California Condor Parthenogenesis

California Condor Parthenogenesis
California Condor in the Grand Canyon

In the 1980s, there was great concern about the shrinking population of California condors. In 1987, they became extinct in the wild, and only 22 were left in captivity. Due to a captive breeding program, at last count, there were 518 living California Condors in 2019. Most of them were in the wild in California, Arizona, and Utah. Recently, scientists discovered two cases of California condor parthenogenesis, or as news reports called it, “virgin birth.”

Researchers from the San Diego Wildlife Alliance discovered two male condors who had not been produced by sexual reproduction, even though their mothers had previously produced offspring in the usual way. The scientists could determine that because they have a record of the genetic data for the more than 900 condors hatched since the captive breeding program began in the 1980s. Both birds contained identical copies of their mother’s DNA, which cannot happen when a female’s egg has been fertilized by sperm.

Parthenogenesis occurs in some insects and other invertebrates and a few fish, amphibian, and reptile species. It even happens in some captive birds, but it is unknown in wild birds. I have often kidded my biologist friends about their discipline, saying that the only universal rule in biology is that anything you say always has an exception. California condor parthenogenesis is one of those exceptions.

Reasons for preserving wildlife are to protect the environment and its impact on humans and learn from studying the design of living things. But, of course, another reason is to enjoy the beauty of the natural world. We can see God’s creative wisdom in the world all around us, and the more we know about the creation, the better we understand the Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Living Bird magazine (Winter of 2022, page 13) and Journal of Heredity

Animal Tool Use and What It Means

Animal Tool Use and What It Means
Elephant using a tree trunk as a pillow for sleeping

An interesting fact about animals is their ability to use tools. Years ago, people thought that only humans used tools, but recent studies have shown animal tool use. However, the word “tool” means different things to different people. 

Webster defines a tool as “an instrument used to accomplish a given task.” By that definition, we can find examples of animal tool use. We have reported on some of them before. For example, HERE and HERE.

Science News reported that polar bears sometimes kill walrus by bashing them with chunks of stone or ice. People have observed birds cracking nuts by dropping them from high altitudes onto rocks. Elephants use tree trunks for a variety of purposes, and crows use sticks to pry off the lids of bottles. Chimpanzees use conchoidally fractured chert or flint to cut open a fruit. Those of us who have bird feeders have seen squirrels use a tree branch to access a feeder. Recently, researchers in Israel taught fish how to drive a “car.”

There is a difference between a tool and a machine. According to the dictionary, a machine is “an assembly of interconnected components arranged to transmit or modify force in order to perform useful work.” A broader question here is whether intelligence is needed to fashion a machine? If that is the case, intelligent animals should be making machines, and mentally challenged humans would not be able to do so. 

This discussion of animal tool use gets into difficulties because the anatomical parts of all animals are simple machines. Limbs are levers, and teeth are wedges. The design of all animals includes the equipment to secure food and shelter. Building into animals the ability to use objects in their environment to survive is another example of God’s design in the natural world. 

Studies indicate incredible wisdom and planning in the creation of animal life. However, what sets humans apart from all other animals is not tools, machines, or intelligence. Instead, our spiritual nature is what makes humans different.

The ability of humans to create art, express ourselves in music, conceive of self, worship, and be taught to think set humans apart. To have an agape type of love that is not sexual and does not promote survival makes us human. The mentally challenged among us possess these abilities because all of us are created in the image of God. Animal tool use is far removed from possessing God’s image.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Science News, July 29, 2021.

A Larger Dinosaur Has Been Found

A Larger Dinosaur

We are amazed by the enormous size of animals in the distant past. From a giant millipede to the Titanoboa and the Titanosaur, the size of ancient animals excites fossil hunters. Since 2017, Patagotitan has held the record for the largest dinosaur at 120 feet (36.5 m) long and weighing over 57 tons. However, paleontologists in Argentina recently found pieces of a larger dinosaur.

The size of this animal has several implications. First, we need to be reminded that, unlike mammals, reptiles never stop growing, so there is virtually no limit to their size. A more significant issue is having environments warm enough for such animals to live and enough plant material to sustain them, plus a high oxygen level.

The environment that allowed a larger dinosaur to survive would not have been hospitable to mammals. Reptiles can not only survive very hot conditions, but they require heat to sustain their bulk. A hot Earth with very wet conditions would also promote rapid plant growth. Accordingly, the plant fossils from the time of those animals indicate huge size and rapid growth.

The Bible makes clear that everything humans would need to live on Earth was produced before humans were created. Therefore, we have maintained that God was not a magician miraculously zapping things into existence. God could do the creation any way He wished, but He wisely chose to make the resources humans would need in such a way that we could find them.

God acted as an engineer, producing the coal, gas, oil, iron, salt, and other resources we would need by processes we can study and understand. The volume of fossil fuels stored up for our use is a staggering number. Present-day processes on Earth could never produce them, but the enormous animals and plants of the past created enough resources to take us into the nuclear/solar age.

The Bible tells us that God created planet Earth, not how or how long He took to do it.
Genesis 1:1 is not dated or timed. However, as we look at the record of the past, we see God’s wisdom and power and the magnitude of the creative process that allows us to exist.

Rather than trying to fit a larger dinosaur into Noah’s Ark, we need to take Genesis for what it says and not add denominational traditions. We must not use the economy of language in Genesis to justify our human religious theories.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Have Scientists Found the Biggest Dinosaur?” Discover magazine, January/February 2022, page 53.

Edward O Wilson Was an Authority on Ants

Edward O. Wilson Was an Authority on Ants

You may recognize the name Edward O. Wilson whom evolutionists associate with sociobiology. However, the Harvard biologist who passed away in December at the age of 92 was actually more famous for his detailed study of ants. There are currently over 15,000 known species of ants, with probably thousands more, and Edward O Wilson was an authority on ants.

Wilson’s studies included ants that can walk under water to find dead insects or glide from one tree to another or join together to make a raft to carry their queen and eggs to safety away from a flooded nest. Wilson pointed out the complex social organization of an ant colony. He wrote that “Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species.”

Wilson summarized his work by saying, “Our sense of wonder grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery.” Proverbs 6:6 gives a similar message: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.” We have considered the ways of ants many times on this website and in our printed journal. You can find links to some of those articles below.

Edward O Wilson was an authority on ants, and although we disagree with his agnosticism and materialistic Darwinism, we applaud him for giving us information about the world of ants. His work reinforces the message of Romans 1:20 that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.”

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Columnist Rich Lowry in the Herald Bulletin for December 23, 2021.

Here are links to some of our previous articles on ants:

Ants and survival rafts.

Ants with prism cooling.

Armor for leafcutter ants.

Ants and tool use.

Ants as farmers.

Ant leaf-cutting tool.

Ant doorways.

Ants in the Sahara Desert.

Ants working together.

A Giant Millipede and What It Teaches Us

A Giant Millipede and What It Teaches Us
A Modern “Giant” Millipede

Can you imagine a giant millipede almost nine feet long? Most of us have seen inch-long millipedes under a rock or in a rotting log. Like centipedes, millipedes get their name from their many legs. “Mille” means thousand, and “ped” means foot, so a millipede could have a thousand feet.

Some 10,000 species of millipedes live today, and they are related to lobsters, shrimp, and crayfish. Australian researchers recently announced finding a three-inch-long millipede with 1,306 legs, which stirred up great interest among biologists. But that is nothing compared to a new fossil discovery.

Now researchers from the University of Cambridge have found the fossil of a true giant millipede in England. This specimen is 8.6 feet long and would have weighed about 110 pounds. Named Arthropleura, this is the largest invertebrate ever found, replacing giant sea scorpions that previously held the record. This animal lived before the dinosaurs and was an omnivore eating plants, nuts, seeds, and other invertebrates.

The importance of a find like this giant millipede is that it tells us that large animals, insects, and plants existed in the past. In addition, it reminds us that the ecology of the early Earth, as it was being prepared for later life forms, was very different from what we see today. At that time, England was a tropical area where massive quantities of resources like coal, limestone, and various minerals were being produced. Therefore, the plant and animal life in that ecology had to be large.

The Bible does not describe all of the processes because even today
, we have a hard time comprehending how that ancient world functioned. Genesis 1:1 simply tells us that God created the Earth, not how or when or what processes He used to prepare the planet for humans. But because God used a process, we can locate resources far underground. If He had simply “zapped” the planet into existence, we would have no clue about where to look for oil or coal or various minerals.

Proverbs 8 talks about the wisdom that allowed the production of all we see and use today. When we hear about a find like this giant millipede, it underlines how carefully God planned for our existence. Today, our challenge is to take care of the planet by preserving what God has given us rather than wasting it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: USA Today by Jordan Mendoza 12/28/21.

Oxygen Generators and More

Oxygen Generators and More

They are microscopic plants. You may never see them individually, but they exist by the millions on or near the surface of oceans, lakes, and rivers, even in polar regions. Scientists call them phytoplankton which comes from two Greek words that mean “plant drifter.” We call them oxygen generators.

You can see masses of green phytoplankton on the water surface because of the green chlorophyll they contain. Chlorophyll enables them to use sunlight and nutrients from the water to produce the nourishment they need to live. In the process of photosynthesis, they are oxygen generators. Of course, humans and all animals must have the oxygen to breathe, and phytoplankton play an essential role in our climate by controlling the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In the ocean, tiny animals called krill eat phytoplankton. In turn, the krill provide the diet for many fish and even for huge baleen whales. Those whales stir up the ocean, bringing to the surface minerals which the phytoplankton need. As whales eat and grow, they take in large amounts of carbon. When they die, their bodies containing the carbon sink to the bottom of the ocean. This well-engineered system helps prevent the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Phytoplankton are incredibly diverse, with thousands of different species. The microscopic photo shows members of one class of phytoplankton known as diatoms. The carcasses of phytoplankton, algae, and other marine plants deposited on the sea beds long ago became the petroleum we use today.

Diatoms produce silicon shells, and when they die, those shells form deep deposits on the ocean floor. People mine those microscopic shells and use them for what we call diatomite or diatomaceous earth used in industry for fine polishing and for filtering liquids. In addition, gardeners sprinkle diatomaceous earth around their plants to protect them from insect pests. Scientists are also exploring uses for those microscopic shells in nanotechnology.

So, in addition to being oxygen generators, these tiny plants produce energy sources for humans and food for creatures of the ocean and freshwater lakes. Without them, our climate would be much different, and life would be difficult, if not impossible. Chance evolution doesn’t seem to be an adequate explanation for diverse phytoplankton. We see them as another example of design by the Master Designer of life.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Pearl Beauty and Design

Pearl Beauty and Design

We have often reported on how design in nature has helped human “inventors” develop new products or improve old ones. It seems that lowly mollusks can teach humans some lessons from pearl beauty and design.

When a grain of sand or a tiny bit of debris enters the mollusk’s shell, such as an oyster or mussel, the creature goes into a defensive action to protect itself from the irritating particle. The oyster deposits a crystalline form of calcium carbonate known as aragonite. Limestone is primarily calcium carbonate, but it lacks the iridescent appearance of this crystallized form. The smooth layers of mineral and protein which the mollusk deposits on the foreign particle is called nacre (pronounced NAY-ker). The layers of nacre take on a beautiful, iridescent, and shiny appearance that gives pearls their beauty.

The question that has bothered scientists for more than a century is how the oyster can change a jagged or lopsided fragment of grit into a perfectly round and smooth pearl. However, pearl beauty and design remained a mystery until recently when a research team studied pearls from Akoya pearl oysters (Pinctada imbricata fucata) in Australia. First, they used a diamond wire saw to slice pearls in half. Then they polished the cut surfaces and used various electron microscopes to study them more carefully than anyone had done before.

The researchers refer to the layers of nacre as “tablets.” For example, one pearl they studied had 2,615 tablets deposited over 548 days, or 4 to 5 tablets per day. The pearl was only 2.5 mm in diameter, so the tablets were extremely thin. However, the mollusk modulates the thickness of the nacre layers according to “power-law decay across low to mid frequencies, colloquially called 1/f noise.” That means the mollusk uses some math to adjust the thickness of the layers to compensate for irregularities. Where one layer is thin, the next is thicker to self-correct, so irregularities heal themselves in the following few layers.

One of the researchers, Laura Otter, a biogeochemist at the Australian National University, said: “These humble creatures are making a super light and super tough material so much more easily and better than we do with all our technology.” Using calcium carbonate and protein, oysters make nacre 3,000 times tougher than the materials from which they make it. Another research team member, Robert Hovden, a materials scientist and engineer at the University of Michigan, said that understanding how mollusks make pearls could inspire “the next generation of super materials.” That might include materials for better solar panels or for use in spacecraft.

Once again, design in nature gives us some valuable insights. Even lowly mollusks can teach humans some lessons through pearl beauty and design, thanks to the Designer of nature.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

References: ScienceNews.org, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Turkeys Don’t Have Enough Dark Meat

Turkeys Don’t Have Enough Dark Meat
Wild Male Turkey

We get some interesting letters and emails. Even though some people may send them with an impure motive, we can always learn something from them. Recently, we received an email about turkeys that brings up an interesting point. Turkey meat is often on the menu for Thanksgiving and Christmas. This person was complaining because, at his house, turkeys don’t have enough dark meat to go around.

The difference between white and dark meat in turkeys and chickens is a lesson in how humans change what God created. If you have ever eaten a wild turkey, you know that it is all dark meat. This is because wild turkeys are very active, running and flying. Having the ability to do these two things means that wild turkeys require more oxygen-carrying blood vessels. With more blood vessels, the meat is darker.

Domestic and factory-raised turkeys don’t use their muscles as much, and with fewer blood vessels, the meat is whiter. The way a turkey is raised affects the nature of the meat. In our area of the country, turkey farms raise large numbers of birds that don’t fly and do very little running. Those are the turkeys you buy at the supermarket, and that will always be the case.

Hawaii has large numbers of chickens in the wild. They fly and run, and if people use them for food, they find very little white meat. In the area we visited in Hawaii, the local people would not eat those free-range chickens because they felt the dark meat was not as good.

I told my questioner that if turkeys don’t have enough dark meat for him, he should bring his shotgun to my house during turkey season. In that way, he could increase the amount of dark meat in his holiday meal. Many of our domestically produced meat products are different from their wild ancestors. God created creatures to survive in the natural world, not to please human preferences.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Benefits and Challenges of Squirrels

Benefits and Challenges of Squirrels

We find it interesting to consider the benefits and challenges of squirrels. Now that most of our trees in this area have shed their leaves, we can see nests that are different from bird nests high in our trees. They are round and are not open on the top. The nest design programmed into the squirrel DNA has the structural integrity to withstand high winds, heavy rain or snow, and even the invasion of most predators.

Squirrels begin by weaving twigs to make a floor or platform for the nest, usually in a fork high in the tree. Next, they place damp leaves or moss on this floor and weave it around the base, making a spherical nest. Then they stuff leaves and twigs into the sphere, leaving an inner cavity which they line with shredded bark and leaves. Squirrels usually complete their construction in the fall, although they may start as early as June. They are typically solitary but may share a nest for warmth in the coldest winter months or for mating and raising their babies.

Squirrels may also take advantage of any shelter they can find. For example, they can use an old woodpecker nest in a hollow tree and line it with moss and leaves. Unfortunately, squirrels will also take advantage of human structures to nest. For example, they may exploit an abandoned car, a hole in a roof, a woodpile, or an unused boat or camper. Being aware of the abilities of squirrels gives us a way to avoid damage or problems they might cause.

Squirrels are intelligent and very athletic animals. Those of us who have bird feeders can tell many stories of how squirrels evaded our best efforts to keep them from eating the birdseed. The main diet of squirrels is nuts and seeds, but they also eat insects, grubs, and beetles. They frequently bury nuts for later use and fail to dig up a percentage of them which then grow into trees. Oak trees planted by squirrels are a significant part of reforestation in northern areas.

As we think about the benefits and challenges of squirrels, remember that they are wild animals that can spread disease and insect bites from fleas, chiggers, and tics. Despite the challenges squirrels present, these small animals are designed to give us more benefits than problems. Enjoy the creatures God has given us to serve a purpose on this planet.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Why Zebras Wear Stripes

Why Zebras Wear Stripes

A child said that a zebra is a horse in striped pajamas. Of course, zebras are not horses, and they don’t wear pajamas. But have you ever wondered why zebras wear stripes? And I have another question—are they white animals with black stripes or black animals with white stripes?

There are at least five possible answers to why zebras wear stripes. Probably the best known is so they can hide in the tall grass. But not all zebras live in areas with tall grass. Also, their main predators (lions and hyenas) are not good at seeing far away. They are more likely to smell zebras before they see them.

Another possibility is that the stripes help to repel flies. In a study published in 2020, researchers put rugs on horses to test that theory. They draped solid-color rugs on some horses and striped or checked rugs on others. They found that fewer flies landed on the horses with striped or checked rugs, and those biting African horseflies carry diseases that can be fatal for zebras.

Still, another idea is that stripes help zebras stay cool. The black and white areas create differences in heat exchange patterns causing air to move over the zebra’s body. So we think the stripes make the zebras look “cool” too.

Every zebra has a different stripe pattern, like how every person has a different fingerprint. So maybe this allows the zebras to identify each other. We don’t have to look at people’s fingers to tell who they are. Instead, we look at their faces. However, zebra faces look pretty much the same except for those different stripe patterns.

Maybe those stripes work in another way to evade predators. Perhaps they fool predators by what is called “motion dazzle.” A bunch of striped zebras moving around might confuse a predator in the way a person can become confused or dizzy watching striped objects in motion. So it makes sense that it would be hard to pick out one animal in a herd of moving zebras.

So if we wonder why zebras wear stripes, the answer is–we don’t know for sure. As far as the other question, zebras have black skin, and their default hair color is black. However, some hair follicles have turned off the melanocytes that produce the melanin that gives the hair its color. So those hairs are white. So, therefore, you could say that zebras are black with white stripes.

But that brings up the question of why are those melanin-free hair follicles so nicely arranged in beautiful stripes instead of randomly, resulting in a dull gray appearance. People appreciate beauty, and since we are created in God’s image, He must also be a fan of beauty. I want to suggest that God just likes to add a little extra flair to His creations. He has certainly created many beautiful things, and zebras are just one of many examples. Perhaps that’s why zebras wear stripes.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Reference: livescience.com/zebras-black-and-white