One of the wonders of life on planet Earth is the influence of sunlight. As winter fades away and summer approaches, we see all kinds of changes in life. As scientific research continues into the wonders of the animal and plant kingdoms, we see more carefully designed biological systems. Here are some examples of how sunlight affects life cycles:
COCCOLITHOPHORES: These are tiny phytoplankton plants that live in the ocean. As the season changes and the Sun warms the waters, those organisms increase their rate of reproduction. They would smother themselves with overcrowding except for the fact that they give off dimethyl sulfide. That chemical rises into the atmosphere and oxidizes into solid sulfate particles. For raindrops to form, there must be moisture, cool temperatures, and condensation nuclei. The solid sulfate particles provide the condensation nuclei, and the rising air cools the moisture from the sea resulting in clouds. The clouds block the sunlight, thus cooling the sea and slowing down the reproduction rate of the coccolithophores and avoiding a massive die-off. This phytoplankton literally manipulates the weather to ensure its own survival.
SALMON. These fish know when to return to the waters of their birth to spawn. Built into their bodies is a pineal gland that stimulates the pituitary gland, triggering an urge to spawn. Navigation tools designed into the salmon allow them to find the place of their origin where they spawn and die.
BEAN APHIDS AND OTHER ANIMALS. Bean aphids give birth when the length of the day reaches 14 hours and 55 minutes, assuring that the offspring will have warmth. Similar triggers by sunlight affects life cycles, allowing muskox to shed their insular undercoat, mallard ducks to shed their winter down, and snowshoe hares to change their color from white to brown before all the snow melts.
FROM FRUITFLIES TO HUMANS. Fruitflies shed their pupal husk an hour before dawn even when kept in the dark. Even when kept in total darkness, hummingbirds slip into torpor at dusk, allowing them to conserve energy. A poppy folds its petals at dusk, even in a dark box. Both the hummingbird and the poppy will resume operations at dawn, even in the darkness. Scientists are still researching what triggers these changes even without sunlight. Medical researchers are also studying how humans respond to a lack of sunlight, causing seasonal affective disorders (SAD).
Studying the incredible ways in which sunlight affects life cycles on Earth is a great way to grow in appreciation for the creation process. We marvel at the careful design built into all living things. David looked at himself and his world and remarked, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works…” (Psalms 139:14).
One of the enduring UFO claims has been the massive drawings on Peru’s Nazca desert plateau. As far back as Eric Von Daniken’s book Chariots of the Gods in 1968, there have been those who claim that people on the Earth could not have made the drawings. They claim that the lines marked out landing strips for alien space crafts. It has been proven that people CAN, in fact, make huge drawings visible from space. However, there have not been good explanations as to what the Nazca drawings represent. Masaki Eda, a zooarchaeologist from Hokkaido University in Japan, seems to have found some clues in his recent study of the Nazca Lines and birds.
The large hummingbird drawing, which has been popularized, is an excellent portrayal of a bird known as the long-tailed hermit. Two other drawings that Eda has identified are a pelican and a guano bird. This doesn’t answer all of the mysteries of the Nazca lines, however, because those birds are rainforest or coastal birds, and the Nazca plateau is a desert. Social anthropologists studying the religions and myths of the people of the area may tell us more. There is still much to be learned about the Nazca lines and birds.
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.”
There are organizations that advocate natural control of pests as opposed to the use of chemicals. One effort to control garden pests involves the use of praying mantises. While the concept is good, there are complications. In the natural world with no human intervention, there is a balance between predator and prey. When humans upset that balance, the result is always catastrophic.
In Australia, for example, rabbits were introduced to control certain plants. The rabbits had no natural enemies, and in a very short time, the rabbit population was out of control. Now there is the problem of how to get rid of the rabbits. Here in Michigan, beavers have been brought back into the river where I live. Today they have no enemies, and the beaver population has grown to the point where it is almost impossible to keep decorative trees because the beavers eat them.
The December/January issue of National Wildlife magazine (page 10) brought a new issue to our attention. People have introduced large numbers of praying mantises to control the bugs that were eating their gardens. The problem is that they not only eat bugs, but they will also kill and eat hummingbirds. Some people who have deliberately added numbers of mantises to their property have discovered that they no longer have hummingbirds, and apparently the mantises are the cause.
The Wilson Journal of Ornithology reported a study in which there were 147 cases of praying mantises catching 24 different bird species. The praying mantises capture the hummingbirds at feeders or as the birds are getting nectar from a flower. When we see bad environmental situations in nature, it is almost always due to human mismanagement and not a fault in the design of the system.
–John N. Clayton
Outside of my window in the summertime, I have a hummingbird feeder. It is a real distraction because I am just a few feet from birds that flap their wings up to 90 times a second and have a heart rate of 1200 beats per minute. As I watch them stick their beaks into the feeder, I can sometimes see their tongues. I assumed that hummingbird tongues suck up the fluid using capillary action. My friend Richard Hoyt informed me that I was over-simplifying the process and gave me an article to expose my ignorance.
The article tells of the work of Alejandro Rico-Guevara. He realized that capillary action wouldn’t work in sugar solutions above 40%, but some of the liquids consumed by hummingbirds are twice that level of concentration. Rico-Guevara has photographed hummingbird tongues as they get the nectar. Instead of drawing in the liquid, the hummingbird has tubes down the side of the tongue. When it reaches the nectar, the tongue pulls back, and those tubes zip closed carrying the nectar back into the beak.
Ornithologists still don’t understand how swallowing can take place once the nectar is in the beak. Because hummingbird tongues are so efficient, there are many uses of this process in industry. Fluid traps are the newest thing in fluid dynamics, and the Creator already had this complex device built into one of nature’s most amazing creatures. My old idea that the tongue was a capillary tube was much too limited.
“Majesty in Miniature” is the title of an interesting article in the July 2017 issue of National Geographic (pages 99-118). The article is about the amazing hummingbirds.
Scientists have had a hard time getting data as they try to understand how hummingbirds do what they do. The birds fly at speeds up to 35 mph (56 kph) and they have a “reverse gear.” Their metabolic rate is the highest of any vertebrate on the planet. For every minute they are in flight, they drink more than 12 ounces (355 ml) of water. They consume more than their body weight of nectar every day. Their tongues lap up to 15 times a second. Proportionally their brain is one of the largest in the animal kingdom making up 4.2% of their body weight. It is only with the advent of high-speed cameras and advanced wind tunnels that some of the mysteries of the majesty in miniature have been answered.
Hummingbird brains have a large hippocampus which allows them to remember locations. Their brain has a large lentiformis mesencephali motion sensor which gives the bird stabilization when flying. It has a small arm wing which allows wrist motion to control a larger area of the wing leading to a more powerful upstroke. When a hummingbird hovers, it rotates its wings between the upstrokes and the downstrokes making a figure eight motion. This motion creates vortexes that allow both the downstroke and the upstroke to provide lift. Birds such as pigeons push down to propel forward, but there is no lift in the upstroke. The design of the hummingbird wing gives it the unique ability to get lift out of both strokes.