Zoopharmacognosy Animal Doctors

Zoopharmacognosy Animal Doctors Zoopharmacognosy is a word you don’t see every day. It’s actually a combination of three Greek words which mean “animal” (zoo), “drug” (pharma), and “knowing” (gnosy). It refers to animals using plants, soils, insects, or drugs to solve specific medical problems. It is animals (not humans) medicating themselves. Mammals, birds, and even insects use zoopharmacognosy to cure medical problems, and sometimes to prevent them. Here are a few examples.

It is fairly common to see a sick dog or cat eating grass to induce vomiting.

Sick chimpanzees swallow bitter leaves of Aspilia, a plant that contains an anti-parasitic chemical. The leaves are covered with bristles and bitter tasting so the chimps roll up the leaves and swallow them whole like we might take a pill.

Others chimps and bonobos with diarrhea will split open the stem of an Aframomum plant and suck the bitter juice. The juice contains chemicals which kill parasites which cause diarrhea.

Spider monkeys in Brazil have been seen eating seed pods from a tree known as monkey ear or elephant ear (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) during mating season. The fruit contains progesterone which promotes female fertility.

Brown bears make a paste from the chewed roots of osha (Ligusticum porteri) mixed with saliva and rub it into their fur to repel insects and soothe the bites. The plant contains coumarins which repel fleas and ticks.

To get rid of lice, many songbirds with put ants on their feathers or even roll in an anthill. The ants secrete formic acid, which kills feather lice.

Ants infected with Beauveria bassiana, a soil fungus, will eat harmful substances that are antifungal.

Many kinds of animals will eat dirt to absorb toxins, to combat parasites, or as an antacid. Sometimes they eat dirt to supplement minerals that are missing in their diet.

Pregnant elephants will chew the leaves of a specific tree in the Boraginaceae family to induce labor. Kenyan women make tea from those leaves to help with childbirth. In many cases, people have learned medicines and tonics from animals.

There are many more examples of zoopharmacognosy in which animals act as their own doctors. How did animals get this knowledge? It seems to be instinctive, not learned. Perhaps this instinct was put within the genetic code of these animals by their Creator.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Saguaro Desert Old-Timers

Saguaro Desert Old-TimersThe saguaro (pronounced suh-wah-roh) cactus is found only in the Sonoran Desert areas of southern Arizona, northern Mexico, and a small area of southeast California. We call them saguaro desert old-timers for a good reason. Saguaros grow very slowly as a single stem for perhaps 75 years before developing arms. Plants with five arms may be 200 years old.

Saguaro flowers bloom at night from April to June. They close by noon the next day, never to open again. Saguaro flowers can only be fertilized by cross-pollination so there must be a creature to carry pollen from one plant to another. Because the flowers bloom at night, bats are the pollinators. They drink the nectar and transfer pollen from plant to plant.

A successfully pollinated flower will produce a green, oval-shaped fruit with bright red pulp. Many desert creatures eat the fruit and aid the saguaros by spreading their seeds. Only a small percentage of the seeds will ever germinate, but that’s okay because each flower produces as many as 4000 seeds.

Not only do the saguaros have a symbiotic relationship with the bats which consume their nectar and the many creatures who consume its fruit, but it also provides shelter for many desert animals. Saguaros become apartment houses for birds, lizards, desert rodents, and reptiles, as well as a whole entourage of insects.

Saguaros are remarkably well-designed for life in a dry climate. The outside of the plant has pleats like an accordion. The pleats allow expansion for storing large quantities of water when the rains come. As with other cacti, the saguaro has needles rather than leaves to reduce the loss of moisture by transpiration.

Saguaro desert old-timers are designed in a marvelous way to live in the harsh conditions of the desert while providing food and shelter for various desert creatures. They are another indication of a Master Designer of life.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Romantic Get-Away Inside a Sponge

Venus flower basket
The Venus’ flower basket (Euplectella aspergillum) is a deep ocean sponge with fascinating properties and an unusual symbiotic relationship with a pair of crustaceans. We call it a romantic get-away inside a sponge.

The Venus’ flower basket is classified as a glass sponge because its body is made of silica, which is chemically the same as glass. The silica fibers are woven together to make a hollow, cylindrical vase-like structure. The fibers form a fine mesh which is rigid and strong enough to survive deep underwater. The picture shows a Venus’ flower basket more than 8400 feet (2572 meters) under the ocean’s surface.

Glassy fibers thin as a human hair but more flexible and sturdier than human-made optical fibers attach the sponge to the ocean floor. The sponge forms the fibers at ocean temperatures while human-made glass fibers require high-temperature furnaces to melt the glass. Human-made fibers are brittle while the sponge’s fibers are more flexible. Scientists are studying these sponges to find ways to make better fiber-optic cables.

We think it’s amazing that the Venus’ flower basket lights its fibers using bioluminescence to attract prey. Even more interesting to us is the symbiotic relationship these sponges have with some crustaceans called Stenopodidea. The Venus’ flower basket holds captive two of those small shrimp-like creatures, one male and one female, inside the sponge’s hollow mesh tube. The captive creatures clean the flower basket by eating the tiny organisms attracted by the sponge’s light and consume any waste the sponge leaves. The sponge provides the crustaceans with protection from predators.

As the crustaceans spawn, their offspring are small enough to escape from the basket and find their own sponge-home where they grow until they are trapped. Because a pair of crustaceans spend their lives together inside the sponge, Asian cultures sometimes use a dried Venus’ flower basket as a wedding gift to symbolize “till death do us part.”

The Venus’ flower basket and the crustaceans benefit each other by mutual cooperation, which we call symbiosis. One more thing, the bioluminescence comes from bacteria that the sponge collects. This amazing three-way partnership occurs deep under the ocean where humans have only recently explored. We think this romantic get-away inside a sponge is another evidence of Divine design, not chance mutations.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Unique Spiders with Amazing Speed

Unique Spiders with Amazing SpeedOne of the evidences for God is the specialized design features built into living organisms. There are indications of design and intelligence that are difficult, if not impossible, to explain by chance. There are about 35,000 named species of spiders, but scientists are still discovering more unique spiders.

Spiders have many features that allow them to provide balance in the natural world by eating insects which would otherwise pose a threat to all life on Earth. Spiders capture their prey in various ways. We usually think of spiders making webs. Most of them do, but not all. Many unique spiders use other tactics to grab insects, while the ones that make webs use a variety of shapes and patterns in a variety of locations. Even the way they use their webs varies.

One family of spiders called ray spiders (Theridiosomatidae) make cone-shaped webs. But even ray spiders don’t all use their cone-shaped webs in the same way. In the Peruvian Amazon, there is a ray spider that weaves a cone and attaches a single strand of silk to its tip. The spider reels in the strand to put tension on the web. Instead of waiting for an insect to fly into the web, this spider takes a more proactive approach. When an insect flies in front of the cone, the spider releases the single strand. With the tension released, the web shoots out with the spider riding the tip of it like a slingshot. The helpless insect gets nabbed in mid-air. For obvious reasons, this spider is called the slingshot spider.

The tip of the cone with the spider attached reaches the target with amazing speed before the insect can escape. Scientists have measured the acceleration of the spider riding the slingshot at 100 times the acceleration of a cheetah, the fastest land animal on the planet. As far as unique spiders, we believe that the slingshot spider holds the title of world’s fastest spider.

This spider creates a very complex and well-designed food-collecting tool. The spider must make the cone in exactly the right shape, and with the right chemical make up of the strands for elasticity. Who taught the slingshot spider this amazing trick and gave it the physiology needed to carry it out? We see God’s design and chemistry in everything from the atom to the universe to every living thing on Earth, including unique spiders.
— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

Reference: Science News, April 13, 2019, page 5.

Half-Slumber Design in Animals

Half-Slumber Design in AnimalsWe have a clock in our brain that is based on circadian rhythms. The clock is connected to Earth’s rotation, and it provides daily periods of rest and recovery called sleep. Animals have it too, and for many animals, sleep is a dangerous time if there are predators around. Scientists have discovered that many animals, especially marine mammals, have a half-slumber system designed to keep them safe and yet allow them to sleep.

The half-slumber system allows half of the brain to sleep while the other half is awake and able to respond to danger or navigational needs. Studies in dolphins have shown that there are different regions of the brain that work together to allow one side of the brain to function while the other side sleeps. The hypothalamus contains ventrolateral preoptic nuclei that exchange messages between the left and the right sides of the brain. They determine which side sleeps and which side remains alert to danger. This also allows movement of the dolphin’s fins and tails to generate body heat in the coolness of the marine environment. It also allows the animal to surface, to breath, and to swim with its companions.

Northern fur seals have a similar system but highly modified. The fur seals come out on land and assume a posture that allows them to put one flipper in the water which they paddle with while keeping the other three flippers in the air to avoid heat loss. Their nostrils are out of the water, allowing breathing and one eye is open and looking for predators. The part of the seal’s brain that provides vision is not connected to the other functions of breathing or movement.

Birds also use the half-slumber design. Mallard ducks have a unique system where the ducks form a group. Ducks on the outside of the group have one eye open, and their brains function differently than ducks at the center of the group. Migrating birds that fly for very long times also use the half-slumber design with one eye and one side of the brain watching where the bird is going while the other side of the brain slumbers. Great frigate birds fly for ten days at a time using this system. Swainson’s thrush gets its sleep by taking micro naps when it is perched.

It seems that every creature using the half-slumber design to get its required sleep uses it differently. The changes are not small and are highly complex involving many organs. Intricate design differences in the brain primarily direct them. Studies of animal sleep are in an early stage, but the complexity of the system is undeniable. The Bible tells us that we can “know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:18-20). It is a very difficult challenge to understand just how complicated God’s design is. Even in our sleep, we demonstrate God’s plans and engineering.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Cat Tongues and Papillae

Cat Tongues and PapillaeAlexis Noel and David Hu have been researching cat tongues as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (December 2018). Using 3-D scanning with micro-computed tomography, they have discovered some interesting things.

The backward facing barbs (papillae) on cat tongues are not cones as had been previously thought. They are actually hollow structures similar to scoops for dipping ice cream. They have a U-shaped cavity that holds fluids extremely well. This shape enables cats to use the force of surface tension to pull up water as they lap it. It also allows them to wick saliva deep into their fur. When cats lick themselves, saliva is distributed all the way down to the roots of the hairs. Cats don’t have sweat glands except on their paws, so the distribution of saliva removes heat from their skin.

The papillae also allow cats to lick up oils and other contaminants on their fur. This not only keeps the cat clean, but it avoids odors. Applying this discovery may open the door to a whole new line of materials for use in home and industry. Dr. Noel gives one word of warning. Don’t let your cat lick a microfiber blanket, because the cat’s tongue will stick to the blanket!

Cat tongues are not like sandpaper but rather like Velcro. Velcro was discovered by scientists watching other examples in the natural world. Humans have copied the design of materials found in living organisms to create many of the substances we take for granted. We see God’s creative genius everywhere we look. “We can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:19-20).
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Petoskey Stone Dilemma

Petoskey Stone TilesEvery part of the United States has rocks, plants, and animals that are unique to that area. Certain plants grow in abundance in various locations. In Arizona the saguaro cactus is abundant. California is home for giant redwood trees. Indiana has tulip trees. Many states have adopted an official flower, tree, bird, fossil, or rock. In Michigan, since 1965 our state rock has been the Petoskey stone.

The name comes from the city of Petoskey which got its name from an Ottawa Indian legend. Thanks to the glaciers that swept down from the north scooping up rocks and depositing them, Petoskey stones are found all over the state. When I took my earth science students to the local gravel pit, we would discover Petoskey stones mixed in with the gravel. A local jeweler would show the kids how beautiful jewelry could be made from those stones.

The Petoskey stone is a petrified tropical coral with the scientific name Hexagonaria, meaning six-sided chamber. The picture shows some tiles made from Petoskey stones, and you can see that each polyp has six sides. Mixed in with them are clams, crinoids, trilobites, fish, and cephalopods. Studies of the Petoskey stone show the coral lived on plankton which are microscopic life forms that live in warm oceans. Petoskey, Michigan is NOT a tropical paradise and the Devonian period when these life forms lived lasted a long time, so the Devonian reefs are very thick. The whole state of Michigan is a bowl with these fossils found all around the state. In the middle of the bowl are coal, oil, peat, sulfur and natural gas deposits. The dilemma is how these rock formations got to be the way they are and where they are.

Some religious folks might suggest that this is a deposit produced by the flood of Noah. The problem with that explanation is that this is not a flood deposit and is not a product of violence. Genesis 7:11 tells us that “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up and the windows of heaven were opened.” I would take my students on a field trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to see a reef display. The rocks being formed and making up the reef are identical to the ones we see in the Devonian deposit. The fossils don’t show a violent end, but instead, they show a slow, gentle formation process. Calcite, silica and other minerals have replaced the original material in the cells of the Petoskey stone animals, giving a dazzling array of colors.

When God created “the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), the Bible simply states that He did it – not how He did it. At the end of verse 1, there were Petoskey stones in Devonian reefs, and oil, gas, coal, and the other resources were being formed. A change was coming that would make the conditions of the Earth more hospitable for human life, and God knew what we would need for an advanced civilization. Having a warm ocean covering the entire state of Michigan was not an environment humans could thrive in, but it was a tool God used to prepare the resources for human life.

There is no dilemma if we take the Bible literally and accept only what it says. Locking the creation account into a denominational theological tradition does violence to the Genesis account and causes young people to question the truth of the Bible. On the other hand, as they admire the beauty of the Petoskey stone jewelry they have made, people can realize that God has done some special and beautiful things to prepare a home for us in this life.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

For more on taking Genesis literally, read “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word” available free on doesgodexist.org.

Does Intelligent Design Destroy Science?

Does Intelligent Design Destroy Science?Skeptics claim that Intelligent Design destroys science. This claim shows how badly the skeptics misunderstand Intelligent Design.

The dictionary defines science as knowledge. When we do scientific experiments and make observations, we are trying to gain knowledge. We apply that knowledge to those situations where we can gain more knowledge. We never just say “God did it” and stop investigating. We continue experimenting because we want to understand how and why God did it. Believing that there is design in all aspects of the creation never stops us from looking for a deeper understanding. Naturalism is frequently just the opposite. A classic example of this is Junk DNA.

As naturalists examined the DNA in various animals, they found that there was DNA that didn’t seem to be necessary. They called it “Junk DNA” assuming that it was a byproduct left over from the evolutionary process. For many researchers, that was the end of the story. No further experiments were designed to find a purpose for junk DNA. In this case, a naturalistic view and assumption stopped the scientific investigation, or at least slowed it down.

A biology professor chastised me for referring to junk DNA as a dead-end street. His exact words were “God doesn’t make any junk.” The assumption that junk DNA wasn’t junk led to further investigation. That research now tells us the so-called “junk” has a purpose and plays a vital role in life processes. Believing that everything we see was created with a purpose and a design, and wanting to understand that design is a great catalyst for scientific investigation.

Historically, most of the significant discoveries of science over the past 1000 years have been made by scientists who recognized purpose and design in the cosmos. They were striving to understand that design. In our quarterly journal (which you can read on doesgodexist.org), we have a column titled “Scientists and God.” We present statements by leading scientists about their faith and their recognition of purpose and design in the creation. Does Intelligent Design destroy science? No, it supports science.

We quoted Albert Einstein in our first quarter journal for 2019 when he said:

“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written the books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human beings toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

Whether we study biology or quantum mechanics, Intelligent Design enhances science because the universe was intelligently designed.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Ballooning Spiders

Ballooning SpidersNearly two centuries ago a young biologist on a ship 60 miles from the nearest coastline was amazed by some spiders. The spiders were showing up on his ship when they had not been there before. Since his discovery, other researchers have seen similar mysterious migrations of ballooning spiders across open waters. Scientists have studied this amazing technique on Robinson Crusoe Island in the Pacific Ocean 415 miles off the coast of Chile.

The spiders climb to a high point and secure themselves with silk. The spiders have fine hairs called trichobothria which they use to sense wind direction and electric conditions. When it rains, electrons are carried to the ground making the ground negatively charged and the upper atmosphere positively charged. The spiders sense the field that results from this separation of charge. When conditions are right, the spiders release a silk that is so light that even the slightest breeze will keep it afloat. As the spiders spin off this low-density silk, their spinnerets also acquire a negative charge from the ground. The negative charge of the ground repels the negative charge on the silk. When the electric field and the breeze are strong enough, the spiders release the securing silk and become lifted into the air.

The ballooning spiders can rise up to 2.8 miles high and ride the winds for thousands of miles needing no food or water. When they land, they attach themselves and deposit their eggs. The ones that land on Robinson Crusoe Island are called ghost spiders.

The question of why this system is built into the spider’s DNA, how it knows when to send out different kinds of silk, and how it knows to use its legs for flight control is still being studied. There is no connection to other spiders and no compelling force to make them leave their original habitat.

We suggest that God has built incredible designs into all living things that allow the whole world to be populated and repopulated when climate change or other natural processes cause local extinction. By the way, the young biologist who first noticed the ballooning spiders technique was Charles Darwin.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from National Geographic, May 2019, page 28.

Biblical Protein

Biblical ProteinI always enjoy hearing a skeptic berate the Bible on some point that he or she considers absurd because the skeptic always comes out of such a tirade looking very foolish. Sometimes it is not immediately obvious why the biblical statement is sound, but it always is. One such tirade involved what you might call biblical protein.

Some time ago, an article appeared in one of the atheist journals ridiculing the idea that men such as John the Baptist and Samson could live on a diet of locusts. The question is whether eating locusts and honey is unwise nutritionally and medically (not to mention aesthetically). I never had an answer to that allegation until I came across an article concerning medical research on the subject.

It turns out that the protein content of all insects, especially locusts, is very high. Locusts and grasshoppers have over three times as much protein as chicken and fish and over four times as much as pork and lamb. Beef is more than three times lower in protein than locusts. Among insects, the protein content of locusts is very high. For example, locust protein content is three times as rich as ant protein.

So that seems to settle the question of biblical protein. From a nutritional standpoint, I would have to say there was great wisdom in eating locusts. I cannot comment on the flavor, but for the time being, I suspect McDonald’s will stick with hamburgers.
— John N. Clayton © 2019