The natural world is full of examples of two species living together in a way that each benefits the other. This mutualistic relationship is known as symbiosis. In some cases, the species are totally dependent on the relationship for their survival. In many plant/animal relationships, the animal depends on a plant for food, and the plant depends on the animal for pollination or the spreading of seeds. We see evidence for design in symbiosis.
One of the most interesting symbiotic relationships is between ants and butterflies. Scientists refer to the caterpillar in this relationship as being myrmecophilous, which means “ant-loving.” Dr. Philip Devries has written several articles in scientific journals about the caterpillars of certain butterfly species and their symbiosis with ants. The caterpillars feed on the nectar of croton trees, but they have a mortal enemy in the form of wasps. The wasp will find a caterpillar, kill it by stinging and then eat it. If ants are present, they will drive off the wasp and protect the caterpillar. Devries has covered some croton trees with ants, and they will have many caterpillars, but trees without ants will have very few caterpillars.
So the ants benefit the caterpillars, but what do the ants gain from this relationship? The caterpillars have organs on their posterior which extrude a clear liquid containing amino acids but virtually no sugar. The croton tree has a secretion that is 33% sugar but has very little nutritional value. The ants get vital nutrition from the caterpillar even though what they get is not sweet.
The caterpillar has other ways of attracting ants, including an organ on its back that secretes an ant pheromone that chemically attracts them. The caterpillar also has an organ that attracts ants by sending sound vibrations through the wood of the tree. Because of this feature, Dr. Devries coined the term “singing caterpillars.”
One of the great challenges to evolutionists is explaining how such a complex system of symbiosis happened by chance mutations. The more we study such relationships, the more different systems of design we see in the natural world. The more relationships we see, the more difficult it is not to recognize evidence for design in symbiosis. It speaks to us about God’s wisdom and design that allows the biological world to exist.
One of the most interesting examples of design is the massive number of symbiotic relationships that exist in the natural world. These are arrangements two or more plants or animals benefit each other. Sometimes the design of symbiosis is essential for their survival.
Living by a river in Michigan, we see many animals that couldn’t exist without symbiotic relationships. Such common animals as squirrels need a designed symbiotic relationship that allows them gives them a growing abundance of food. We have a wealth of oak trees. In the fall, there are so many acorns on the ground that you can’t go barefoot. I counted 14 squirrels in my yard this morning, gathering acorns. They not only eat the acorns, but they bury them so that they will have a reserve of food for the rest of the year. They hide so many in so many different places that they eat only a small fraction of the acorns. The rest sprout and produce more oak trees. The oak forest spreads, and that means that the squirrel population can increase. The trees feed the squirrels, and the squirrels plant the trees in the design of symbiosis.
I grew up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. The bedrock there is mostly granite. Granite is hard, and water cannot penetrate it. That means that growing crops is difficult in the “U.P.” Animals would have it tough except that God has provided an animal with a symbiotic relationship to the soil and rocks of the area. To retain enough water to take the entire ecosystem through periods of drought, beavers construct dams in the streams. The multiple dams create small ponds that supply the water needs of plants and animals. What would otherwise be a sterile wasteland is a temperate paradise of woods with a wealth of birds and animals all dependent on the beavers. As beavers reproduce, their kits build their own system of dams and ponds, expanding the availability of water for all northern life.
What is the most expensive meal you can order when you go out to eat? Ask for the “diamonds of the kitchen” and you will be served a fungus called a truffle. A three-pound truffle recently sold for $300,000, and yet it is just a fungus. Truffles grow underground on the roots of trees. The truffle keeps bacteria and corrosive elements away from the tree roots, and the roots provide a protected place for the truffle to grow. This is another design of symbiosis. The way most people search for truffles is to have pigs root around trees until they uncover a truffle. Truffles are said to be the most expensive food in the world, but to locate them requires the use of animals that most of us don’t care to be around.
There are countless symbiotic relationships. The question of interest is, how does such a relationship develop? Is it merely by accident? We suggest God has looked at the nutritional needs of all of His creatures. In His wisdom, He has created living things in a way that links their food supply to other living things in their environment. The design of symbiosis is a marvelous creation of God.
Synergy describes the relationship between plate tectonics and life on Earth working together. Plate tectonics involves plates of Earth’s crust moving in relation to each other. Plate tectonics is the force responsible for making continents and mountains and for causing volcanoes and earthquakes. Without photosynthetic life (plants), plate tectonics would have shut down because photosynthetic organisms provide energy for Earth’s geochemical cycles. Without plate tectonics, Earth’s crust would be a solid lid sealing vital nutrients and elements beneath the surface. The nutrients needed by plants would not be available. That means there would be no photosynthetic life.
Animals and humans depend on plants for food. The animals that don’t eat plants feed on the animals that do. It’s photosynthesis that removes the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releases oxygen. All animals need oxygen, and excess carbon dioxide would result in a greenhouse effect, heating the Earth and making life impossible.
The point is that plate tectonics requires photosynthetic life, and life requires plate tectonics. Therefore all forms of life on Earth require both photosynthesis and plate tectonics working together in the right balance to exist. Was this balanced synergy system merely accidental, or was it planned? We think it shows intelligent planning by a divine Engineer.
The Venus’ flower basket (Euplectella aspergillum) is a deep ocean sponge with fascinating properties and an unusual symbiotic relationship with a pair of crustaceans. We call it a romantic get-away inside a sponge.
The Venus’ flower basket is classified as a glass sponge because its body is made of silica, which is chemically the same as glass. The silica fibers are woven together to make a hollow, cylindrical vase-like structure. The fibers form a fine mesh which is rigid and strong enough to survive deep underwater. The picture shows a Venus’ flower basket more than 8400 feet (2572 meters) under the ocean’s surface.
Glassy fibers thin as a human hair but more flexible and sturdier than human-made optical fibers attach the sponge to the ocean floor. The sponge forms the fibers at ocean temperatures while human-made glass fibers require high-temperature furnaces to melt the glass. Human-made fibers are brittle while the sponge’s fibers are more flexible. Scientists are studying these sponges to find ways to make better fiber-optic cables.
We think it’s amazing that the Venus’ flower basket lights its fibers using bioluminescence to attract prey. Even more interesting to us is the symbiotic relationship these sponges have with some crustaceans called Stenopodidea. The Venus’ flower basket holds captive two of those small shrimp-like creatures, one male and one female, inside the sponge’s hollow mesh tube. The captive creatures clean the flower basket by eating the tiny organisms attracted by the sponge’s light and consume any waste the sponge leaves. The sponge provides the crustaceans with protection from predators.
As the crustaceans spawn, their offspring are small enough to escape from the basket and find their own sponge-home where they grow until they are trapped. Because a pair of crustaceans spend their lives together inside the sponge, Asian cultures sometimes use a dried Venus’ flower basket as a wedding gift to symbolize “till death do us part.”
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.
One of the interesting characteristics of modern-day evolutionists is how far they will stretch credibility to support the model they assume to be true. Carl Zimmer in his book Evolution–The Triumph of an Idea gives a classic example of such a stretch when he calls our attention to an orchid found in Madagascar named Angraecum sesquipedale. It’s a story of coevolution.
You may recall from high school biology that flowers have both female organs called pistils and male organs called anthers. To cross-pollinate from one flower to another, the pollen from one plant must go to the “eggs” of another plant of the same species. The problem, in this case, is that the orchid has an 11 to 16 inch (28-40 cm) shaft at the bottom of which is a pool of nectar. It is far out of the reach of the usual pollinators of Madagascar. So how does pollination occur? It turns out that there is a microscopic moth that does the pollinating. What is unusual about this moth is that it has a tongue that is coiled up like a watch-spring taking up virtually no space. When the moth uncurls the tongue, it is 16 inches (40 cm) long. While the tongue is drinking in the nectar, the head and body of the moth are pollinating the orchid.
This is classic symbiosis. The orchid cannot reproduce without the moth, and the moth would starve to death without the orchid. The question is, “How could such a relationship came into existence?” Evolutionists would have us believe that the orchid evolved the shaft, the nectar pool, and the placement of the pollen at precisely the same time that the moth evolved the watch-spring tongue. At some point in the process, the two came together, and the symbiotic relationship was born.
The orchid and the moth are just one of a vast number of symbiotic relationships between species. Some of those mutual relationships are between predators and prey with physical characteristics that allow both to survive. Biologists say that it is just a matter of coevolution. However, as our understanding of genetics has improved, the difficulty in explaining these symbiotic relationships has gotten worse. Not only are the physical characteristics needed, but the genetic combinations must be very specific.
There have been times in Earth’s history when rodents threatened to overrun areas of the planet. Sometimes humans upset the ecological balance leading to an overabundance of rodents. Then people have to find a way to keep them under control. But what if you are an oak tree with a mouse problem? Is there such a thing as oak tree rodent control?
Among other things, rodents eat acorns which are the seeds of oak trees. How can new oak trees be produced if the mice eat the seeds? Dr. Jerry Wolff of Oregon State University made a study of oak trees and white-footed mice in the Appalachian Mountains several years ago. Dr. Wolff found that oak trees in the Appalachian area synchronize their erratic production of acorns. In that way, they control the rodent population.
When the mouse population is low, the oak trees produce a massive number of acorns which swamps the mice with more acorns than they can eat. These well-fed rodents produce high numbers of offspring. Over the next three or four years acorns will be a scarce commodity, and so the rodent population crashes. At that point, the trees again synchronize and switch back to high volume acorn production. There are fewer rodents around to eat them resulting in a greater production of tree seedlings.