all places, leading to a complex ecological mosaic that complicates predictions of vectorial capacity. Moreover, the origin of the belowground molestus is contentious, with iconic populations from the London Underground subway system being held up by evolutionary biologists as a preeminent example of rapid, in situ, urban adaptation and speciation. We review the recent and historical literature on the origin and ecology of this important mosquito and its enigmatic forms. A synthesis of genetic and ecological studies spanning 100+ years clarifies a striking latitudinal gradient — behaviorally divergent and reproductively isolated forms in northern Europe gradually break down into what appear to be well-mixed, intermediate populations in North Africa. Moreover, a continuous narrative thread dating back to the original description of form molestus in Egypt in 1775 refutes the popular idea that belowground mosquitoes in London evolved in situ from their aboveground counterparts. These enigmatic mosquitoes are more likely derived from populations in the Middle East, where human-biting and other adaptations to human environments may have evolved on the timescale of millennia rather than centuries. We outline several areas for future work and discuss the implications of these patterns for public health and for our understanding of urban adaptation in the Anthropocene.

It’s still evolution, just evolution over millennia rather than less than a century.


  1. PaulBC says

    I do know that the London Underground is not a political movement. I will leave it to biologists to hash out the rest.

  2. pilgham says

    Hermes Trismegistus: “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the – Ow! Dam it, you little bastard”

  3. Louis says

    How am I going to update my paper copy? HMM? None of these smarty-pants biologists with their new-fangled more accurate pictures thought of that, did they?

    Now I’m going to have to reference a different book when arguing with creationists…

    …oh who am I kidding. Never opened the book, it’s a hardcover and therefore useful for just beating creationists around the head with whilst shouting “Naughty literalist! No! Bad! Stop it now!”.


  4. robro says

    If there is a new species of pest in the world, I recommend naming it after Rupert Murdoch.

  5. nomdeplume says

    “speciation within the London Underground” seems a pretty far-fetched hypothesis anyway. How would the isolation occur in a system hundreds of km long, with dozens of entrances, which is not isolated from the thousands of km of above ground tracks, with millions of people moving in and out every day, and, I hink, no real difference in habitat between above and below ground.

  6. ajbjasus says


    “no real difference in habitat between above and below ground.”

    Try spending a few hours in a London park, and then a few on the tube.

  7. StevoR says

    Thing that puzzles me is how this underground mosquito gets enough food – not the blood thef emale needs to lay eggs but the nectar I gather both species need to feed on? Wouldn’t think there’d be many flowers blooming in the underground train lines and enough light for sufficent floral food to feed them there?

  8. Rich Woods says

    @SteveR #7:

    Parts of the London Underground are actually above ground, some of them wide open. There are also open air shafts, potentially with a hundred years of plant growth in and upon them (eg, and short stretches near the surface that are open to the sky (eg Many of these places will have warm and damp microclimates.

  9. nomdeplume says

    PZ creationism alive and well and heading for the Senate:
    Frightening things are that 1. The pastor thinks the candidate is “too smart” for asking the question, 2. the WP feels obliged to explain that, you know, humans and chimps had a common ape ancestor, and 3. the candidte also believes “god” is involved in comception.

  10. nomdeplume says

    @6 Sure, but I meant there are a range of overlapping habitats in both – this is not the deep cave situation where the habitat is totally different to what is above ground.

  11. Rich Woods says

    @nomdeplume #9:

    It’s a sign of the times that you list only three frightening things there. The repeated allegations against him of violent threats towards women and the claim that there’s a mist which can kill all the Covid on a person’s body are just too commonplace for Republicans these days to be worth mentioning. He’s going to win, isn’t he?

  12. nomdeplume says

    @11 Yes, and probably yes! There seems to be no depth of ignorance and vileness that will stop a Republican being elected – in fact the opposite is the case.

    But by 3 frightening things I was only referring to the “evolution” aspect only.