Animal Engineers and Survival Ecosystems

Animal Engineers and Survival Ecosystems
A sand goanna monitor lizard (Varanus gouldii) peers out from its tunnel.

One of the most interesting demonstrations of design in the natural world is the way some animals build structures that provide for the needs of other animals. The work of these animal engineers creates new ecosystems for survival.

The classic North American example is the beaver, which goes to great lengths to provide a whole ecosystem that benefits other life forms. One might question whether a dam is necessary for a beaver to eat plant material and raise babies. Dam building requires the beaver to spend massive amounts, and the dam is easily destroyed. A large number of other life forms depend on beaver dams and the ponds that form behind them.

Science News (February 13, 2021) published a similar example found in Australia. Life forms in northwestern Australia have to survive in a challenging environment with little water and extreme heat. How do all those animals survive in the harsh conditions?

The answer to that question is large monitor lizards. Two species of monitor lizards dig holes that are up to 13 feet (4 m) deep with numerous side channels. The monitor lizard lays its eggs at the bottom of the long, spiral-shaped tunnel. After the monitor lizard abandons the nest, other animals use the side channels to escape the extreme environment above ground. Arthropods, toads, snakes, lizards are included in 28 different vertebrate species using the abandoned monitor lizard lairs. Researchers have found up to 750 creatures in a single monitor’s pit and side channels.

Like the beaver, monitor lizards provide an environment that allows life in a place where survival is difficult. In the natural world, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. That is not true when animal engineers are needed to allow a diversity of life in a challenging environment. The more we learn of God’s creation, the more examples we find of intelligence and design, which frequently involve animal engineers.

— John N. Clayton © 2021