COVID in Animals On the Rise

COVID in Animals On the Rise - Mink Farm
Mink Farm

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 disease and 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.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Covid Relay” in Scientific American magazine for November 2022, page 22 and ONLINE.

Beavers Can Help Reduce a Climate Change Problem

Beavers Can Help Reduce a Climate Change Problem - Beaver Dam
Beaver Dam

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Designing a Planet to Support Life

Designing a Planet to Support Life
Agarwood (Aquilaria sinensis )

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Helpful HornetsScientific American, October 2022, page 18.

Endothermic or Ectothermic – What’s the Difference?

Endothermic or Ectothermic – What’s the Difference?

You are an endothermic mammal. That means your body’s metabolic rate controls your internal body temperature. We describe that condition by saying you are “warm-blooded.” Many life forms on our planet are “cold-blooded” (ectothermic) because the environment controls their internal body temperature. The limitation of being cold-blooded is that it requires warm environmental temperatures. Ectothermic life forms can’t survive in polar areas. Endothermic life can survive almost anywhere.

During the time of the dinosaurs, the planet was very hot. That means biological systems, including plants, grew quickly. Those conditions were part of God’s preparation of resources that humans would need, including oil, coal, topsoil, and oxygen. However, the geologic record shows a point in Earth’s history when the climate radically changed. 

As the entire planet cooled, areas at or near the poles became too cold for cold-blooded life to exist. Studies of bone growth rates and oxygen isotopes in ancient bones indicate a rapid change. This change would not be a problem for warm-blooded animals but would reduce the number, size, and activity of cold-blooded life forms.

The challenge would be to design living creatures that can translate food into enough internal heat to survive in a cold environment. Science News reported on studies of the inner ears of reptiles and mammals. In warm-blooded animals, the inner ear fluid is less viscous, requiring that the ear canals become smaller. As a result, fossils show a sharp change in inner ear morphology at the time when Earth’s climate became colder. 

Many other changes were required for life to go from ectothermic to endothermic. However, the inner ear structure is preserved in the fossils, making it useful for scientists to study the history of life on Earth. The complexity of endothermy reminds us again of the words of Psalms 139:14, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works.” In our time of changing climate, the design of life continues to show the wisdom involved in life’s creation. 

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Science News August 27, 2022, page 9, and

Soil Derived from Barren Rock

Soil Derived from Barren Rock

I have had the privilege of walking along a still hot lava flow in Hawaii and watching it cool and crack, exposing a red hot glowing interior. As a student of geology, I have seen the bedrock that tells of the composition of the early Earth in places throughout North and South America and England. There can be very little doubt that the creation of planet Earth left a ball of sterile, barren rock orbiting the Sun. Having lived for 85 years on this planet, I have had the joy of seeing soil derived from barren rock supporting vast plant and animal life.

The story of how soil is produced is a story of wisdom and design unique to our planet. Therefore, it is essential that we understand the importance of the soil God gave us and how to take care of it in our age of expanding populations.

National Geographic published an excellent article by Ferris Jabr titled “Out of Sight,” containing pictures by Oliver Meckes and Nicole Ottawa. The pictures show the agents God created to convert the barren rock of our planet into soil that can grow a forest. A single gram of forest soil (1/454th of a pound) can contain as many as a billion bacteria, a million fungi, hundreds of thousands of protozoa, and nearly a thousand roundworms. The pictures of those microscopic organisms are incredible.

Soil derived from barren rock began with fundamental processes caused by rain, wind, and ice. Once the elements broke down the rocks to small sizes, the microscopic living organisms went to work. Microbes, fungi, lichen, and tiny plants broke down the sand-size rocks and enriched them with minerals life could use. In Hawaii, you can see the black sand beaches produced in modern times and the places where those agents have processed soil in which plants can live. Over time, the elements in early soils, such as carbon, phosphorus, and potassium, were processed to produce advanced soil structure.

The Genesis creation account does not explain God’s methods of preparing the planet for human life. Proverbs 8:22-36 finds Wisdom narrating the processes of creation. But even Wisdom can’t describe the process of soil derived from barren rocks to people with no microscopes or technical language. Today, we are uniquely privileged to see God’s handiwork and to marvel at the incredible complexity involved in the creation of dirt.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Out of Sight” by Ferris Jabr in the September 2022 issue of National Geographic, pages 82 -99, with pictures by Oliver Meckes and Nicole Ottawa.

Moths Are Incredibly Beautiful Creatures

Moths Are Incredibly Beautiful Creatures such as Antheraea polyphemus
Antheraea polyphemus moth

Most of us probably have negative connotations about moths. We know that moths can cause problems in agriculture and can infest clothes left unattended in a closet. Moth balls have been in our history for a very long time. But it isn’t adult moths that eat holes in your clothing. It’s their larvae. In reality, moths are incredibly beautiful creatures, and perhaps you have not seen the most beautiful specimens because they are nocturnal.

One moth species known as Antheraea polyphemus can have a six-inch wingspan. The name comes from Homer’s epic “The Odyssey,” in which a giant called Polyphemus ate people. The giant polyphemus moth does not eat people, and neither does any other moth species. There are over 160,000 species of moths, and many of them produce larvae that eat crops that humans grow. However, adult moths have no mouths because they don’t eat anything in their adult stage.

Moths are incredibly beautiful creatures, and like virtually all living things, they are essential for humans in various ways. The domesticated silkworm in America is the larva of the moth Bombyx mori, and there are different species in different countries. Moths pollinate plants that open at night. For example, in the Himalayan ecosystem, they are primary pollinators essential to plant survival.

Some moths dig into the ground, and their larvae support underground ecosystems. The Mopane worm is a moth larva harvested as an important food source in regions of Africa. In the Congo, people eat moth larvae from thirty different species.

There are far more moth species than butterfly species – 160,000 compared to 17,500. As is true of just about everything in the natural world, we must learn how to manage and protect this resource. Mass pesticide spraying is not a positive way to manage this valuable resource God has given us.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Spokesman-Review for 8/4/22.

The Atlantic Puffin and Life’s Adaptability

The Atlantic Puffin and Life’s Adaptability
Atlantic Puffins

Environmentalists express concern that many species will become extinct because of the warming climate. For example, polar bears are having trouble finding food because of the disappearance of the ice islands they use for hunting. A bird species that many are concerned about is the Atlantic puffin. These birds had been hunted to the verge of extinction in the 1800s and are still endangered today.

The main diet of Atlantic puffins consists of hake and herring, which are cold-water fish. However, the change in temperature of the North Atlantic Ocean has caused these fish to no longer inhabit some waters where Atlantic puffins get their food. Because of that, there was concern that Atlantic puffins could become extinct.

The Audubon Society Magazine published an interesting report on a study of the Atlantic puffin’s diet by Will Kennerley. Kennerley discovered that the puffins had shifted the foods they eat and feed their chicks. The study showed that they are now eating 21 different fish species that researchers had never observed them eating before. This nutritional flexibility will help preserve Atlantic puffins, demonstrating that these birds are designed to adapt to a changing environment.

The question of how this principle will apply to other forms of life remains to be seen. A big question is whether this adaptability also applies to animals that eat plants since there are cases where plants are dying out in areas experiencing significant climate changes. However, there is less doom and gloom among people who see examples such as the adaptability of the Atlantic puffin. God’s design for living things makes it possible for life to endure even as the environment changes.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

You can read more in the summer 2022 issue of Audubon Society Magazine (page 21) and online at THIS LINK.

Wasps Are Essential for the Ecosystem

Wasps Are Essential for the Ecosystem

Wasps are essential for the ecosystem, but I have to admit that my experiences with wasps have been mostly negative. I am very allergic to their stings. My only positive experience with a wasp was when I was teaching a homeroom made up of kids who were in trouble with the school or the law — many of whom were wearing ankle bracelets. The night before the first day of school, I was stung over my left eye by a wasp, resulting in my eye being swollen shut and my face badly distorted. When I walked into my homeroom, there was dead silence until one gang leader said in a timid voice, “What does the other guy look like?”

Wasps have been called “nature’s pest controllers” by wasp expert Dr. Seirian Sumner. Wasps are carnivores who lay their eggs in the body of other insects, and the larvae consume the host after hatching. Wasps control aphids, white flies, cabbage loopers, and brown marmorated stink bugs, all of which are a problem for agriculture.

In addition to killing these crop problems, wasps are pollinators. Wasps pollinate 960 plant species, and 164 species depend entirely on wasps. For example, figs could not reproduce without wasps, and more than 1,000 tropical birds and mammals rely on figs for food. In addition, over 100 orchid species depend on wasps as pollinators. So, yes, wasps are essential for the ecosystem.

When you realize all the good that wasps do and understand that only 1.5% of wasp species sting humans, you have to recognize that wasps are a tool of God to enable us to have the food we eat and the flowers we love.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Wildlife magazine, August/September 2022, pages 12-13.

If you want to learn more, there is a new book by Seirian Sumner titled Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps published by Harper Collins.

Flower Crab Spiders and Camouflage

Flower Crab Spiders and Camouflage

An unlimited number of features in the world around us speak of God’s design and wisdom. Consider flower crab spiders with the scientific name Misumena vatia. They earn the “crab” name because they resemble crabs and can walk forward, backward, and even sideways like crabs. Their two front legs are longer and extend out for grabbing prey, which they immobilize by injecting venom. Misumena vatia spiders don’t build webs to catch prey. Instead, they sit on a flower and capture incoming prey with their legs.

Another unique feature of these flower crab spiders is they can change color. The females, which are much larger than the males, have the options of white, yellow, or pale green. White is the baseline color. If they eat colorful prey, they can temporarily take on the prey’s color. For example, their abdomens will turn pink after a meal of red-eyed fruit flies. More commonly, if they sit on a yellow flower, they can secrete a yellow fluid into their outer body cells to give them a yellow color. Unlike chameleons that can change color in seconds, it takes days for Misumena vatia spiders to change their color.

When these spiders sit on yellow flowers, they are difficult for humans to see. However, they become highly visible to humans when they are white and perched for hunting on pink or red flowers. On the other hand, the arthropods that are both predators and prey for flower crab spiders have vision tuned for ultraviolet and blues. To them, the red in the flowers and the white of the spider appear dark to provide camouflage.

Flower crab spiders fill a unique ecological niche. They provide balance for the many life forms that feed on spiders and for the pollinators and plants. God has given us a diverse and beautiful natural world. Unfortunately, we take all this for granted, but when we look carefully, we see design in living things.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Spokane, Washington, Spokesman-Review for July 13, 2022, page A01, and Wikipedia.

Flies Provide Useful Functions

 Flies Provide Useful Functions
Green Bottle Fly

We are all familiar with houseflies except those readers in Iceland, where they don’t have any. We may not realize that, like all living things, flies provide useful functions and demonstrate incredible design.

Most of us know that flies can spread diseases such as salmonella, E.coli, chlamydia, typhoid fever, dysentery, cholera, polio, anthrax, leprosy, and tuberculosis. That’s because by using chemical receptors in their foot pads, flies can smell rotting organic waste. They land on garbage or dead animals, vomit digestive enzymes onto them, and lap up the liquified remains with a sponge-like tongue. In this way, they help to decompose and remove organic waste. However, they can pick up bacteria and carry them to humans.

Flies have glandular pads on the soles of their feet that secret a fluid that adheres to any solid surface. That adhesion is greater than the force of gravity, allowing the fly to walk up a wall or upside down on a ceiling. Flies can only fly about 4 miles per hour, so they become food for other life forms.

Flies in their larval stage are called maggots. Because they are sterile, green bottle fly maggots (Lucilia sericata) are used to treat wounds that don’t respond to antibiotics. The fly larvae also promote the healing of diabetic ulcers, gangrene, and burns by stimulating blood flow to the injured areas. In addition, they have been used to treat MRSA (a bacterial infection resistant to antibiotics) because they eat the dead and decaying flesh caused by the bacteria.

There is no question that humans need to restrict fly numbers and avoid contact with them. At the same time, flies provide useful functions and demonstrate incredible design. They are an important food for frogs and other animals and helpful in treating the medical problems of humans. Nothing in nature is evil or malicious because God created all of life with a purpose and function. That is even true of the housefly.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Sheryl Myers, founding director of Heart of the River Coalition in Anderson, Indiana.