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Why has evolution failed to utilise radio transmission & reception?

  1. May 26, 2010 #1
    Evolution is the greatest nano-engineer that ever existed. I always assumed that if anything was physically possible at everyday earth temperatures, forces and velocities then it would have emerged naturally from evolution, since the evolutionary benefits are clearly enormous.

    eg that's why room-temperature superconductivity probably can't work with commonly available compounds, if it did, evolution would have used it.

    So I'm puzzled that simple radio transmission/reception doesn't appear to be used anywhere, surely the ability to communicate via radio waves (rather than squawking really loudly) offers a huge evolutionary benefit.

    Can anyone think of an obvious reason why evolution couldn't make use of radio transmission?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2010 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    This is erroneous reasoning. Evolution hasn't generated an internal combusion engine or rocket either.

    Harnessing radio requires electronics and antennas, things that a living organism would be hard-pressed to manufacture internally.
  4. May 26, 2010 #3
    Some people have claimed to be able to receive (hear) AM radio signals via metallic objects in their teeth, perhaps utilizing electrochemical (battery) potentials involving saliva and (silver/mercury?) fillings. Somehow the contact potential made a homodyne detector. See


    Bob S
  5. May 26, 2010 #4
    Whoever said evolution doesn't use electromagnetic effects would be wrong.

    Homing pigeons, for instance, have a particular ferrous complex in their brains that allows them to detect the Earth's magnetic field and use it for navigation.
    Last edited: May 26, 2010
  6. May 26, 2010 #5


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    Many predator fish species can sense the EM from the muscles in their prey.

    Some can generate a field to sense objects around them and a least a few species use them to communicate.
  7. May 26, 2010 #6
    Sorry, but I think that's erroneous reasoning, combustion engines and rockets require conditions (temperatures) outside those survivable by biological organisms, radio transmission doesn't. Evolution has created pretty good engines at room temperature conditions.

    The other replys are useful and interesting, I have heard of the navigation mechanism used by some birds, but that's one-way reception.

    I thought the answer might lie in the fact that you need both the receiver and transmitter to evolve simultaneously, which would be very unlikely. But some of those oither examples look interesting I'll check them out :)
    Last edited: May 26, 2010
  8. May 26, 2010 #7
  9. May 26, 2010 #8
    I remember a series of science fiction stories about an engineering core that specialised in establishing bases on unusual planets.

    One such planet was subject to continual violent lightning storms.
    The story went that over the aeons as the lightning struck the rocks it destroyed those crystals that could not safely dissipate energy so over time semiconductor structures 'evolved' like transistors etc. These evolved further into random radio trnasmitters.

    Twas a good yarn.
  10. May 26, 2010 #9
    Those are nice examples, but they are all predominantly one-way mechanisms, there doesn't seem to be clear examples of animals which use radio for two-way communication

    All animals produce an em field naturally as a by-product of internal mechanisms, but no animal seems to have developed an organ specifically for communicating via radio. (There aren't enough details in that pdf document for me to be sure)

    As I mentioned, I think evolution couldn't manage to solve the problem of simultaneously building the detector and receiver. Or maybe it did develop in earlier stages of evolution but was found not advantageous maybe because predators easily evolved to detect the communications, and you can't hide radio communications so easily :)
  11. May 26, 2010 #10
    Sorry, but how about you do some research before making these claims?

    It has been known since the 1940s that moths communicate with microwaves and that their antenna are just evolved correctly to do this.
  12. May 26, 2010 #11


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  13. May 26, 2010 #12


    Your response is rude, are you saying why bother having a science discussion forum when everything can probably be googled with enough effort? :rolleyes:
  14. May 26, 2010 #13
  15. May 26, 2010 #14
    Not meant to be rude, just pointing out you seem to want to gather evidence to support (prove?) a particular point of view.

    Is that the scientific method?

    I am not a biologist, I am just remembering instances that I have come across along my way.
    Perhaps this belongs in the biology section where a real biologist might provide a better answer.

    Finally I do not belong to the generation that believes something to be non existant unless listed by Google.
    There are other sources of reference, some considerably more authoritative.
  16. May 26, 2010 #15
    I just wondered if I had overlooked something obvious. Evolution is really just an engineering problem solver, but its constructions are ultimately bounded by the Laws of Physics. I posted here since I thought someone would point out some obvious restrictions on transmission range v power or similar.

    I also hoped some imaginative soles would come up with stimulating or amusing ideas, eg

    1. Evolution works on single units, and radio communications work best in multi component networks, where you have powerful central transmitters and repeaters, I don't think evolution could create such a network!

    2. When whales spurt water does it have use as a temporary aerial receiver? :smile:

    3. Perhaps there were obscure species of insects or fish that used such communication, but by the time we had the technology to detect this usage (early 1900s) we had killed them off by filling the earth with non-natural radio transmissions.

    4. The transmitter/receiver need not have evolved simultaneously if you compare to audio transmission/reception. Obviously animals didn't use audio communication before ears had evolved, and ears could evolve because they were evolutionary useful for picking up other environmental noises (footsteps approaching, trees falling, heavy breathing). So if certain fish etc have developed abilities to detect certain em frequencies it seems possible that they could subsequently evolve transmitters on that frequency.

    5. The dinosaurs used high powered microwave communications (eg 3G band) and were all killed off when their brains eventually fried :biggrin:
  17. May 26, 2010 #16
    Most species use EM radiation (light) for as much communication as they actually do.

    Of course not many species outside SF have big enough brains to do much sophisticated communication.

    Just think of the antenna required for communication at Long Wave say 1500 metres? Light requires so much smaller transmitters and receptors.
  18. May 26, 2010 #17
    Yes, and that's a good indicator of why transmission is not so useful, since I can think of few animals which actively transmit visible light such as fireflys or deep water sea creatures with few predators. Transmission leaves you vulnerable to detection by predators who can detect your transmission.

    Although my example about the whale using water spouts as an aerial was in fun, a large animal with no natural predators, like a whale, wouldn't have to worry about having transmissions intercepted.

    I guess it's probably down to the transmission range vs power payoff not being evolutionary beneficial, bluetooth works at quite low power but only has a few meters effective range (or maybe ~100m for higher powered devices)
  19. May 27, 2010 #18
    A further comment.
    Biological entities rely on chemical reactions for many functions. Chemical reactions produce heat and other forms of energy, light waves and even electricity, but I do not know of any reaction the produces EM waves in the part of the spectrum we use for 'radio'. Perhaps such reactions are sufficiently rare that radio waves are unavailable by this mechanism, so they are not commonly employed.
  20. May 27, 2010 #19


    Staff: Mentor

    It seems that the evidence against the conclusion invalidates the premise.
  21. May 27, 2010 #20
    Not necessarily, there is the possibility that animals did evolve with radio communications akin to bluetooth etc but didn't survive because the evolutionary benefits weren't great.

    Perhaps I should have posed the question "why are there no surviving examples of radio communications in evolution?"

    Evolution is an nano-engineer par excellence, although she operates in a dumb way, billions of combinations are submitted for trial and nearly all get rejected. It seems inconceivable that some form of radio communication wasn't "tried" by evolution, evolution just doesn't miss anything obvious like that. Evolution has solved nano-engineering problems that we will still be struggling to replicate for centuries.
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