QuestionIf evolution is so great, why don't any animals have wheels?
      – George, 2010-05-17 at 13:40:21   (15 comments)

On 2010-05-17 at 18:37:30, Lee J Haywood wrote...
The main reason is the lack of smooth surfaces to roll on, e.g. pavements and roads. Indeed, if you read The Amber Spyglass you'll discover a parallel world in which natural 'roads' of lava criss-cross the landscape - leading to the symbiosis of sentient creatures and the seed pods they use as wheels. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amber_Spyglass It's a similar story with radio. The barrier here is that you need both a transmitter and a receiver, and they have to evolve together. There's little use for either by itself, so the combination doesn't evolve. In fact, if either wheels/roads or radio had evolved you'd either have to explain their origins or suggest that evolution isn't the whole story. In the real world, evolution is a complete and non-contradictory explanation for life as we see it, both existent and in the fossil record. If a supernatural creator were involved, you'd expect wheels - but we don't see them because no such entity exists.
On 2010-05-17 at 19:36:07, Thelevellers wrote...
I don't think I could add to that Lee - nicely put! :)
On 2010-05-17 at 22:40:25, George wrote...
@Lee J Haywood: Hmm, interesting and good points. But I'm not convinced. A quad bike doesn't need smooth surfaces to roll on. In many parts of the world you could have driven one all over the place, even before any manmade land clearances. Re your last paragraph, I think it's interesting that large hopping mammals like wallabies and kangaroos only evolved in Australia. But they'd be way faster and more efficient on wheels rather than hopping.
On 2010-05-18 at 16:50:32, Thelevellers wrote...
@George: After more thought, another key problem is the hub/axel/bearing. Note how NONE of our limbs can do a full circle, as it leads to twisting (and eventual breaking) of muscles, nerves, arteries, etc. The closest to a solution to such problems could possibly be a BMX cable de-tangler, allowing the handle bars to spin freely without tangling the brake cables. This however is pretty complex and requires too big a leap (I think) to evolve naturally.
On 2010-05-18 at 17:50:51, Lee J Haywood wrote...
@George: I doubt there are many places where wheels would work on a geological timescale. Anywhere that food is present is likely to be covered in vegetation at the very least and, much like the eye, any proto-wheel would need to start out very small and grow large in gradual steps. The simplest wheel, like the ones in The Amber Spyglass, consist of a simple axle onto which a solid wheel can be slotted but a quad bike is a very specific concept and a large device besides. I cannot really comment on marsupials, having not studied them, but presumably they're descended from a single individual/group and based on an historical accident. I do know, however, that many other species did evolve on both the Australian continent and elsewhere in remarkably similar ways to solve similar ecological issues. The parallels are remarkable given their lack of contact.
On 2010-05-18 at 20:14:05, George wrote...
@Lee J Haywood and @Thelevellers... both make sense - suppose you're right. And guess the thing about marsupials is that they're evolved from mammals which already had limbs, which have then become specialised for hopping. But thinking about it, I reckon that in a loose sense wheels have actually evolved in nature. Tumbleweed spreads by rolling along the ground, and hedgehogs curl into a ball when kicked, and roll away [a wheel in a very loose sense!] On the other hand, evolution has specifically made most birds eggs shaped so that they don't roll far.
On 2010-05-22 at 05:29:40, BorgClown wrote...
Haven't read the comments, but I love the topic. My short answer is that anything macroscopic would have trouble getting irrigation because wheels need a free axis, detached from the body. Mmmh, maybe a symbiotic wheel... no, make that a symbiotic chassis with four wheel-like creatures.
On 2010-05-22 at 05:30:47, BorgClown wrote...
Nah, too much friction. A macroscopic wheel still needs lubrication or bearings.
On 2010-05-22 at 05:37:06, BorgClown wrote...
This quote from Wikipedia is very interesting: "About half of all known bacteria have at least one flagellum, indicating that rotation may in fact be the most common form of locomotion in living systems" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotating_locomotion_in_living_systems
On 2010-07-23 at 05:50:15, TheRevolutionary wrote...
My car breaks down far more frequently than my legs. Also, my car can't jump or rock climb. Despite what people say in debates about the efficacy of legged mecha, legs really are a far better solution to most terrains than wheels. Also the whole free axis thing that BorgClown mentioned, blood vessels and nerves would be a bitch to figure out.
On 2010-07-23 at 07:34:40, Lee J Haywood wrote...
And looking at the original question, it's worth noting that evolution really is great - regardless of the (apparent) lack of wheels. A great deal of our technology is based on nature's solutions to problems faced by evolution. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomimicry
On 2010-07-24 at 03:02:32, BorgClown wrote...
@TheRevolutionary: TheRev, nice to read you! Where's your middle finger avatar?
On 2010-07-24 at 06:54:13, TheRevolutionary wrote...
Thanks. It's great to see you too, and Discussionator in general. Glad Lee has kept it up. I just randomly Googled Soapboxxer for no particular reason the other day, and bumped into Discussionator again. Thought I'd drop by. As for Johnny I didn't really think about him. Just used a funny pic I stumbled. But since you mentioned it I'll have to upload Mr Cash now. You ever stay in touch with any of the old crew from SB? I mean besides the folks hanging around here like Lee and DB.
On 2010-08-01 at 03:28:14, BorgClown wrote...
@TheRevolutionary: There's some of them at FaceBook, but the more shady ones just vanished. Man, sometimes I miss them too, although I have much less free time to converse like then. If you have a FB account, check out this group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=76469628450
On 2010-08-01 at 03:28:59, BorgClown wrote...
There's no conversation there, just a pointer to former soapboxxers.