The January 11, 2021, Proceedings of the National Academies of Science written by scientists from all around the globe raised an issue about problems associated with the decline of insect populations. The report points out that insecticides, herbicides, light pollution, invasive species, climate change, and agriculture and land-use changes are causing the loss of 1 to 2% of Earth’s insects each year. People hate bugs, and yet we can’t live without them.
We have written numerous times about the design of insects and how they benefit human life. Insects pollinate the food we eat. They are a significant part of the food chain, they get rid of waste, and in many cultures, they are a basic food. In my military survival training, I remember being taught how to eat grasshoppers, ants, crickets, and a variety of ground insects.
University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner who directed the scientific study, said, “Insects are absolutely the fabric by which Mother Nature [we would say God] and the tree of life are built.” The classic example of this problem is the struggle that beekeepers have with the dramatic decline of honeybees. Wagner goes on to point out that in the midwest, we are “creating a giant biological desert, except for soybeans and corn, in a giant area.”
People hate bugs, and we tend to resist any desire to help insects prosper. We must remind ourselves that they are part of God’s design, and the problems they cause are always related in some way to human mismanagement. We must wisely use what God has given us.
One of the less known necessities of the natural world is the need to aerate the soil. Without some device to rototill your gardens, the ground would be so hard nothing could grow in it. Worms, moles, groundhogs, and insects work the ground so plants can grow, but the world’s most efficient agent to do this is God’s rototiller, the lyrebird.
These birds of eastern Australia have rake-like feet that are so strong they can crush scorpions. Lyrebirds do more than any other form of life to till the soil. One lyrebird can turn over and aerate 388 tons of material on the ground every year while reducing fire risk. Lyrebirds eat insects that they kick up as they work the soil, reducing the danger of insect infestations.
Humans have learned what it takes the get the soil to yield its best crop. We plow and disk the ground to prepare it for producing plants that give us our food. God’s rototiller, the lyrebird, does it more efficiently by controlling even the pests that would defeat our efforts. The natural world continues to reveal God’s design in ways that we are just beginning to understand.
Squirrels in Arctic areas seem to have a hibernation technique which could be described as suspended animation. Arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus purryii) go into a state of deep torpor breathing once a minute with a heart rate of five beats per minute. Every two to three weeks, the squirrels revive for 12 to 24 hours, but they don’t eat, drink, or eliminate during that time.
Researchers from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, have found that hibernating Arctic ground squirrels have skeletal muscle breakdown, releasing nitrogen to compensate for lack of food. Even though this is happening, the squirrel’s total muscle mass doesn’t change. It appears that they have protein stored up to handle their needs, but scientists are trying to understand where and how that protein is made available. This is another designed characteristic that allows life to exist in the Arctic.
Realize that there are unique problems in an ecosystem that is shut down for eight months. The design of larger animals allows them to migrate, and caribou herds go great distances to survive the Arctic winter. The migration of salmon into Arctic waters is another provision for animal survival. The salmon become food for Arctic animals, and their bodies become fertilizer so plants can grow in an area with virtually no soil.
Smaller animals have a big problem because they can’t migrate, and their plant-based food sources have a very short growing season. It appears that Arctic ground squirrels are a vital link in maintaining the balance of food and plant growth. The squirrels bury seeds so new plants can grow, and they provide a nutrient source for predators like wolves and wolverines. The complexity of how they do this has led to a whole new area of biology with its own magazine–Nature Metabolism.
Scientists are researching the Arctic ground squirrels’ metabolism to understand how this complex system works. Whatever the biochemistry involved, it is highly complex and strongly supports the belief that God designed life forms to survive even in a cold environment.
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.
We get many interesting responses to our daily articles on this website. Recently, several people responded to our emphasis on the value of insects. Bugs can indeed bother us. Some bite or sting, while others eat our vegetation encroaching on our food supply. Despite those things, we have pointed out that entomologists tell us that insects are beneficial.
Akito Kawahara, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said that most people are unaware of the value of insects. Kawahara points out that insects annually contribute 70 billion dollars to the U.S. economy by their roles in pollination and waste disposal processing. Everyone knows that insects are involved in pollinating flowering plants, but they may not realize that insects are the linchpins, holding together almost all land-based ecosystems. Also, insects provide food sources for birds, bats, freshwater fish, and numerous land animals.
Not realizing the value of insects, humans have done much to eradicate them. We have reduced their habitat, used massive amounts of pesticides, and made them victims of pollution. Sometimes, we have brought in invasive species of animals and plants that harm the ecosystems. We have also done things that accelerate climate change. The National Academy of Sciences suggests initiating a campaign to encourage people to avoid using bug zappers, practice insect conservation, do less mowing, and use insect-friendly soaps and sealants.
God set up a working system that has produced a high standard of living for thousands of years. We are threatening to unbalance the system by our capacity for high tech devices and materials. Sometimes insect populations get out of control and damage human resources, such as the locust invasions of recent years. It is often human interference with the natural controlling agents that have caused the insect infestations. People need to be aware of the value of insects to life on this planet.
How many bird species can you identify? There are over 10,000 known species of birds in the world, and I am sure you could not identify them all. But God can. More than that, He sees each one individually (Matthew 10:29). That staggers my mind. Sometimes I can’t keep up with counting birds at my backyard bird feeders.
We often feature birds in our daily Facebook postings, and many times we have talked about birds on this website. (For example, HERE, HERE, and HERE.) Birds are fascinating, beautiful, and intelligent creatures. Birds, like mammals, can be trained to do things and respond to humans in various ways. We see that as a purposeful design by our Creator to allow us to bond with these animals.
Watching birds fly through the air and listening to their beautiful songs are fascinating and enjoyable activities. Since the beginning, humans have longed for the ability to fly and see the world from our feathered friends’ perspective. Sometimes, people have been careless in causing harm or even extinction to bird species. When we see the many ways birds benefit life on Earth, we must recognize that we should be good stewards of what God has given us.
An annual worldwide event known as The Great Backyard Bird Count is now in progress. It’s a science project that you can get involved in no matter who you are or where you live. This year, from February 12-15 people worldwide will be counting birds in their vicinity. By doing that, they are helping to compile a database of birds. All you have to do is take at least one period of 15 minutes or more and make a list of all the birds you see in your backyard, in a local park, outside your apartment window, or anywhere else that’s convenient. Just record your location, start and end times, and the number and types of birds you see.
Of course, you can spend more than 15 minutes, or you can do it on each of the four days, or even multiple times per day. As in past years, the statistics from bird watchers worldwide will be tabulated by scientists to get a better picture of the world bird population and health. To help you identify birds, you can consult websites such as WhatBird.com and AllAboutBirds.org, which are free to use.
Counting birds is a science project that anyone can do. To learn the details of how you can get involved in this worldwide project, sign up for free at www.birdcount.org. We think that learning more about God’s creation helps us see our Creator’s wisdom and love. (Matthew 6:26)
Have you ever thought about how a tiny cricket can make so much noise? Researchers have found that male tree crickets use leaves to make baffles that double the volume of their calls. You could call them cricket megaphones.
Cricket wings are resonance structures reverberating with the vibration caused by rubbing the wings together. This reverberation is like the body of a violin, but the sound is weak because the insect is so small. To make a baffle, the male cricket cuts a hole in a leaf and then crawls halfway through the hole, so its wings cause the leaf to vibrate like a loudspeaker. The advantage is that female crickets are attracted to the males with the loudest call.
The discussion among biologists is about whether this qualifies as tool use. Rittik Deb, an ecologist at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, says crickets show that sophisticated behaviors aren’t just for big complex brains. Deb says his work “really turns that idea on its head.”
Not everything about this behavior is beneficial to the cricket because increasing the volume of their calls makes them sitting ducks for predators like geckos and spiders. It would seem that this controls the cricket population, but it provides a food source for other living things. For that reason, it appears that evolutionary processes would eventually put a stop to cricket megaphones.
A more likely scenario is that the behavior is programmed into the crickets’ DNA to keep a balance in nature. In places where geckos and/or spiders are in abundance, the cricket population remains small. In Australia, we saw large numbers of geckos and large spiders in the homes of people with whom we stayed. We did not see insect problems in those same homes. In America, we have much to learn about the natural controls that God has built into our world. As more evidence unfolds, we see that human attempts to control insects with chemicals are unnecessary.
Most people know that birds have excellent vision.Eagles can spot a mouse from high overhead. How can they have such sharp vision? Science has revealed the hidden design in a bird’s eye.
The secret of a bird’s eyes was detected first, not in an eagle, but in the eye of a chicken. Color cones are cells in the retina located in the back of the eye. The cones capture the image that the lens focuses on the retina. Human eyes have cones of three different colors: red, blue, and green. Examining the retinas of chickens’ eyes, scientists found that they have five different colors of cones. But it isn’t the number of different color cones that is the most amazing feature.
Much more interesting is the arrangement of the cones. The cones for each color are different sizes. Imagine taking many circles in five different sizes and colors and arranging them on a surface, trying to fit the maximum number of circles into the area. If they were all the same size, you might put them into a grid, but since the circles are in five different sizes, packing the maximum number into the area becomes much more difficult. In packing cone cells onto a retina, more cones will give a higher resolution (sharper) image.
The arrangement of cones in the chicken retina seemed to be haphazard until scientists studied them more closely. What they found was something they call “hyperuniformity.” It’s a mathematically elegant concept that appears to be disordered but is actually optimized with a hidden order. You might call it “disordered hyperuniformity.” It’s the hidden design in a bird’s eye.
What appears disordered is the best possible arrangement to evenly distribute the maximum number of unevenly-sized cones over the retinal surface. Scientists are applying this to many other areas. Hyperuniformity could improve cameras and scanning equipment. It could also improve such diverse processes as mixing concrete, making glass, or any application where you need to distribute solid particles evenly.
How did the cells in the chicken’s eyes get arranged so perfectly? Was the hidden design in a bird’s eye an accident, or is this another example of the work of an intelligent Designer?
For all living things to evolve from a single common ancestor, an incredible number of beneficial changes must occur. The problem is that biological barriers to evolution get in the way.
Although Darwinism looks for genetic mutations to fashion new and beneficial genetic changes, the vast majority of mutations are harmful. Since fruit flies have a short reproductive cycle, scientists have worked with enormous numbers of fruit fly generations, trying to demonstrate evolution. They have produced mutated fruit flies with four wings rather than two. However, the extra wings are a useless encumbrance to the fruit flies because there are no muscles to move them. Additionally, they are still fruit flies, not even houseflies or horseflies.
Darwin saw that the beaks of finches changed over time. However, those beak variations were not anything new; they had always been there. Changes in the habitat caused the birds with beneficial beak sizes and shapes to reproduce in larger numbers. When the climate or other conditions changed again, the predominant beaks changed again. The beak adaptations were not permanent changes, and the birds were still finches.
Mutations do not add new data to the DNA, and for a mutation to be passed on to the next generation, it must occur in the reproductive cells. A genetic change in body cells can’t be passed on to future generations any more than a woman who has had an appendectomy will give birth to a child with no appendix. Mutations in bacteria are well known and can cause them to become immune to the effects of antibiotics. But again, those are just hereditary fluctuations around a median point. They do not become new creatures.
Hundreds or even thousands of years of plant and animal breeding by humans has shown that intelligent breeding can produce remarkable changes and improvements. But new dog breeds are still dogs, and new rose varieties are still roses. If biological barriers to evolution limit intelligent humans to making improved changes within certain limited boundaries, could purely random chance mutations create the wide variety of life-forms in the world today? Billions of years are not enough time to do the impossible.
One interesting facet of the pandemic has been the COVID effect on the natural world. Worldwide reports have shown that animal life reacted to the reduced human activity. Here are some of the interesting cases:
1) In the Welsh village of Llandudno, a herd of Kashmiri goats descended from the Great Orme Mountain. The goats settled into the town munching on hedges and eating flowers and vegetables as there were no people around to run them off. 2) Dolphins showed up in Sardinia’s canals even though the media erroneously reported that they were in Venice’s canals. 3) Elephants invaded a Tea garden in China’s Yunnan province and became intoxicated after drinking corn wine. 4) Sparrows in San Francisco changed their song, although the reasons for this are not clear. The birds sang more softly and began hitting lower notes. 5) Raccoons shifted their activity periods from being nocturnal to operating in broad daylight.
All of this tells us that these animals have built-in systems of behavior that human activities have altered. When humans are not present, the animals return to the behavioral patterns of their ancestors. COVID reduced some of the negative aspects of human activity as well. In the spring of 2020, there was a 17% drop in carbon dioxide emissions as people reduced their driving.
God has built into the natural world a strong sense of behavior patterns, but most animals have the flexibility to adapt their behavior. Humans also can adapt to act in ways that benefit the world in which we live. We are not programmed to selfishness and to a way of life that destroys what God has given us. Now that we see the COVID effect on the natural world let us learn from this experience to become better stewards of God’s blessings.