Biodiversity Prospecting in Costa Rica

Biodiversity Prospecting in Costa Rica - Costa Rican sunset
Sunset in Costa Rican rainforest

Costa Rica is home to 500,000 species of plants and animals that are unique to that country. Many times human actions such as rainforest destruction result in the loss of many unique species. For almost thirty years, the government of Costa Rica has worked with medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural, biotechnology, and food industries in what has been called biodiversity prospecting.

The National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica (INBio) was established in 1989. In 1991 they reached an agreement with the pharmaceutical giant Merck to explore the forests of Costa Rica to find marketable drugs from the resources there. Merck paid money up-front and agreed to pay royalties on any drugs they discovered. Instead of destroying the diversity of wildlife, bio-prospecting encourages sustainable use. Similar efforts could be made in other nations that still have unexplored regions both in forests and in ocean ecological systems.

We would suggest that one of the things God has done is to build into the world’s ecology materials that humans can use to promote their well being. These natural materials are much more likely to produce solutions without ecological drawbacks than human-made synthetics. The Bible refers to materials that ancient people used to serve various purposes. Genesis 30:14-16 is an example where the Hebrew word dudai is translated “mandrakes” and is also found in Song of Solomon 7:13. Another example is what the Hebrew rimmon translated “pomegranate” in Deuteronomy 8:8. In ancient times, people used it to make astringent medicines.

Biologists are still learning what ancient people knew, and what some primitive tribes in today’s world know about natural medicines. God has already created many solutions to what ails us, but they await our discovery. If biodiversity prospecting can bring financial resources to developing countries while sustaining their natural habitats and creatures, we believe that is good stewardship of God’s gifts.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Original article in National Wildlife magazine, December 1991, page 29. For further information click HERE and HERE.

Frog Reproduction Variations

Frog Reproduction Variations

We tend to think of frogs and toads as fairly common creatures, varying only in color and size. Dr. William Duellman has done extensive studies of the amphibian order Anura which includes more than 3800 separate species of frogs. His studies show enormous frog reproduction variations.

Some frogs lay eggs in clutches near, but not in, the water. They glue the eggs to vegetation or rocks where the tadpoles drop into the water when the eggs hatch. Other frogs lay eggs in a protective foam that protects the eggs and provides food and water that can last for up to ten days. One-fifth of all frog species hatch into froglets instead of tadpoles. Each four-legged froglet has an attached yolk to supply nutrition until it can catch its own food. The males of one frog species glue themselves to the back of the larger females. The female digs a burrow in the ground to lay the eggs. She then wets the eggs with water from her bladder, and the male fertilizes the eggs.

The males of the African hairy frog develop rigid hairlike extensions of their skin during breeding, so when the male sits on the eggs, he protects them from predation. In the poison dart frog of Costa Rica, both sexes guard the eggs. When they hatch, the female brings unfertilized eggs to the tadpoles to eat until they can find food on their own. The females of the Jamaican tree frog lays water-filled capsules along with the eggs to provide adequate water for the tadpoles. In some species, the tadpoles crawl onto the back of either parent. Some frogs have pouches on their backs that hold eggs that have gill-like structures that enable the embryos to breathe.

Other unconventional frog reproduction variations include Darwin’s frog in Chile. The male scoops up the newly hatched tadpoles into his mouth and broods them there for several weeks until they mature. Even more bizarre is an Australian frog in which the female swallows the eggs after fertilization and incubates them in her stomach. This process, called gastric-brooding, usually takes six weeks in which the female does not eat. The tadpoles secrete a substance called prostaglandin E-2, which neutralizes the hydrochloric acid and pepsin normally used for digestion.

All of these reproductive strategies are designed to cope with different environments. Frogs can exist in a desert or a tropical rain forest or even a polar area. Survival is only possible because their reproductive systems are designed to fit the environment in which they live. The intricacy of frog reproduction variations is an excellent example of the intelligence and design God has built into the simplest of living things.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

To read more, you can find it in Scientific American, July 1992, pages 80-87. Available digitally HERE.

Pallas’s Long-tongued Bat and Hummingbirds

Pallas's Long-tongued Bat
Most of us have seen hummingbirds hover over flowers or at our backyard feeders. Studies of hummingbirds show that they have a powerful downstroke and a recovery upstroke that twists part of their wing almost backward. The twist supplies about a fourth of the energy required to keep the bird in the air. The rest of the lifting energy comes from the downstroke. Because the hummingbirds have such a small mass, it doesn’t take a lot to keep them airborne. There is a bat known as Pallas’s long-tongued bat (Glossophaga soricina). It also sips nectar like the hummingbirds, but the bat is much larger.

Aerospace engineer and biologist David Lentink wanted to see how a more massive animal can accomplish hovering. His Ph.D. student Rivers Ingersol built a flight chamber with special sensors to study the hovering of hummingbirds and bats. He took it to Costa Rica and measured the hovering of 17 species of hummingbirds and three bats, including Pallas’s long-tongued bats.

Ingersol discovered that the upstroke of the nectar-sipping bats’ wings generated a little more energy than the upstroke of other bat wings. But the majority of the lift was generated by the powerful and deeply-angled downstroke. The result is that the bat’s very large wings provide the same hovering power per gram of body weight as the hummers wings. The authors of the study conclude that “supersizing can have its own kind of high-tech design elegance.”

Building a bigger wing that can withstand the stress of rapid beating to allow hovering is an engineering challenge. Proverbs 8 discusses the role of wisdom in all that God has created. Pallas’s long-tongued bat is a wonderful display of that wisdom.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Source: Science News November 10, 2018, page 4, or CLICK HERE. Original report in Science Advances CLICK HERE.