Saharan Silver Ants

Saharan Silver Ants
The survival of living things in extreme conditions is always fascinating. There are places on Earth, such as the Sahara Desert, where the temperature on the ground can soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Even in that extreme heat there are living things functioning very well in conditions that would be lethal to most forms of life.

Extreme survival is a way of life for the Saharan silver ants (Cataglyphis bombycina). The predators of these ants are desert lizards that retreat into their burrows in the heat of the day. Some of the ants keep watch to let the others know when the lizards are gone. Then the ant colony makes its food-search expedition. They come out into the full Sun and intense heat to scavenge animal carcasses. The picture shows them devouring an engorged camel tick.

The question is, “How do they survive the heat?” They have longer legs than most ants, and that keeps their bodies farther from the hot sand. They also travel across the sand at high speed (2.3 feet or 0.7 meters per second) using only four of their six legs to keep fewer feet on the ground. Also, their bodies produce heat-shock proteins that help their cells cope with the stress of the high temperature. Many animals produce heat-shock proteins, but not until they are exposed to extreme heat. The Saharan silver ants are programmed to produce those proteins before heat exposure to prepare them for what’s ahead.

Even with those adaptations, they are still exposed to the direct rays of the Sun. Scientists used electron microscopes to find the secret of the Saharan silver ant’s survival. The ants are covered with microscopic hairs that are not round or oval in cross-section like most hairs. They have a triangle shape to act as prisms. This shape reflects both the visible and infrared (heat) energy from the Sun away from their bodies. Because of these tiny prisms, the ants display a metallic shine. They look like metallic beads rolling quickly over the desert sand. No other desert creature has this form of reflection. Saharan silver ants are among the most heat-resistant creatures in the world.

Like many things in nature, engineers are looking into how we can imitate the prism method of these ants to protect humans from the dangers of extreme heat. Designing something that can reflect the heat this efficiently requires a deep understanding of optics and the nature of light and heat energy. The wisdom of the Creator shines brightly in the reflected light coming from the Saharan silver ants.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Lesson from the Unicorn

Lesson from the Unicorn
Do you believe that there was an animal in biblical days that looked like a horse with a huge horn? In ancient times people believed that such animals existed and that they had extraordinary powers. People in ancient times found horn-shaped fossils that were sometimes several feet long and believed that they were the remains of unicorns. Of course, they were wrong, but we can learn a lesson from the unicorn.

Science proved that unicorns did not exist, and the horns came from animals like the narwhal or ancient snails. So why are unicorns mentioned in the Bible? Is this evidence that much of the biblical record is simply a repeat of local legends and stories?

We can learn more than one lesson from the unicorn and the biblical record. The first lesson is that we must be very careful about translations. The King James translation of the Bible mentions unicorns in Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-12; Isaiah 34:7; and Psalms 22:21, 29:6, and 92:10. At the time of the King James translation, there were many myths and stories about unicorns, and scientific facts were not available to assist Bible translators.

In the past, we have mentioned errors and language issues in the King James translation. Genesis 6 is an example, where the Hebrew word nephilim was translated “giant,” leaving major misunderstandings of what the text means. This part of the Genesis account was not translated directly from the Hebrew. It was translated from the Latin Vulgate translation. The Catholic translators of the Vulgate translated nephilim into the Latin gigantus. The King James translators didn’t know what to do with gigantus, so they just left it as “giant.” Nephilim actually means “fallen ones” and referred to humans who rejected God and His will. In the same way “unicorn” came from the Hebrew reem which means a “roaring animal” or a “wild ox.”

The primary message here is not to rely on a translation that is from many centuries in the past. Word meanings change and what a word means now can be radically different than what it meant in the past. Think about how the word “gay” has changed in its meaning in the past 50 years.

Another major lesson from the unicorn is to take the Bible literally. That means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. In the biblical use of the word reem, the context makes it clear that it is describing a violent wild animal. None of the cases would refer to a magic horse-like animal.

When we say the Bible is inspired, we mean that it is accurate in all that it teaches, and we can understand it. Sometimes we have to do word studies to answer the challenges of skeptics and critics, and that is another lesson from the unicorn.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Butterfly Point of View

A Butterfly Point of View
Perhaps it would be good to see the world from a butterfly point of view. One of the wonders of the insect world is the emergence of a butterfly from a cocoon. The transformation that takes place is truly amazing as the caterpillar’ body is dissolved and reorganized into a butterfly. I remember as a kid cutting open a cocoon to see the developing butterfly and finding a gooey mass of green slime instead.

The wonder of butterflies can inspire our imagination. Someone named Margy wrote the following on February 27, 1990. Somehow this short poem found its way to me. It is a butterfly point of view of metamorphosis if a butterfly could think like a human. It’s also a reminder of how God can reshape us into something new.

In the fall, I enjoy the fresh air and falling leaves for the last time,
for soon I prepare a cocoon for myself.
A cocoon that will keep me safe and warm against the harsh winter!
I withdraw into the cocoon when it’s time, withdrawing into the darkness, away from the cold stings of the world.
I sleep and sleep, losing all energy, lying dormant.
It’s cloudy and dark. I feel the emptiness, loneliness.
I wait and wait!
And, when it’s time, God’s gentle voice tells me, “Wake up, you’re free!”
Slowly, I eat away at the cocoon, feeling the warmth of the sunshine on my face.
I step out, realizing God has blessed me with wings!
I’m anxious, but I make my first attempts to fly.
The wind helps lift me up into the gentle breeze.
I flap my wings. I’m flying! I’m free!
Once again I feel confident, confident to face the world.

 

–John N. Clayton © 2017

Apes and Humans

Apes and Humans
Is there an evolutionary connection between apes and humans? Many years ago in a youth rally, a young lady asked me, “If we didn’t come from apes, how come my brother looks so much like an ape?”

It is true that we share many physical characteristics with the apes. Apes and humans both have stereoscopic vision, necessary for depth perception. We both have opposable thumbs, necessary to hold a tool or a club. Apes and humans have noses immediately above our mouth to detect and analyze flavor. Naturalists who want to explain everything on a chance basis suggest that apes and humans share a common ancestor.

Those naturalists frequently ignore the fact that there are many things humans do not share with apes. These are not physical characteristics, but they are what separate us from all other forms of animal life. They include our capacity for worship and our ability to create music and art. Only humans have the ability to think and reason in abstract terms. Apes do not share our capacity for guilt and sympathy, including our ability to have an “agape” kind of love that isn’t survival based.

We would think that with our genome being so similar to the apes some of these characteristics should show up to some degree in the apes. In spite of attempts to show such connections, it is increasingly obvious that such attempts are complex exercises in anthropomorphism.

The question then is, “Why do we see such an enormous collection of fossils of primates which is expanded daily by paleoanthropologists?” In The September 2, 2017, issue of Science News Bruce Bower reviewed some of the evidence and current theories about ape evolution.

The bottom line is that there are connections between specimens like oreopithecus, modern day gibbons and recent finds like Nyanzapithecus alesi. The capacity of life-forms to change is a fact that no one can deny. The various races of human beings indicate that humans have changed enormously since the beginning. The Bible tells us about our human spiritual nature, and that nature has not changed throughout our history. Our physical makeup has changed a great deal during that time, and apes have changed even more.

We see humans as a special creation of God–created in His image with characteristics that are not a product of physical changes. As scientists find more fossils of apes, they will study the changes that have taken place leading to the wide variety of monkeys and apes in the world today. They will create more theories about the physical evolution of apes. In spite of that, the special place of humans in relationship to God will remain unchanged. How we should treat other humans with love and compassion will also not change.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Nursing Orangutans and Evolution

Nursing Orangutans
As scientists study different animals in their natural environment, they frequently learn things that complicate accepted pictures of animal history. A recent series of studies of nursing orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra has shown that weaning doesn’t occur in these animals until they are more than eight years old. That is a record lactation period for any wild animal.

Determining the length of nursing for orangutans has been difficult for various reasons. For one thing, the nursing takes place high in the trees, so scientists have difficulty observing. Add to that the fact that these animals are hairy, so it becomes difficult to see what is going on. Some have suggested that the babies are just cuddling.

Researchers finally settled the question by studying orangutan teeth. Studies of the layers of material containing barium in the teeth of the babies indicate that they really are feeding. Museums have collections of orangutan teeth from years ago when these animals were not considered to be endangered and were often killed by collectors. Calcium and barium from the mother’s body go into building the nursing infant’s teeth. Primate teeth are built up with a microscopic layer each day. By examining the layers, scientists can tell when the infant orangutan stopped nursing because there is a greater concentration of barium in the nursing layers. Examining teeth from orangutans at different ages, the scientists determined that nursing can continue through age eight.

Some evolutionary theories have difficulty with these very long lactating periods. Not only is the female not receptive to males during that eight years, but she must continue to produce milk. In milk production, the mother is literally dissolving some of her body to provide nourishment for the young. These two factors seem to be counter to evolutionary models for survival. These new discoveries concerning nursing orangutans may cause some rethinking concerning theories of primate evolution.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

Largest Land Animal-Titanosaur

Largest Land Animal
The first week of August a report was made in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences of perhaps the largest land animal that ever existed.

This dinosaur, found in Patagonia, Argentina, is named Patagotitan mayorum. It was more than 120 feet (36.5 m) long and weighed more than 76 tons (69 tonnes). It is also one of the most complete fossils with 150 bones recovered. When it is reassembled, the skeleton will be roughly the size of a Boeing 737.

What scientists want to learn about an animal of that size is, “How could it get so big?” We recently published a post about the world’s largest snake, the titanoboa. Reptiles, unlike mammals, continue to grow during their entire lives. In this case, the question is, “What sustains such massive growth?” How much food must the animal eat? How would its vascular system work? What is its significance to the ecology of the area where it lived? What environmental temperature and oxygen levels would allow an animal of that size to live? How could a human exist in such surroundings? Some of these questions are being addressed. Some are so complex that researchers on the site say it “is really hard to imagine” the answers.

We have pointed out that the ecological system that produced the resources humans would need to exist on this planet had to be different from what we have today. Those conditions would be hostile to human survival. This fossil of the largest land animal supports that point very well.

For more see USA Today, August 9, 2017, page B1.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Origin of Life Problems Admitted

Wing Challenge to Origin of Life
One of the more honest and fair writers in modern scientific publications is Dr. Bob Berman. He has a regular column in Astronomy magazine and an interesting website. In the September 2017 issue of Astronomy (page 10) he has an outstanding brief review of the problems involved in trying to explain the origin of life. He begins by pointing out that the definition of “life” has been an issue because of questions such as whether or not a virus is alive. Viruses have no metabolism, they don’t feed or breathe, and yet they reproduce.

Berman then reviews some of the parameters necessary to consider when addressing the origin of life. Chirality is a major issue because amino acids that make up proteins come in right- and left-handed versions. Life on Earth is made up of only left-handed amino acids. Sugars used by the proteins are limited to the right-handed direction and so is DNA. The wrong chirality just will not work to support life so how could nature sort out the chirality? If life is easy to produce, why don’t we see it coming into existence all over the Earth? The “amoeba-to-man” model assumes that it only happened once which conflicts with the view that life is abundant in the cosmos.

What is especially interesting is that Berman raises questions about the ability of evolution to explain on a chance basis some of the designs we see in living things. He uses the example of the airfoil that all flying forms of life have. The upper surface is convex using the Bernoulli effect to produce lift. The earliest bird and the flying reptiles all had a wing design that works. Trial and error would not work well to explain how the wing design would come into existence by chance. Berman points out that “some 400,000 cells would all have to simultaneously mutate in just the right way to create a properly shaped wing. This defies an evolutionary hypothesis.”

Berman concludes with the statement “I’m not invoking spirituality, merely that the effect of random collisions and mutations is not always a workable answer. So perhaps nature is inherently smart.” I would suggest that wing design is just one of a massive number of design features that allow life to exist.

Berman quotes Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix as saying that the origin of life is “almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” We don’t invent a “god” to explain these things, but we would point to these things as one more evidence that there is a God and that blind chance is not a good designer of the complexity we see in the world around us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Plastic-Eating Worms

Food for Plastic-Eating Worms
One of the confusing points about evolution for many Christians is not understanding that there is a difference between the fact of evolution and naturalistic theories of evolution. Evolutionary adaptations have given us plastic-eating worms.

Attempting to say that evolution eliminates God from the picture of creation is an incredibly ignorant statement, and yet we see it in both atheist and Christian papers. The word “evolution” means “unfolding change.” The fact that God engineered life in such a way that living things can change is one of the most incredible examples of design.

Darwin’s work in the Galapagos Islands showing that finches could change physically to meet the local food supply does not contradict the Bible in any way. When we visited Darwin Station in the Galapagos and talked with the workers, they were dumbfounded to hear that anyone thought there was a biblical problem with the work they were doing there.

The August 2017 issue of Scientific American (page 21), carried an article about the larvae of the greater wax moth that has mutated so that it can consume polyethylene plastic. Humans produce some 300 million metric tons of plastic every year, and this material is clogging landfills and showing up in lakes and streams. To find a way to biodegrade this material would be a huge ecological breakthrough, and it is possible because of the design of the genetics of the wax moth larvae. Beeswax is the main food of the larvae, but the mutation allows them to degrade polyethylene as well.

The scientists involved are studying the process to discover the enzyme that the plastic-eating worms use to break down the polyethylene. God apparently built a solution to the biggest waste problem we face today by the design of the genome of the wax worm.

Current Biology journal originally published news of this discovery on August 7, 2017.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Vulture

Tyrannosaurus Rex
We tend to view Tyrannosaurus rex as a 20-foot tall flesh eater who ran down its prey. Some have called this dinosaur “the most efficient carnivore who ever lived.” Science fiction movies like Jurassic Park have probably been the main source of this image, but the fact is that T. rex was nowhere near that fast.

Past studies of T. rex suggested that its huge mass–in the vicinity of nine tons–prevented it from running down much of anything. The muscle strength needed to accelerate that mass is simply not available to any form of life. Now simulations of acceleration and bone strength have verified that understanding. A speed of about 12 mph would have been the top limit for T. Rex and for only a short distance. That means a human could easily outrun a T. rex.

Tyrannosaurus rex was probably more of a scavenger than a hunter. There were other slow-moving dinosaurs such as Edmontosaurus, Triceratops, and Ankylosaurus that T. rex might have been able to catch. It is more likely that the T. rex population were the vultures of their day, not the lions of their day.

God created dinosaurs for a purpose, and every year we understand more about how they helped sustain the ecosystem that produced many of the resources we need. Every little boy seems to be fascinated with the media presentations of these creatures, but they really were not that glamorous.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Super Night-Vision in Frogs

Super Night-Vision in Frogs
Almut Kelber is a sensory biologist at Lund University in Sweden. For many years Dr. Kelber has been studying the super night-vision in frogs that allows them to hunt and move about in extremely low light levels.

In the August/September issue of National Wildlife (page 10) the group that Dr. Kelber leads reports that amphibians have unique rods or photoreceptor cells in their retinas that are not found in any other vertebrates. These receptors allow frogs not only to see in the dark but to see colors in extreme darkness. Humans can’t distinguish colors in low light, but frogs can see colors in light levels where human eyes would not see anything at all. Dr. Kelber did not expect to find that “these animals can see color in extreme darkness, down to the absolute threshold of the visual system.”

Over and over we see specific equipment built into living things that allows them to survive in their environment, defend themselves against predators, and find unique access to food. You can believe that this is a simple trial and error situation, where having the equipment promotes survival and not having the equipment is lethal. Or you can believe that an intelligence designed and engineered these structures to allow our planet to be a unique oasis of life.

Since we find this super night-vision in frogs everywhere in the world, it is difficult to believe this is a product of isolated chance. “We can know there is a God through the things He has made” Romans 1:18-22.
–John N. Clayton © 2017