Animals Are Not Helpless Creatures

Animals Are Not Helpless Creatures
Chimpanzee with Injured Lip

Sometimes people suggest that animals are at the mercy of the elements and therefore plagued with disease, pain, and suffering. The fact is that animals are not helpless creatures suffering from massive illnesses and infections that make their lives a painful misery. Instead, the Creator has given animals immune systems to resist disease and an awareness of ways to treat injuries.

By watching animals, humans have learned that certain plants can fight infections and help to heal wounds. For example, we use aloe to relieve sunburn pain, but animals have been using it for various skin conditions for many years. Various plants bring comfort to animals when they are sick or injured, and humans have copied plant use by animals for treating a variety of ailments.

Researchers recently discovered that not only can plants offer relief to animals, but insects are also medically beneficial. More surprising is that animals know about these remedies and can use them. For example, scientists have observed chimpanzees catching a tiny flying insect and placing it on a wound or sore to provide relief. Researchers have not yet identified that insect, but they have seen primates use other arthropods and certain leaves to help heal wounds and provide relief from pain.

When humans don’t upset the system, animals are not helpless creatures. They have a minimum of suffering, and they even know ways to treat wounds and infections. Death in the undisturbed animal world is rapid and purposeful. Human interference with the natural balance often results in prolonged suffering for animals.

Too often, we prolong the suffering of other humans with expensive treatments that don’t produce a quality of life. However, we have much to learn from the world God created, and perhaps a tiny flying insect can be one more aid to healing or pain relief if the researchers can just find out what it is.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Current Biology Volume 32, Issue 3

Diversity of Life on Earth

Diversity of Life on Earth

We read reports of scientific research from all over the globe. Scientists are discovering how various forms of life exist on this planet. There is a diversity of life on Earth, even in environments where you wouldn’t expect life to survive.

One such environment is in the deepest part of the ocean, where animals must live in total darkness. The design that enables them to survive with no light from the Sun or Moon is bioluminescence. These animals generate their own light so they can find each other and locate prey. There is a whole chain of life in the darkness of the deep ocean, and we are learning that this ecosystem absorbs greenhouse gases that affect the atmosphere for land creatures.

We see this kind of balance in oceans of the past. Long ago, sea animals were large enough to maintain balance in the sea by eating tremendous quantities of food. For example, a marine reptile carnivore known as ichthyosaur was up to 66 feet (20 meters) long. When the asteroid strike wiped out the giant creatures, including the dinosaurs and ichthyosaurs, the smaller life forms survived and established a new food chain.

Scientists are discovering unique designs that enable animals to survive what would appear to be impossible conditions. For example, how can a boa constrictor breathe as it squeezes the life out of prey and ingests it? Why doesn’t the act of compression force the air out of the snake, suffocating it? The answer is that boas have 200 pairs of ribs and some of the ribs squeeze the prey while others are designed to allow the snake to breathe.

The diversity of life on Earth allows specialized equipment designed for living in any environment. Even humans are diverse. Modern pygmies are well-designed to live in a jungle environment. Fossils of a hominin named Homo naledi tell us that ancient small humans existed in environments with fewer resources. Most of what we know about them comes from a burial chamber found in a cave in South Africa.

We see the diversity of life on Earth today, even in humans able to survive in challenging environments. Racial characteristics in humans offer survival benefits in the diverse habitats of our planet, and they are not a basis for discrimination. We need to understand that diversity in animals and humans is an expression of God’s wisdom and design for life everywhere on Earth.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Saturday Evening Post May/June 2022 (pages 36-39); The Week March 18 (page 21) and April 15, 2022 (page 21); USA Today and South Bend Tribune for May 2, 2022; and Archaeology for May/June 2022 (pages 9-10).

New Research into Bird Songs

New Research into Bird Songs

One of the adverse effects of evolutionary theory is that it closes off research that might offer important insights into animal behavior. Classic evolutionary theory says that males do what they do to secure mates. For example, a male has more color to attract females and improve the chances of securing a mate. Evolutionary theorists claim that male birds sing to secure a mate and more elaborate songs are more likely to attract females. New research into bird songs has given new insights.

Recent studies show that more than 64% of female birds in North America sing for the same reasons that male birds sing. A bird doesn’t sing only to attract a mate. Evolutionary theorists comparing bird singing to animals wearing antlers make an invalid comparison.

Territory is a significant concern for birds, and birds sing to mark territory. We have a woodpecker that drums on the flashing around our chimney, making a very loud sound. That drumming warns others of his species to stay out of the area he dominates. As I write this, a male cardinal is singing in a tree across the street, warning all other male cardinals to stay out of this region. We may think the song is purely to attract a female cardinal, but it is part of the cardinal defense mechanism.

Females also need to establish a territory. Females sing to communicate with their mates and later with their offspring. Assuming that bird singing is merely to attract a mate limits the design built into animal behavior. New research into bird songs has told us more about the singing behavior of female birds. Female bird songs have been neglected until recently, perhaps because male ornithologists were doing the research. As women became more involved in bird research and researchers paid less attention to forcing bird behavior into evolutionary theory, scientific literature has revealed new discoveries.

Since God created birds
, it is logical that He would have built into males and females the ability to communicate and secure their territory’s boundaries. As scientists conduct new research into bird songs, it reminds us of how much we have to learn about living things. We wonder what other things scientists will discover about animal behavior if they can overcome misunderstandings based on the evolutionary assumption of “survival of the fittest.”

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Scientific American May 2022, page 10.

Keystone Plants and Caterpillars

Keystone Plants and Caterpillars
Oak Trees are Keystone Superstars

As we think of the design of life in our world, we tend to focus on animals, birds, and fish. As scientists study the things that support these life forms, it becomes apparent that all land life on this planet depends on keystone plants and caterpillars. Plants capture solar energy during photosynthesis, but how that energy gets into a bird or other animal is primarily through caterpillars.

Caterpillars transfer more energy from plants than any other form of life. Ninety-six percent of terrestrial birds depend on the protein-packed bodies of caterpillars for food. Most of us are familiar with monarch butterflies that deposit their eggs on milkweeds because they are the only plants their caterpillars can eat. North America has 17,000 native plant species, and having a caterpillar that can eat plants from only the milkweed genus is very rare. Some plants are called “keystone” plants because they support many different caterpillars and other species.

The superstars of the keystone plants are the oak trees that provide food for 952 species of butterfly/moth (Lepidopteran) caterpillars. In addition to that, nesting birds, woodpeckers, squirrels, and other animals survive because of oak trees. A single oak tree will support tens of thousands of individual species of life in its lifetime. Goldenrod is another keystone plant, and it blooms from late summer to fall when other plants can’t support caterpillars. There are more than 100 goldenrod species in America, and they support both caterpillars and bees.

North American ecosystems are designed so that caterpillars are available to support birds and other caterpillar eaters. God’s intricate design of life is evident in keystone plants and caterpillars that eat them, transferring energy from the Sun to many birds and other animals.

As we learn about the creation we live in, we see more and more examples of God’s wisdom in design that sustains all life and speaks of the complexity of what may appear to be simple things.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Wildlife, April-May 2022, pages 29-35.

Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth

Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth
Electron Microscope View of New Diatom Species Epithemia pelagica

We seldom think about the importance of microscopic organisms. Diatoms are essential for life on Earth because they generate 20-30% of the oxygen we breathe. They are single-celled algae with a cell wall made of silica. In March 2022, the National Science Foundation announced the discovery of two unique diatom species in the waters around Hawaii.

Diatoms live in the oceans and waterways. You may be familiar with diatomaceous earth, which has many commercial uses, including pest control in organic gardening. It consists of the empty silica shells that diatoms leave behind. In addition to generating oxygen, diatoms are essential for life as part of the food chain in the oceans.

Like green plants, diatoms need nitrogen to grow. Marine diatoms thrive in nutrient-rich ocean areas such as the Gulf of Mexico. However, the open ocean waters around Hawaii lack significant nitrogen nutrients. Ocean waters contain dissolved nitrogen gas, but the diatoms can’t use it. These two species of diatoms solve that problem by having a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. These bacteria do not contain chlorophyll for photosynthesis, but they can extract nitrogen from ocean water and convert it to ammonia. In turn, the diatoms can use the nitrogen from the ammonia. In a symbiotic relationship, the newly discovered diatom species take the nitrogen-fixing bacteria into their shells to nurture their own personal nitrogen generators.

We have mentioned many symbiotic relationships before, but here is a microscopic one. Diatoms are essential for life because they provide much of the oxygen we breathe. This symbiotic relationship between diatoms and bacteria is another example of God’s wisdom and design for life. Everywhere we look, we see that God has designed and implemented systems that sustain life in all kinds of environments.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Science Foundation

The Incredible Journeys of Birds

The Incredible Journeys of Birds - Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

One of the great examples of design that we see in the natural world is the ability of birds to migrate thousands of miles from one area of the world to another. In the past, we have reviewed several of these incredible journeys of birds.

Bar-tailed godwits hold the record, with some individuals traveling over 8100 miles without food or rest and covering 7000 miles one way in nine days. We are also amazed by Hudsonian godwits, arctic terns, and many other birds. Even the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is amazing, flying 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop with wings beating 50 times per second.

Our knowledge of bird migration has improved with the advent of microchips and new technology to track movements and analysis of bird DNA. Even so, there are still unanswered questions. For example, how do birds prepare their bodies for flight? How do birds know when to migrate? How do migrating birds find their way? How do birds sleep on long migratory flights? These are just a few of many questions researchers are looking to answer about the incredible journeys of birds.

The National Audubon Society published a special issue of their excellent magazine for spring 2022. This issue is the best we have seen on the design and behavior of birds. It is impossible to read through this magazine and not be impressed with the wisdom and design built into the world of birds. It also challenges us to realize the importance of caring for God’s creatures as human encroachment threatens many birds’ survival.

In Job 39:13-18 and 26 – 30, God challenges Job to understand His creation, including birds. Scientists are still feeling that challenge today. We are just beginning to know how much design is built into the incredible journeys of birds.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

For more on this go to audubon.org or read their article on bird migration.

Learning About Lepidopterans

Learning About Lepidopterans - Monarch

One of the joys of life is the ability we all have to learn beyond school or college. Learning often happens when we contact someone who knows a lot about a subject we have never studied. For example, we recently visited the Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where we met specialists in butterflies and moths. So naturally, we were interested in learning about lepidopterans.

The order Lepidoptera includes butterflies and moths, and we learned that there are 2932 species of these insects in Florida. Studies have revealed incredible details about these creatures’ surprising complexity and design. The word “lepidoptera” means “scale wings,” and these creatures have microscopic scales on their wings. They have four wings – a pair in front and a pair in the back. Their bodies have three parts, a head, a thorax, and an abdomen with three pairs of jointed legs attached to the thorax.

Butterflies and moths taste with their feet, which means when they land on something, they immediately know whether it is food or not. These creatures breathe through tiny valves on the sides of their abdomen called spiracles, and they eat through a long tube called a proboscis. Butterflies are active during the day, and moths are active at night, with very few exceptions. Coming out of their heads between their eyes are antennae. In butterflies, the antennae are club-shaped, and in moths, they taper to a point. When a moth attaches to a surface, sensitive cells detect moisture, temperature, and exposure to the wind and rain.

Butterfly antennae have cells sensitive to the pollen of whatever plant its caterpillars need to survive. Each butterfly has a particular sensitivity to a specific plant or group of plants. For example, monarch butterflies are sensitive to milkweed. Farmers know which butterflies produce caterpillars that eat certain crops. In the natural world, the caterpillars of moths and butterflies are food for many larger creatures. When humans eradicate those predators, we upset the balance, causing problems for humans. Learning about lepidopterans and the environment is essential for understanding how to maintain balance. God did not design butterflies and moths to be destructive, but when we mismanage the environment, the result is a problem for humans raising crops.

The complexity of butterflies and moths is impressive. They have their larval ability to eat plants and produce silk to make a cocoon and morph into adults with the beautiful colors and designs of wing scales. Learning to control the destructive nature of caterpillars requires an understanding of the complexity of these remarkable creatures. Without the help of mature insects as pollinators, many other plants would suffer. Learning about lepidopterans shows us God’s excellent design of life.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

In the Shadow of NASA

In the Shadow of NASA

The John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida gets a lot of attention from the media. However, most people probably are not aware that attached to the Space Center in the shadow of NASA is the Canaveral National Seashore/Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It has 69,000 acres of marsh left undeveloped and managed by the National Park Service. Researchers have identified 1045 plant species and 310 bird species in the shadow of NASA.

A dozen species of wildlife that are federally listed as endangered live there, including sea turtles, West Indian manatees, wood storks, eastern indigo snakes, and Florida scrub jays. In addition, there are the usual animals found in Florida, including land tortoises, otters, armadillos, and a wild assortment of crabs, insects, oysters, clams, and shrimp.

We had the pleasure of visiting this refuge the second week of April in 2022. It was interesting to watch hundreds of birds wading through the marsh, eating crabs and shrimp. We also saw mullet jumping as they were chased by larger fish and alligators basking in the Sun and then looking up to see a rocket being prepared to lift astronauts to the space station.

The refuge is a barrier island with sand dunes covered with various plants, including numerous palm trees and ancient oaks covered with Spanish moss and palmetto and sea oats. The National Park Service has built wooden walkways to control human traffic, allowing a natural environment to function within sight of the Kennedy Space Center in the shadow of NASA.

Just north of this area is New Smyrna Beach with its towering resorts, massive numbers of tourist attractions, and where people can drive vehicles on the beach. That area is essentially a biological desert with some gulls and pelicans and various sparrows, vultures, and blackbirds, but nothing like what we see in the wildlife refuge. The primary vegetation is a variety of human-introduced plants decorating the resorts. As you drive through the area, you see the trunks of dead palm trees everywhere but very little wildlife. Meanwhile, construction continues on more resorts and tourist complexes.

What happens when a hurricane hits this area? In the wildlife refuge, the answer is almost nothing. The vegetation holds the dunes and prevents the destruction of the plants and wildlife that depends on them. We all know about the collapse of the resort tower in this area, which tragically killed several people. No human structure is free from the elements. The human-introduced plants are generally wiped out in a hurricane and have to be replanted. Human attempts to control the area are at the mercy of natural processes. As the climate warms and water levels rise, more human-made structures will be destroyed, but what God constructed will survive. The refuge will change, and the wildlife and plant life will adapt, but it will do quite well left alone.

It was interesting to see the challenges facing the park service in the refuge. Roads don’t do well, and wooden structures have to be replaced. Meanwhile, the natural world functions smoothly and efficiently with an abundance of residential and migratory life. As humans try to control parts of nature, we constantly need to rebuild and replace. “And God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit … and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12). You can see how good it is when you visit an area not corrupted by human ignorance, greed, and selfishness.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Data from National Park Foundation publication Canaveral/Merritt Island 2021.

The Mighty Seahorse Threatened

The Mighty Seahorse Threatened

“The mighty seahorse” suggests a massive stallion galloping across the ocean’s waves. The reality is that these amazing fish range from 5⁄8 inch to 14 inches (1.5 to 35.5 cm), and they are threatened.

There are 46 identified species of seahorses, and the scientific classification is Hippocampus from the ancient Greek for ‘horse” and “sea monster.” This fish has a head like a horse and eyes that function independently and can rotate like a chameleon’s. They have a pouch like a kangaroo and a prehensile tail like a monkey. Instead of scales, their skin is covered with boney plates, spikes, and lacy skin extensions. They swim in a vertical posture using their dorsal fin for power while steering with their pectoral fins. They anchor themselves using the prehensile tail to grab onto a fixed object.

The reproductive system of the seahorse family is unlike any other group of animals. The male and female connect face to face with their tails entwining, and the female impregnates the male by depositing massive numbers of eggs in his pouch. Then, several weeks later, the males eject up to a thousand baby seahorses who will drift with the current, eventually settling down on seagrass or coral or any fixed object on the seafloor.

Seahorses eat smaller forms of sea life, including copepods, shrimp, and fish larvae. They are themselves part of the food chain eaten by larger fish. Commercial fishing operations catch 76 million seahorses a year, and human exploitation has endangered these animals.

Human understanding of all the agents of change and balance in the oceans is very limited. The role of the seahorse in the functioning of a healthy ocean has only recently become understood. The ocean system has a complex influence on life on the land. As we learn more, the complexity speaks of a design that makes chance an unlikely cause. God’s design of life on Earth is clearly seen through what has been made (Romans 1:20). The mighty seahorse is an excellent demonstration of that design.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Geographic, April 2022, page 72-85.

Jonah’s Icefish and Animals of the Cold

Animals of the Cold include Jonah's Icefish and Ooligans

Deep-sea biologists from Germany accidentally discovered a massive colony of icefish nests under the ice in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. The fish known as Jonah’s icefish have formed a colony the researchers estimate to contain 60 million nests 500 meters below the sea ice. The animals of the cold always amaze us.

Jonah’s icefish are nesting fish that carve out circular nests with rocky centers on the seafloor, where they lay over 1,000 eggs. Other ocean and freshwater fish species form nests, including bluegills that nest in the lakes of the midwestern United States. However, bluegill breeding colonies are limited to a few hundred individuals, not millions. Like bluegills that feed on small aquatic life and are food for larger fish, Jonah’s icefish play an essential role as food for the Weddell seals, and they feed on the abundant plankton in the Antarctic waters. 

When it comes to animals of the cold, Jonah’s icefish are like the ooligan (eulachon) fish of Alaskan waters in that their blood is full of antifreeze compounds. Ooligans have so much oil in their bodies that if you dry the fish and put a wick in its mouth, it will burn like a candle. In Alaska, a nickname for the ooligan is the “candlefish.”

Many animals are specially designed to live in very cold conditions. For example, one of the books in our children’s book collection is titled Animals of the Cold, written by Charlsey Ford. As well as the ooligan, that book discusses the musk ox, ice worms, and the Kermode bear. All of these animals are specially designed to live in the extreme cold. 

We see God’s design in every ecological system on our planet. Each time we find a new example, we are amazed at God’s creative design of life. Romans 1:19-22 reminds us that “We can know there is a God through the things He has made.” Jonah’s icefish is another excellent example of that truth. 

— John N. Clayton 2022

References: Science News February 12, 2022, pages 12-13, and Current Biology volume 32, issue 4.

The complete set of our children’s books is available HERE.