Technology makes it possible to hear animal communication that has gone unnoticed before. We are finding that animals we thought were silent actually use sounds to communicate with one another. Researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland captured sounds from 50 species of turtles, and they varied widely, including grunts, chirps, snorts, and whistles. Male turtles use sounds to woo females and as warnings while fighting with other males. Turtle talk can easily go unnoticed because it is infrequent.
We often think of turtles as being slow. Apparently, that applies to their communication also. Timing is the key. The researchers report that some turtles make a sound every two days or so. That’s probably why it hasn’t been noticed by humans before.
The Creator’s design gives all forms of life a way to communicate with others of their species. That ability is essential for reproductive purposes and allows the full exploitation of food reserves and warnings about enemies. It is obvious that high forms of life, such as monkeys and apes, communicate with sounds, but as science learns more about animal communication, we find surprising things such as turtle talk. God has given all life forms the unique equipment they need to live in varied environments.
One of the most interesting differences between animals and humans is language. All animals communicate, and most animals that humans relate to use sounds to facilitate their communication. In recent studies, researchers have suggested that the use of recursive sequences by monkeys and crows is a type of language. However, communication and language are not the same.
The dictionary definition of recursive is “doing or saying the same thing several times in order to produce a particular result.” The newest research shows that crows and monkeys use recursive sequences at a level comparable to what a three or four-year-old child would do. There are a variety of explanations as to why these animals use recursive sequences, but this does not mean that crows and monkeys are using language or that they possess culture or express identity. A woodpecker likes to pound on the flashing of my chimney with such enthusiasm that people can hear it throughout the neighborhood. This is communication warning all other woodpeckers to stay out of his territory. Likewise, the cardinal that sits in a bush near my office window “sings,” but the song is a warning, not an expression of language or music.
The dictionary defines language as “a system of conventional spoken, manual (signed), or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. The functions of language include communication, the expression of identity, play, imaginative expression, and emotional release.”
The Bible defines humans as beings uniquely created in the image of God. This is a spiritual definition and does not involve intelligence or skills. We see the spiritual nature of humans in a variety of characteristics. Those include our creative ability in art and music, self-concept and recognition, and the ability to feel guilt, sympathy, and empathy. Those are all manifestations of the spiritual nature of humans. Recursive sequences may or may not be among these characteristics, but they are not a singular indicator of being human. Because of our spiritual nature, humans also have the capacity to worship and envision life beyond death.
In the 1950s, if you wanted to denigrate someone, you could call them a “bird brain” because people believed birds weren’t very smart. This assumption probably came from association with domesticated chickens. However, a 2016 study showed that bird brains are denser than those of many other animals. For example, a macaw has a 20-gram brain, and a squirrel monkey has a 30-gram brain, but they have the same number of neurons.
A new study of bird brains by researchers in Germany shows that bird neurons are more energy efficient than those of mammals. For example, pigeon neurons use three times less energy than mammal neurons. Birds are designed to do many things requiring brain power, including flying and singing complex vocalizations.
The lead researcher of this study suggests that the brains of birds are organized so that neurons can more easily exchange signals. Organization does not come out of random chance mutations. It requires an organizer. Watching birds around our feeders, we see them doing some incredible things. We know that they are guided by brains that have specific functions allowing them to find and use seeds and other food sources in the winter.
The brains of all animals are designed to allow them to live in a particular environment. What is unique about humans is that we can alter the environment rather than being altered by it. Also, our brains allow activities such as art, music, complex mathematics, worship, and the ability to be taught to think. Our spiritual nature sets us apart and allows our creative activity and our understanding that there is life beyond the grave.
Don Betts is at it again as he gives us the Tale of the Lonesome Pine. As usual, it reflects God’s design in living things.
TALE OF THE LONESOME PINE The tall pine lived for ages, reaching for the sky, But as time turned the pages, it was destined to die. Green needles are long gone, no whistling in the wind. Bark missing here and there, declaring a final end. The role of the tree, though its beauty is diminished, Has time yet to see its usefulness unfinished. Standing upright still, in a mode of decay It serves as host to others, nature’s facets on display. Just one observation that I’ve made recently. Was a reservation made for a home up in that tree? A pileated woodpecker with a mind for finding grubs Loosened rotting bark, revealing all kinds of bugs. The staccato of its pecking and call so clamorous Reached a pair of feathered cousins; (amorous). The Red Bellies pecked, and a hole was soon begun. A western orientation had them toiling in the sun. Working with elation, they gave it their best, And a few days later, they prepared a nest. Falling moss, bark, and twigs evidence the continuum. How long will they enjoy their pine tree condominium? A final effort to be useful will find it lying inert Still a home for worms, God’s way of turning it to dirt.
Humans look for ways to celebrate certain days. We laugh at Groundhog Day and use Valentine’s Day for special human relationships. Some days have extensive significance, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Veteran’s Day. We are now observing Fibonacci Day on November 23. Fibonacci Day is an unusual celebration of a remarkable mathematical sequence.
Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who noticed in the year 1202 some interesting oddities about a particular sequence of numbers: 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55, 89,144, 233. Notice that when you add any two sequential numbers, you get the next number. For example 5 + 8 = 13; 8 + 13 = 21; etc. If you divide two sequential numbers, you get .618034, which some mathematicians have called the “golden mean.”
Applying this Fibonacci sequence to architecture, you get a practical application. A rectangle using any two sequential numbers is aesthetically pleasing to human eyes. If you cut a square off any of these rectangles, you get another rectangle with the Fibonacci sequence. If you connect the corners of the squares in a series of Fibonacci rectangles, you get a spiral (see sketch).
An amazing thing about this is that there are an unlimited number of examples of Fibonacci spirals in the natural world. A small sampling includes: *The spiral arms of galaxies curl in a Fibonacci spiral. *The curl of a wave in the ocean fits the Fibonacci spiral. *The snail shells curl in a Fibonacci curve. *Elephant tusks curve in a Fibonacci spiral. *The roots of human teeth curve in a Fibonacci spiral. *Spider webs fit the Fibonacci spiral *Keys on the piano are 5 black and 8 white, 13 in all, fitting the ratio.
*Musical chords producing pleasing sounds have the Fibonacci ratio. *Bacteria growth curves fit the Fibonacci ratio.
There is no natural or evolutionary reason for the Fibonacci sequence. Notice it isn’t just in one discipline but in widely separated areas of study.
The Fibonacci Association publishes a magazine called the Fibonacci Quarterly, and people have written several books about the Fibonacci ratio. If you are observing Fibonacci Day, realize that this demonstrates God’s design in the creation. Chance does not produce a pattern across multiple disciplines like this.
The COVID pandemic has taught us a lot. People need to be aware that COVID has been found in 32 different kinds of animals. A few domestic cases have had a strong effect on humans both economically and medically. Realize that this data is just the recorded cases, and the actual case numbers of COVID in animals may be far higher.
The most significant instances of COVID in animals have been in the American mink. The problem is that mink farms have large numbers of animals confined in small spaces, allowing the virus to spread quickly. The November 2022 issue of Scientific American reported 787 cases in minks. As a result, some mink farmers have had to destroy their entire stock to stop the disease from spreading. White-tailed deer are the second-highest wild animal group, with 467 reported cases of COVID.
Dogs and cats had the next highest numbers–353 cats and 225 dogs with reported COVID infections. There is great concern about these domestic animals since they are in constant contact with humans. Rounding out the domesticated animals that can carry and spread the virus are cows, hamsters, and ferrets.
The remaining cases in both the wild and in zoos include lions, tigers, gorillas, otters, beavers, lynxes, and hippopotamuses. These cases show that the virus is very active among mammals and will continue to spread unless animal vaccines are produced and used. Our domestication and use of wild animals means that new strains of COVID in animals will continue to arise. Humans can get the virus from animals as well as other humans, and we can also pass it back to animals.
Studying the origins of the diseaseand compiling a database of infected species will make it easier for scientists to learn how to protect against COVID and other virus infections. We humans are often our own worst enemies, but God has given us the wisdom and the tools we need to be good stewards of life on Earth.
People here in Michigan consider beavers a nuisance because they cut down trees and flood farmlands. Unfortunately, beavers cut down some beautiful shade trees on our property. However, beavers can help reduce a climate change problem.
A significant problem associated with the changing climate is the loss of water. Many reservoirs in the western United States are at extremely low levels, and some have completely dried up. Precipitation amounts have dropped while humans mismanage natural water storage.
Meanwhile, people have hunted and trapped beavers due to high prices for pelts and the flooding of farmland and private homes by the dams they built. The result is that water now floods downstream areas. Beavers reduce that problem by creating ponds that hold the water, so it runs off much more slowly. Besides reducing flooding, this also helps to minimize droughts. Studies funded by the National Science Foundation show that by live trapping and moving them upstream, beavers can help reduce a climate change problem.
God has provided ways to make climate change less damaging. For example, storing water in snow and glaciers helps mitigate the problem of water distribution. Additionally, beavers can reduce the problem by building dams that hold water back, providing relief from weather extremes.
God has given us the responsibility of managing what He has created. However, by creating pollution and mismanaging natural resources such as beavers, we have created problems we can no longer ignore. We can all participate in caring for the creation, and pleading ignorance won’t stop the damage.
An interesting electronic game is one where you have access to a reservoir of materials to design a life-sustaining planet. Once you choose your materials and processes, the game computes how long life could survive on your planet. All the choices end up sterile, but the player with the longest survival time is the winner. Unfortunately, the limited number of variables causes all the options to eventually result in a lifeless globe because designing a planet to support life is a complex process.
As scientists examine systems that support life on Earth, they find multiple complex systems with some surprising agents that allow life to exist over the long haul. For example, we have written before about how many bird and mammal species spread seeds. Also, ants spread the seeds of more than 11,000 plant species. Without ants, the existence and abundance of many plant species could be impossible. A recent study has shown that other insects also spread seeds, allowing the enormous number of plant species on Earth.
Most plants have a compound called “herbivore induced plant volatiles” (HIPVs for short). A plant releases these HIPVs when caterpillars start eating its leaves. The HIPVs attract hungry predators that eat caterpillars. A recent study showed that agarwood (Aquilaria sinensis ), which is native to China, depends on hornets to spread its seeds.
Agarwood fruit produces HIPVs even though it is not assaulted by caterpillars. The agarwood HIPVs attract hornets which rush to capture the plant’s seeds. The hornets carry the seeds to their nests, where they eat the fleshy nutrient-rich structures called elaiosomes attached to the seeds. The hornets discard the seeds on the ground near their shaded nests. The seeds would dry out and die in the sun, but they germinate to produce new agarwood plants in the shade.
The Chinese people use agarwood for various purposes. However, the plant is listed as “vulnerable” because of habitat loss and the fact that local people eat the hornet larvae. Designing a planet to support life is a complex and challenging goal only God can do. Unfortunately, humans lack the wisdom to protect the life-sustaining system God has created for us.
How do you design an optical system that enables an animal to see 2300 feet (700 m) below the ocean’s surface? That question is similar to the problem that astronomers face as they look into low light levels in areas of space around black holes. The answer came from a detailed study of the design of lobster eyes, and scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center have successfully copied it.
The human eye works by refraction, bending light by using rounded lenses. The lobster’s eyes work by reflection. Each eye of the lobster is packed with 10,000 square-shaped tubes lined with a flat, reflective surface that acts like a mirror. These mirrors direct incoming light to the retina, where tiny cells trap the light and focus it onto a layer of photoreceptors. This allows the lobster to have a full 180-degree view compared to the 120-degree view of human eyes. It also enables them to detect motion in low-light conditions.
In 1992, researchers from Columbia University built a device that mimics the design of lobster eyes, but the technology required 15 years to build a device for use in space missions. Studies using the lobster eye device have shown how the solar wind interacts with Earth’s magnetic field. In addition, newer models are opening the door to detecting faint X-rays from distant galaxies.
The design of lobster eyes is another of many design features in animal life that scientists have copied, leading to new discoveries. A visual system this complex is not the product of blind accidents. We see the handiwork of God everywhere we look in the natural world. The same God who designed the lobster’s eyes has given us the design for how we should live, and it’s written in His Word, the Bible. We would be wise to follow it.
Would you like to see a material that is stronger than steel and can stretch ten times more than Kevlar? If so, look at a spider web and marvel at the design of the microscopic nanofibrils of spider silk.
Researchers at William and Mary University, funded by the National Science Foundation, used atomic force microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance to examine the molecular structure of spider silk as never before. The nanofibrils of spider silk are fibers with diameters in the nanometer range, 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. Spiders generate them using proteins.
The scientists found seven layers of structural hierarchy in the spider silk. At a molecular level, they saw six distinct protein substructures making up the nanofibrils of spider silk, giving it incredible strength and resilience. They hope their research will lead to the development of high-performance synthetic fibers.
The nanofibril structures are so complex that understanding how they give spider silk its properties takes a great deal of time and special equipment. We have discussed spider web materials previously, but this new research shows that it is even more incredible than we realized. Hannes Schniepp, the director of the study, said, “Right now, we’re innovating and discovering in tiny steps, but there’s the larger goal of fully understanding the structure of spider silk. This study solves a piece of the puzzle and takes us closer to the larger dream of one day making materials like nature and, in doing so, create a more sustainable world.”
Studying God’s design in nature has led to an incredible number of things that make our lives more comfortable and enable us to solve some of the problems we face. Romans 1:20 tells us we can know there is a God through the things He has made. One of those things is the nanofibrils of spider silk.