Spreading Life Throughout the Earth

Spreading Life Throughout the Earth - Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

An amazing fact is that the creation is designed for continually spreading life throughout the Earth. That isn’t always a good thing for humans.

Several years ago, a friend of mine built a large pond on his farm. He planned to stock the pond with desirable fish, avoiding carp and sunfish, which he considered to be trash fish. He stocked it with largemouth bass, and some minnows used as food for the bass. Later, when I was visiting him, I decided to do a little fishing in his pond. The first fish I caught was a large carp, and a whole school of sunfish converged on a grasshopper or worm I used as bait.

My friend was horrified and promptly wanted to accuse an enemy of putting trash fish in his pond. I noticed a great blue heron wading through the shallows of the pond picking off minnows, and immediately I knew how the sunfish got there. Herons wade through areas where fish have built nests of eggs during their spawn. The eggs are sticky and adhere to the Heron’s legs. When the Heron goes to another pond, it carries the fish eggs along.

Recent research has discovered another way in which fish are designed to spread from place to place. A study in Hungary has shown that some fish eggs can pass through the digestive system of a duck, and a small percentage of the eggs have baby fish still alive inside.

The wisdom of this system in the natural world is apparent. A new body of water will usually be sterile. To get a functional ecological system going, the bottom of the food chain must be established quickly. Birds are facilitators in getting a fish population in operation, and now we know of at least two ways they do it.

The implications for humans are significant. Biologists trying to keep a species of carp out of the Great Lakes have a huge problem. The design of fish and birds makes it almost impossible to keep any fish population isolated. God has created many designs for spreading life throughout the Earth, even into sterile places.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News, August 1, 2020 page 13.

Fish as Flat as a Pancake

Fish as Flat as a Pancake

Biologists are always finding and studying new life-forms. Among recent discoveries are fish as flat as a pancake.

How many species of biological life exist? So far, scientists have identified, classified, and named about two million. They estimate that there are somewhere between ten-million and one-hundred-million. How fast are scientists finding and describing new forms of life? About 18,000 new species are identified and given genus and species names each year. At that rate, it will take somewhere between 555 and 5,555 years to identify them all. Obviously, biologists have a lot of work left to do.

Each year, scientists identify most of the “new species” from museum specimens that were found earlier but not studied carefully. Some species in the wild are going extinct, and some of the museum specimens may already have gone out of existence. Two species that are not endangered and that were discovered in the wild in 2010 are fish “as flat as a pancake.”

Scientists discovered two species of pancake batfish in the Gulf of Mexico near the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They gave their discoveries the genus and species names Halieutichthys intermedius and Halieutichthys bispinosus. (The picture shows the similar Halieutichthys aculeatus.) You probably won’t remember their names (or even know to pronounce them), but they play a role in the balance of life in the ocean.

Pancake batfish live on the sandy bottom of the ocean between 148 and 2,690 feet (45-820 m) below the surface. They are flat, that’s why the name “pancake,” and they cover themselves with sand to wait for prey. They eat snails, worms, clams, scallops, and other crustaceans. Their maximum diameter is about 4 inches (10 cm), and they move over the ocean floor by hopping on their fins.

We have to wonder why there are so many species. God created living things with the ability to adapt to many environments, with each one filling a niche in the marvelous system that makes our lives possible. He even gave us strange fish as flat as a pancake. Furthermore, God created us with unquenchable curiosity and plenty of things to study. We believe that we can learn more about God as we explore the creation.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Why Do We Need Insects?

Why Do We Need Insects when they are so annoying?

Many years ago, while working in a teen camp in Alaska, I heard a skeptical teenager disparage God’s existence by saying that if God existed, He certainly wouldn’t have made mosquitoes. I have heard similar comments about ticks, hornets, lice, locusts, spiders, and stink bugs. I suspect we have all had times when we were unhappy with annoying bugs, yet when you examine the role of insects, you realize they are critical to our own existence. The well-known entomologist E. O. Wilson said, “If human beings disappeared tomorrow, the world would go on with little change, but if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt the human species could last more than a few months.” Why do we need insects?

Insects pollinate plants, aerate and fertilize the soil, decompose dung, and the bodies of things that have died. They control pests contributing 70 billion dollars every year to our national economy. Ninety-six percent of land-dwelling birds feed their young on insects, consuming approximately 400 to 500 million tons of insects. Most creatures in and around lakes and streams feed on insects, including fish and bears.

Why do we need insects? Humans are already seeing the cost of eradicating them. There are 68 species of bumblebees and roughly a fourth of those are in danger of becoming extinct. In Europe, the data shows a 76% drop in insects, including bees, beetles, lacewings, and katydids. The loss of pollinating insects has sharply affected the growing of many cash crops, and scientists are studying the effects of insecticide use.

Before we castigate God for what He has created, we need to be sure we have all the facts. We should learn what each creature does and how it contributes to our own well being. I dislike mosquitoes as much as the next person, but a majority of mosquitoes are pollinating insects. I am reactive to a bee sting, but bees contribute to much of what I eat. From our earliest existence, God has challenged us to take care of what He created. (See Genesis 2:15.) That includes caring for and protecting the agents that allow Earth to be hospitable to our existence.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data and quote from National Wildlife magazine, June-July 2020, pages 26-31.

How Do Sea Animals Drink Water?

Wandering Albatross - How Do Sea Animals Drink Water?
Wandering Albatross

Yesterday we discussed how fish drink water. In the ocean, the problem isn’t water but salt. Ocean fish are designed with specialized gills that support the kidneys in getting rid of salt accumulations that would otherwise pickle the fish. Obviously, not all animals that live in the ocean have gills. How do sea animals drink water?

Albatrosses and petrels are birds that can spend a year or more in the open ocean, but they need to drink water. Whales and seals also do not have land-based water supplies, and yet, like all mammals, they need water to survive. So how do sea animals drink water when ocean water is salty? God’s design of living creatures always includes unusual equipment to enable them to deal with their environment.

In the case of sea birds, they have a set of salt glands in their heads that connect to the bird’s nostrils. The birds drink seawater, but the glands are so efficient that within three hours, all of the salt is removed through the nostrils.

Whales and other aquatic mammals produce urine that has extremely concentrated salt content. By allowing high salt concentrations in the urine to diffuse into the ocean, the salt never reaches toxic levels inside the animal. An interesting sidelight to this is that the milk of these sea mammals is very low in water content. In that way, they conserve water. Milk from seals has only half the water content of lean hamburger.

Everywhere we look in the natural world, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before. These marvelous designs are not the product of mindless chance. They show an Intelligence who created with purpose and wisdom. When we realize that ocean water has high salt content, we question, “how do sea animals drink water?” God already took care of that.

In Job 38-40, God challenged Job to advance his understanding of God’s power and wisdom by considering the natural things of creation. When Job questioned God’s wisdom and purpose in his personal struggles, he did not recognize the wisdom shown in creation’s design. We too need to look at what God has done and “know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:18-20).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from National Wildlife magazine, June/July 1995, pages 30-34.

How a Fish Drinks Water

How a Fish Drinks Water
Salmon in Freshwater

Have you ever wondered how a fish drinks water? Your first reaction is probably something like, “It opens its mouth.” Like most things in life, it isn’t that simple.

All living things necessarily have some saltwater content in their bodies to keep chemical balance allowing life to exist. The fluids inside an ocean-dwelling fish are only about a third as salty as the ocean itself. The water inside the fish’s body tends to leave by osmotic pressure, which is the tendency of fluids to move through membranes toward higher concentrations. To avoid this loss of water, the fish does simply open its mouth and drink seawater. But that brings large amounts of salt into the fish’s body. The salt concentration would be more than the fish’s kidneys could handle. To aid the kidneys, the gills of ocean fish are designed to expel salt, so the fish isn’t pickled by it.

In freshwater fish, the osmotic pressure is reversed, so the fluids inside the fish are saltier than the water outside. The skin of a freshwater fish is designed so that water seeps in through its skin and gills. Therefore, the fish doesn’t have to drink at all. When a salmon leaves the ocean and enters a freshwater stream, it merely stops drinking. Like freshwater fish, it depends on its skin to bring in its water needs.

Now that you know how a fish drinks water, the next question would be about other creatures that spend their time in the sea. Birds like albatrosses and petrels can spend more than a year at sea, and whales and seals live in the ocean 24/7/365. How can they avoid being poisoned by the salt? We’ll discuss that tomorrow.

God’s design of life includes fitting living things with specialized equipment to survive in every environment. Fish are remarkable creatures specially equipped for the waterworld in which they live.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from National Wildlife magazine June/July 1995, pages 30-34.

Four-Eyed Fish – Anableps

Four-Eyed Fish - Anableps

Throughout the natural world, we see special design features that allow animals to survive in environments that place unique demands. Chameleons have an eye-brain connection that enables the eyes to rotate independently of one another or work together when needed. Chameleons use their tongues to catch insects, but to capture their food, both eyes must work together to overcome depth perception issues. At the same time, chameleons are very vulnerable to predators, so their eyes must rotate independently to look in several directions at once. We find another example of unusual eyes in the genus of four-eyed fish, Anableps.

Anableps live in northern South America and Trinidad, where they swim in the surface waters of lakes and rivers. Near the surface, they are easy prey for birds, so they need to see above and below the water simultaneously. They appear to have four eyes, two above the water surface, and two below the surface. In reality, they are not separate eyes. The eyes are divided into two sections, separated by a band of tissue.

Each section of the Anableps eyes has two corneas, two pupils, a single egg-shaped lens, and one retina that is also divided. The portion of the eyes located above the water connects to a different section of the fish’s brain than the area below the waterline. These four-eyed fish are ideally suited to fill an ecological niche that no other fish can.

You might think that all fish could use this design, but every ecological niche has animals designed to inhabit and maintain that location. Anableps are unique, and that makes them popular aquarium fish. More importantly, this unique design speaks of God’s imaginative creativity in providing full use of every resource on planet Earth with creatures like the four-eyed fish, Anableps.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Ocean Treasure House

Ocean Treasure HouseOceans are essential for life on Earth. As we learn more about the oceans, we realize more and more how important the ocean treasure house is to our survival.

Fish, shrimp, and lobsters are some of the blessings that come from the oceans. Those vast bodies of water contain a great wealth of biomass that can address human food needs. The very fact that these forms of life lay millions of eggs that can provide massive amounts of food quickly is a testimony to the vast ocean treasure house. As humans conserve and farm these resources, we see the potential for food production with minimal environmental impact.

But food is only one of the blessings that come from the oceans. The oceans of the world provide water for the land. Evaporation lifts massive amounts of water from the oceans. The moisture condenses and falls on the continents providing the vital water needed by all land forms of life.

The oceans also moderate temperatures on the land. When Earth is closest to the Sun, its tilt exposes the Southern Hemisphere to the direct radiation of the Sun. Since oceans mostly cover the Southern Hemisphere, the water reflects much of the radiation, and the rest is absorbed and stored in the water. The water carries this heat toward the polar areas of the planet, moderating temperatures and allowing life to exist in abundance at the higher latitudes.

When the Earth is at its farthest distance from the Sun, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun, exposing the land to the Sun’s radiation. The land surface absorbs more heat radiation and reflects less of it. The waters in the Southern Hemisphere moderate the climate by using their stored energy to supplement the heat from the Sun.

In addition to their thermodynamic uses, the oceans also control the gases that are critical for life on Earth. Photosynthetic processes taking place in the oceans produce most of our oxygen. The oceans are a significant carbon sink, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that would be in our atmosphere if the oceans did not exist. This not only restricts the adverse greenhouse effects of carbon dioxide but also recycles carbon in ways that benefit the entire planetary ecosystem.

Another ocean treasure house is the minerals they hold. The salt in the ocean is not just sodium chloride (regular table salt). The oceans contain a wide variety of elements that are critical to humans. They include iodine, magnesium, copper, and copious trace elements of biological importance. People who live far from the oceans benefit from these mineral resources because ancient oceans have deposited those minerals on land. Oceans gather and store the elements that humans need. While we have mined these ocean-deposited resources on land, we are now learning to take them directly from the ocean.

As science looks for life elsewhere in the cosmos, it is not likely that we will find it unless we find a planetary environment with oceans comparable to those on Earth. The ocean treasure house is a beautiful feature unique to planet Earth in our solar system. As science observes other stars and other systems, it becomes increasingly clear that planets like ours are exceedingly rare at best. God has provided the ocean treasure house that speaks eloquently of the Creator’s wisdom and power.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Ghostly Seadevil Finds a Mate in the Dark

Ghostly Seadevil Finds a Mate in the DarkMore than a mile (2250 meters) below the ocean, there is a world of darkness. Finding a mate in that dark place could be a challenge, but a species of anglerfish with the scientific name Haplophryne mollis has the problem solved. The solution is to keep your mate permanently attached. The so-called ghostly seadevil finds a mate in the dark and doesn’t let go.

The female sends out pheromones, chemicals which attract the males. The males, which are much smaller than the females, have a keen sense of smell to detect the pheromones in the water. Ghostly seadevils are called anglerfish because they have a “fishing lure” in front of their face to attract other fish which they eat. In the case of the ghostly seadevil, only the female has the lure, and it’s bioluminescent, meaning that it glows in the dark.

Once the male has detected the pheromone, he looks for the glowing lure. He examines the shape, color pattern, and flash pattern of the lure to tell if this is a female of his same species. If it is, he clamps onto her with his teeth and doesn’t let go. Eventually, their skin grows together, and their blood vessels join. She provides his nourishment, and he fertilizes the eggs which she lays. The eggs float upward to the ocean’s surface where they hatch, and the larvae feed on plankton. As they mature, the seadevils migrate back down into the ocean depths and repeat the cycle of life.

This is a drawing because pictures are hard to get in the dark ocean. In this case, you can see that two males have attached themselves. You can also see the bioluminescent lure on the front of the female fish’s head, and that’s how the ghostly seadevil finds a mate in the dark. They have a “ghostly” appearance because their bodies are translucent like many creatures living in darkness. This cycle of life seems strange, but it has too many coincidences to be accidental. We think it shows the creativity of the God who designed life to survive everywhere on Earth.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Self-Awareness Test Passed by a Fish

Self-Awareness Test Passed by Cleaner Wrasse

One of the indicators that scientists use to measure evolutionary development is a test that determines whether an animal has an awareness of itself. The test involves placing a mirror in front of the organism and then observing the animal to see if it gives evidence that it recognizes that what it sees in the mirror is an image of itself. A recent report says that a fish can pass this self-awareness test.

Self-awareness has been used to categorize animals as having higher intelligence than others. Scientists have considered the mirror test to be the “gold standard.” Applying that test they have determined that great apes, bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, Eurasian magpies, and Asian elephants are all very intelligent and therefore highly evolved. Now a fish known as the cleaner wrasse passes the self-awareness test and must be added to the list.

Researchers in Germany placed a mark on the four-inch fish in a location that could only be seen in a mirror. The cleaner wrasses checked their reflection multiple times and then tried to remove the mark by rubbing their bodies on hard surfaces. With no mirrors, the fish didn’t try to remove the mark. When the mark was placed on the mirror, the fish ignored it.

We should note that the cleaner wrasse survives by inspecting larger fish for parasites and dead tissue. The larger fish waits patiently while the wrasse cleans it by eating what it finds. This mutual relationship protects the health of the larger fish while providing food for the wrasse. Symbiotic relationships like that can be more easily explained by design than by evolutionary theory. Since the wrasse is designed to look for unwanted detritus on the bodies of other fish, perhaps that is why it is keen to notice marks on its own body.

If self-awareness shows high intelligence, we must now add a fish to the list of intelligent mammals and birds. Dr. Alex Jordan reported that the fish “behaviorally fulfills all criteria of the mirror test.” Dr. Jordan says that either the species is self-aware or the gold standard test needs updating.

–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

Reference: The Week, March 1, 2019, page 20.

Learn from the Animals

Learn from the Animals
We are frequently astounded by what animals can do. As science seeks solutions to problems such as having enough food, knowing how to avoid disasters, and solving medical problems, we frequently see the answers in the designed features of living things. There are many things we can learn from the animals.

How can we have enough food to feed everyone on this planet? One way is to take advantage of animals with high reproductive capacity. A female mackerel, for example, lays about 500,000 eggs at one time. We have relied on animals like cattle which have one offspring at a time, are environmentally unfriendly, and require massive energy to sustain. Many fish, arthropods and mollusks can reproduce massive numbers of offspring, need very little energy input, and give off little or no environmental hazards. Some of them even remove environmentally unfriendly materials.

Can we improve our vision and perhaps restore sight to people who are blind? Studies of the common dragonfly have shown that each eye has 30,000 lenses. Our one lens is limited as to what we can see. The way images are transmitted to the brain in animals allows multiple transmissions. We are learning from insects and chameleons how the brain can reconstruct a useful image from many separate images. A chameleon can move its eyes in different directions, and its brain can interpret the direction and identification of what each eye is seeing independently.

How can we make stronger materials? Beaver’s teeth are so sharp that Native Americans used them as knife blades. The structure of the tooth enamel in the beaver and how the teeth maintain their sharpness is an area where materials science researchers can learn from the animals.

Can we make better drones? Researchers are interested in how high-frequency wing beats can allow better control of flight. Tiny flies known as midges beat their wings over 1000 times a second – twice as fast as mosquitoes. We can even learn from the animals that are almost too small to see.

Examples like these challenge those who would attribute animal design to chance processes and survival of the fittest. The design engineering in the animal world suggests wisdom beyond that of humans. In Proverbs 8:5,22,35 wisdom speaks, “O you simple ones understand wisdom and you foolish ones, have an understanding heart. The Lord possessed me (wisdom) in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. For whoever finds me finds life and shall obtain the favor of the Lord.” Let us be wise as we copy the wise designs of the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
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