HARBOR SEALS: Swimming, Diving, Guided by Super-Sensitive Whiskers

James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD, MSGeog, CNHG

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They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep. (Psalm 107:23-24)

Those who fish at sea, and other who “go down to the sea in ships”, have many occasion to see God’s “wonders in the deep”.  All creatures of the oceans and their coast-waters fit that category – because all such sea creatures, by their very lives and life cycles, are “wonders” in water, who give witness of God’s glory and providence, showcasing the amazing Creator He is.  One such example of is the Harbor Seal.

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The HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina), known in Great Britain as the “Common Seal”, is a creature well-known to the Vikings of old, as is documented below.  These fine-finned marine mammals are impressive (if not peerless) swimmers and divers, and they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures (warm, lukewarm, cool, and super-cold!).  And, thanks to the super-sensitive whiskers that God designed and installed upon them, Harbor Seals know just where to go, as they chase fleeing fish!

Harbor Seals are the world’s most common temperate-water seal, often found along the temperate water coastlines (and continental shelves) of the Northern Hemisphere – in both the northern Atlantic and northern Pacific Oceans, and in coastal estuaries, and sometimes even as far south as Portugal! Oddly, one subspecies (Phoca vitulina mellonae) lives only in freshwater.

Seals were well-known for their swimming skill, as is illustrated by the following quotation from an old Viking saga: “There was a man whose name was Gunnar [Hamondsson] … a tall man in growth, and a strong man – best skilled in arms of all men. He could cut or thrust or shoot if he chose, as well with his left as with his right hand, and he smote so swiftly with his sword, that three [swords] seemed to flash through the air at once. He was the best shot with the bow of all men, and his arrows never missed their mark. … He could swim like a seal [emphasis added], and there was no game in which it was any good for anyone to strive with him; and so it has been said that no man was his match….

[Quoting from Chapter 19, NJAL’S SAGA. See, accord, Magnus Magnusson & Hermann Pálsson, NJAL’S SAGA (New York: Penguin Classics, 1982).]   Vikings, including Gunnar’s Icelander contemporaries, were obviously impressed with the superlative swimming skills of seals!

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As a marine mammal, the Harbor Seal is a “pinniped” – i.e., it has fins, not feet. Also, it is earless (i.e., bearing no external ears) and carnivorous (eating animals of the sea). Being mammals, the seal mothers (“cows”) breastfeed their children (“pups”), as do mothers of all mammal species. Regarding size, the adult Harbor Seal ranges from 5 to 6 feet long, with bulls (males) a bit larger than cows). Body weight can approach 375 pounds!

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The Harbor Seal’s four flippers are ideal for swimming (as well as for diving and surfacing), and are not designed for a lot of “shore duty” walking, so seals move on land by undulating, like a caterpillar. These flippers have webbed digits – like finders or toes blended together – which can be used to scratch, groom, or provide defensive movements – and they stroke powerfully for precision swimming.

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But daily life, for a harbor Seal, is not all about swimming – they often “haul out” on shoreline or harbor-water rocks (or sandy beaches), to rest, to bask, to molt, to nurse babies, to give birth, and even to congregate with other seals for defense (e.g., against predators who cannot leave the seawater, such as orcas, a/k/a killer whales). Mother seals usually nurse their suckling pups at low tide. Ironically, seal reproduction occurs at sea. Like humans, seal gestation lasts for about nine months; after birth, on shore, lactation lasts for about 4 to 6 weeks, with the birth weight of baby pups (as much as 35 pounds) doubling (i.e., to as much as 70 pounds) by the time they are weaned off their mother’s fat-rich milk. Within hours of being born the seal pups can dive and swim – and their future lives will continue that habit for years to come.

When it comes to life at sea – and the Harbor Seal’s true home is the water – the pinnipeds display their Creator’s design-bioengineering to imagination-stretching levels (or depths!). Although Harbor Seals sometimes sleep on land, they can even sleep in the water, subconsciously surfacing for air as needed. Diving, and swimming, underwater, is a seal’s quintessential element – whether that be in the ocean, an estuarial bay (i.e., “harbor”), or some freshwater river flowing into the sea.

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These seals can dive even more than a half-mile deep, when searching for food, and can remain underwater for about 40 minutes (though most dives last only around 5 minutes) – then they must return to the surface, to replenish their air for breathing. When seals dive into the ocean, their God-given interactive sensor-systems (which measure oxygen levels) and pre-programmed instincts adjust their physiology to their underwater diving needs.

When the seal’s face is submerged, it automatically holds its breath, its heartbeat slows by up to 90% and its blood circulation is reduced, except to the most vital organs, the heart and brain. … The dive reflex is responsible for the seal’s ability to remain submerged for long periods. The harbor seal breathes out before diving, reducing its buoyancy. Also, the harbor seal has a very high blood / volume ratio, about 1.5 times that of a human. This allows a large amount of oxygen to be carried in the bloodstream instead of the lungs. The harbor seal has high myoglobin levels, allowing high levels of oxygen to be carried in the bloodstream and tissues, about 2.5 times that of a human.

[Quoting from AquaFacts: Harbour Seals (Phoca vitulina), posted by Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center, 2005, pages 1-4, citing Steve Kleene’s “A Medical Marvel: the Diving Seal”, SEA FRONTIERS, 35:370-374 (Nov.-Dec. 1989).

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Even the sea’s whiskers help – the nerves inside seal whiskers help sense underwater pressure changes; the whisker nerves trigger internal physiology adjustments that are needed to optimally respond to those changing underwater pressures.

When waters are murky, how do seals find fish? They don’t have a sonar apparatus like whales, and yet they somehow hunt successfully in the dark.

It turns out that the seals follow fish trails by sensing very subtle water pressure changes with their whiskers. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, investigators trained harbor seals to give a visual signal indicating the direction of a “swimming” rubber fin that mimicked a fish. They then blindfolded and placed headphones on the seals to test their ability to hunt without sight or sound cues.

Not only were the seals able to detect the “fish’s” movements, their whiskers may be able to distinguish even more precise information than just their prey’s whereabouts. Senior author Wolf Hanke of the Marine Science Centre at the University of Rostock, Germany, told BBC News, “They seem to be able to discriminate between different shapes, which might even mean they discriminate between different species of fish.”

The authors found evidence that the seals track the direction that a fish swims by sensing its underwater wakes, or trails of slightly disturbed water, that linger for up to 35 seconds. To do this, seals detect and interpret “the structure and spatial arrangement of the vortices” that spin off from a fish’s underwater trail.

Not only can seals detect the vortices, but they can sense the “high water velocities” behind a swimming fish even after the fish is long gone. Water that trails a fish flows just a little faster than the surrounding waters. Somehow, the seal must automatically subtract the resistance caused by its own motion through the water in order calculate the exact location of its moving dinner. …
The best explanation for the origin of these complex creatures remains the one presented in Genesis–that on the fifth day of creation, God said, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life,” and it was so [Genesis 1:20].

[Quoting Brian Thomas, “Seal Whiskers Track Fish Trails”, ICR News (June 22, 2010), citations omitted here, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/seal-whiskers-track-fish-trails/  .]

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As warm-blooded mammals, Harbor Seals need to burn food energy to keep warm. Blubber helps to insulate the seal’s core but food energy is a must, constantly! So, to maintain their body temperature, especially while they swim in super-frigid seawaters, they must eat a lot – and they are habitually hungry!

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Harbor Seals frequently feast on cod, sea bass, mackerel, anchovy, whiting, herring, hake, sole, flounder, some crustaceans (including crabs and shrimps), small-sized octopus or squid, sometimes salmon or trout, or maybe even a sea-duck – eating about 5% of their body weight each day! Humans (like me) can enjoy a similar “marine platter”, but not in the large portions that adult seals voraciously consume, to fuel their minimum daily nutrition requirements! (To compare seal appetites to your own metabolic habits, multiple your own body weight by 5%, then imagine eating that much each day!)

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Harbor Seals don’t really “chew” their food, though – rather, they bite and they tear, they crush with their molars, then they quickly swallow whatever meat they eat.  Perhaps a fitting greeting to a Harbor Seal would be “Bon appetit!  But seals have a right to be hungry, and to eat a lot, because God made them to operate that way – they have a lot of work to do, as they eat and swim and dive, always displaying God’s marvelous bioengineering !

O LORD, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.   (Psalm 104:24-25)

[An earlier version of this article appeared as “Harbour Seal: Nordic Natural Heritage (Spotlighting Amazing Creatures of the Vikings’ Natural World)”, in Viking History & Heritage Review, January AD2005 issue, pages 4-6.]
><>  JJSJ

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TESTING: Lab Rats, Guinea Pigs, and Nuclear Bombs!

TESTING:  Lab Rats, Guinea Pigs, and Nuclear Bombs!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. . . .

Therefore, let them who suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls [ψυχας] unto Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.     (1st Peter 4:12-13 & 4:19)

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It’s not just rodents (like rats and guinea pigs) that are tested in laboratories, humans are tested daily, sometimes in exotic contexts (like atomic bomb explosions), yet more often in more prosaic “ordinary” contexts. And, as Peter warns us in his first epistle (quoted above), we can all expect “fiery trials” in life, but there is a valuable purpose for those trying times of testing.

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Lab Rats

What are “lab rats”?

Whenever rats are used for scientific experiments, in laboratories (or elsewhere) they are nicknamed “lab rats” – with some serving as the “control” group, to be compared with the “experimental” group who are subjected so some kind of experimental event or condition (similar to the controlled experiment devised by the prophet Daniel, in Babylon – see Daniel chapter 1).

Traditionally the rat most often employed, for such experiments, has been the albino variety of Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus), a/k/a the “Brown Rat”, which -strangely enough — played a role in ending the “Black Death” Plague which wreaked havoc (due to the Black Rat’s role as the plague’s transmitter) during the late Dark Ages and again during the early Reformation era.(1)

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Of course, mice (which are similar to rats, both physically and behaviorally, in many ways) are also used as laboratory experiment animals.

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Guinea Pigs

What are “guinea pigs”? The name is misleading—they are not pigs; they did not originate from Guinea.

Like rats and mice and voles, the “guinea pig” is a (relatively) small rodent, not at all belonging to the swine family (just as a “hot dog” is a food hopefully having no canine ingredients!).  Larger than mice, rats, or voles, the guinea pigs of today often weigh between 1½ and 2½ pounds (i.e., between 700 and 1200 grams), but otherwise resemble a plump furry rat. These rodents, in the wild, thrive in grassland habitats, such as the pampas of South America.

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They are not known (so far) as burrow-builders, yet they have been observed to “borrow” the burrows built by other animals, or to take shelter in rock crevices that may be conveniently available.

Unlike small mammal stockpilers—such as the “haypile”-hoarding pika, who accumulate vegetation for winter food needs—guinea pigs acquire and eat grass (and other plant material) like hunter-gatherers, migrating (in “herds”) to find available food, in reaction to changing environmental conditions. For many, however, they are just cute little pets!

Cuy (guinea pigs) feast on greens in a home in Peru. Cuy is the animal and meat of a guinea pig in the Andean regions of South America and is a traditional food of Peruvian, Colombian, and Ecuadorian Andean people. Cuy (Scientific classification Cavia porcellus) are a domesticated species of rodent belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia. Guinea pigs do not exist naturally in the wild and were likely domesticated as early as 5000 BC from the wild species Cavia tschudii native to the Andes. European traders spread the pet to Europe in the 1500s. Use as a model organism in the 1800s and 1900s originated the epithet "guinea pig" for a test subject. These animals are not in the pig family, nor are they from Guinea.

           Guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) pets in Peru.                            Used often for laboratory test experiments since the AD1800s.

Nowadays, this rodent–also called a “cavy” (or “domestic guinea pig”)—usually grows no bigger than a rabbit, but in earlier times much larger versions once lived and died (and became fossilized).(2)

In technical literature these rodents are usually called cavies, but in slang they are routinely known as “guinea pigs”, often serving as pets or as experiment subjects.

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One of the first serious studies of the guinea pig was done by Dr. Konrad Gessner, a Swiss young-earth creationist who provided an enormous foundation for the intertwined sciences of creation ecology and creation biology (and their sub-disciplines, creation zoölogy and creation botany), back in the mid-AD1500s (describing the guinea pig in AD1554).(3)

Dr. Gessner was the first bioscientist to document comprehensive observations of both the Guinea Pig and the Brown Rat (mentioned above).

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Nuclear Bomb Testing

What was it like to monitor an atomic bomb, as it was tested?

Consider this eye-witness report from a scientist-monitor, by Captain James Chamblee Meredith, published by the National Association of Atomic Veterans.

As a Commissioned Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), I was assigned to the 1957 Atomic Tests in Nevada, designated “Plumbbob”, to provide off-site monitoring along with about 50 other PHS officers, one civil service scientist, and two U.S. Army veterinarians. The last surface atomic test in the United States took place in 1962. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1963, and since then many nations have tested their nuclear weapons underground. Unfortunately, some nations have exploded them above the surface.

After each atomic explosion, about 15 other PHS officers, the civil service scientist and I were assigned to drive under the nuclear cloud as it moved eastward to test for radioactive fallout. The remaining officers were stationed in strategic communities in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California to provide continuous monitoring of [nuclear] radiations and to keep the local citizens informed of atomic explosions and related activities. The two Army veterinarians observed animals in the four-state area potentially affected by the atomic tests. So that we would blend in with the public, none of us were in uniform.(4)

What was then called the Atomic Energy Commission oversaw the monitoring.(5)

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The Atomic Test Site was located 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Except for those stationed in surrounding areas, all of the personnel involved in the tests were stationed at Camp Mercury. We lived in small trailers with two sets of bunk beds.

We could look out our window and see an Army encampment across the dry gulch where U.S. Army soldiers suffered in the heat living in pup tents. The soldiers were there to take their places in trenches along with U.S. Marines about a mile or two from “ground zero”. This was later determined to be a bad decision to use humans as “guinea pigs” in the test. The Department of Veteran Affairs has treated veterans of those tests for many years.

On days when an atomic shot was scheduled for the following morning, we would check the tower in the center of the camp at 6:00 p.m. to see whether the light was green [for “go”] or red [for “no go”]. If the light was red, we would head into Las Vegas to see live entertainment . . . . If the light was green at 6:00 p.m., we would eat supper and relax until 11:00 p.m. and check the tower again. If the light was red, we would sleep through the night. If the light was green, we would go to bed and get up at 1:00 p.m. [at night] and eat breakfast in the dining hall.

From the dining hall, we would load up into vans to go to the test site to be in place by 4:00 a.m. (Before the test series was started we had been given a tour in closed vehicles around the craters form earlier atomic tests. The craters appeared similar to a volcano crater, except that they were not black with lava but white with fused sand. The craters were about a half-mile in diameter and were ringed by structures made from different materials to determine how they stood up under [atomic] explosions.) When we arrived at the test site before the atomic shot, it would be completely dark. Most of the bombs were detonated about one minute before daybreak to allow testing for radiation without any sunlight. Sunlight consists of many of the same types of radiation as an atomic explosion—visible light, infrared light, ultraviolet light, etc., and they wanted to observe the initial explosion without sunlight. We would be standing in a bunker, which was essentially a mound of sand about 15 feet high and about a mile long, located about ten miles from ground zero. Our only protective clothing was a pair of dark goggles. An atomic blast is about 100 times brighter than the sun, so we could look directly into the sun with those goggles and it would appear only as a bright disc.

A voice would come over a loud speaker at intervals giving us warning of the approaching time for the explosion. Finally, the count-down would begin – ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero. Immediately there was a bright flash that was all that my eyes could bear even through the dark goggles. Within a couple of seconds, a bright white ball formed and expanded very quickly at ground zero and then started to rise quickly. At the point the sun would rise suddenly as it always does in the desert, and it appeared that the explosion had lit up the world.(4)

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After the initial bright flash, we were allowed to remove our goggles. The white ball would expand rapidly and start turning bright yellow as it rose. The color turned quickly to orange and then to a fiery red as the ball arose. Finally as the cloud took the form of a gigantic mushroom, the whole column would turn white and keep expanding upward. The next sight seen at every test was a silver airplane circling the cloud and reflecting both the sunlight and the brightness of the cloud and then flying into the cloud.

Years late, I saw the pilot of that plane on television, and he said that it was a bumpy ride. After about a half hour, the cloud would begin drifting east. We would then go back to the camp and get into vehicles to start driving out across the desert to test for radioactive fallout. There would be two men per car or truck tracking the cloud, and we would stop periodically to check for different forms of radioactivity—gamma rays, beta particles and alpha particles—and call in our results to our headquarters by radio. We used something like what the public knows as Geiger Counters that used removable shields to block out all but one type of radiation at a time.

One time we made the mistake of calling in form a point on the side of the road in the barren desert when it was about 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, except there was no shade. Commander Carter, assistant director of our mission said over the radio to stay there and call in readings every fifteen minutes. We were there about three hours in the dry heat, and I became dehydrated and developed a severe headache. When we finally got to a populated oasis, my partner went swimming in a public swimming pool surrounded by palm trees, while I lay on a bench and suffered. I got over it after drinking a lot of water and having a good night’s sleep. We would sometimes be gone for two or three days on these cloud-tracking trips.

In the meantime, our headquarters was plotting the radioactivity readings on maps as we called in.

One time, a bomb on a tower did not go off and Commander Carter picked me as the subject of a practical joke. When I got back to our headquarters, he said in front of the team, “Cham, we got a call from Control Central and they want a Public Health Service Officer to go up the tower with the technician and see why the bomb did not go off. You have been selected.” For a moment, I believed him and I know that I must have turned white. We all had a laugh.(5)

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The Testing of Christ

But the testing of atomic bombs is insignificant compared to the stranger-than-fiction testing of the Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate. And as He perfectly passed every such test the Lord Jesus gave us the formula for conquering any temptation—reverential dependence upon God and His will for our lives, as that is revealed by specific (and situation-relevant) Scriptures, applied to our attitudes and actions.

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For every temptation Christ identified the relevant Scripture that solved that specific temptation/problem—and He applied it to that immediate situation. What a role-model for us!

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Here-and-now Testing, for Rewards Hereafter

Some tests are exotic, like atomic bomb blasts, yet most of the tests we are familiar with are more of the “everyday” nature.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.   (1st Peter 1:6-7)

The testing of our faith, by the distracting temptations and challenging circumstances of daily living, is to be expected—it is part of God’s providential plan for our earthly lives.(7)

But it is for a good reason—a very valuable reason: God’s glory in Christ, to be displayed in and through our earthly lives.  And this is cause for joy!

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And, as we suffering afflictions in life—and other painful forms of testing—we can take comfort in knowing something that Job did not originally know (because he could not then read the Old Testament book that bears his name): God is faithful and providentially caring (1st Corinthians 10:13), so He will make a way for our souls to succeed.

 ><>  JJSJ   profjjsj@aol.com

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References

(1) See, accord, James J. S. Johnson, “Thank God for Norwegian Rats!”, Syttende Mai Lecture Series (Norwegian Society of Texas, Arlington, Texas, May 14, AD2016), page 15 of 21, at Footnote 15. Ironically, the behavior of Black Rats (Rattus rattus) in the wild, transmitting the (Black Death) Plague of Yersinia pestis, has been used as God’s instrumentality for teaching humans — and for testing them regarding theological truth! See 1st Samuel chapters 4—6, analyzed in James J. S. Johnson, “Evolutionary Naturalism vs. Biblical Providence” [Did Norwegian Rats Shut Down the Black Death?], Acts & Facts, 45(4):21 (April 2016), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/evolutionary-naturalism-vs-biblical/ .

(2) Brian Thomas, “One-Ton Guinea Pig”, Acts & Facts, 44(4):13 (April 2015), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/one-ton-guinea-pig/ .

(3) Dr. Gessner was a true Reformation scholar (in fact, a close friend of Heinrich Bullinger, one of the Reformation’s most influential Reformers) – complementing his medical practice and scientific research with professional service as Greek professor in Lausanne, before moving on to Zürich to serve as lecturer in physics, as well as pioneering the infant science of paleontology. See William A. Hoesch, “False Political Correctness in the Sixteenth Century”, Acts & Facts, volume 36 (January 2007 issue) (spelling his name as “Conrad Gesner”), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/fossil-political-correctness-sixteenth-century .

(4)  Capt. James Chamblee Meredith, “Atomic Explosions Remembered”, NAAV News (Members’ Publication of the National Association of Atomic Veterans, first Quarter 2016), pages 6-7.

(5)  Historical note: The Atomic Energy Commission was discontinued as a stand-alone agency (of the federal government), pursuant to The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, via transferring its regulatory activities to the new Nuclear Regulatory Commission, leaving its nuclear energy promotion activities to the Energy Research & Development Administration that was later absorbed by the U.S. Department of Energy.

(6)  The typical explosion, of such nuclear bombs, was the equivalent of 10,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT. See Meredith, “Atomic Explosions Remembered”, NAAV News (first Quarter, 2016) page 8.

(7)  Of course, God tests us (and judges us) on what we know (and should know), at a given point in time, based on our opportunities (then) to have acquired relevant information about what it true.  This is true for groups, such as government-directed groups who test nuclear blasts:  what did they then (during the Cold War) know? — and what were the foreseeable risks, then, that they needed to be defensively prepared for?  And, this is also true for the testing of individuals.  See, accord, James J. S. Johnson, “God’s Timing Makes Sense of Adversity”, Acts & Facts, 45(2):21 (February 2016), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/9143/  — and James J. S. Johnson, “The Truth Test”, Acts & Facts, 43(1):22 (January 2014), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/truth-test/ .  So we are tested in time — thankfully, because God has given us the Holy Bible (Jude 1:3-4; 2nd Peter 1:18-21; 2nd Timothy 3:15-17), our daily lives are “open Book exams”.

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FOR THE LOVE OF LUTEFISK!

For the Love of Lutefisk! 

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Whether  therefore  ye  eat,  or  drink,  or  whatsoever  ye  do,

do  all  to  the  glory  of  God.   (1st Corinthians 10:31)

Whenever we eat anything, even something as exotic as LUTEFISK, we should do so to the glory of God, because the very act of eating is a proof of God’s Creatorship and care for our physical needs (Acts 14:17)

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Norwegian-Americans are famous for treasuring their lutefisk, a strange concoction of codfish, dried hard and then softened by a process that includes being soaked in lye — and then thoroughly water-rinsed and boiled to remove the lye. To appreciate that Nordic cuisine culture idiosyncrasy, consider the following piece of rural church history.

On the morning of August 8, 2003, Holden Lutheran Church burned to the ground, taking a century of history with it. The building had stood for almost 95 years, and the congregation itself dated to 1895, when parishioners began worshipping in each other’s homes with a traveling minister. Norwegian settlers founded the church, located about 9 miles northeast of Isle in central Minnesota. The congregation was small, but it had a rich history—and a reputation of hosting the best lutefisk dinner in the area. …

After the fire, parishioners gathered to remove the debris and fill the huge hole left in the ground. “A local gravel man hauled over 100 truckloads of gravel to the site and didn’t even present us with a bill for the job,” church member Carol Bailey says. “His only request was for two tickets to our next lutefisk dinner!” … [While the rebuilding progressed, another venue was needed, to continue the lutefisk banquet tradition] … Nearby Faith Lutheran Church invited the Holden congregation to use its facilities for the annual lutefisk dinner in October, which attracted 450 people.

[Quoting from COUNTRY (August/September 2007) Magazine, edited by Robin Hoffman, page 43.]

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That’s right — LUTEFISK!  Codfish, soaked in lye, then repeatedly rinsed in water, then boiled, then served with white sauce and/or butter, along with other banquet foods, in a church fellowship hall.  What a wonderful Norwegian Lutheran community tradition!

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For a description of how the lutefisk banquet tradition is still maintained in by Norwegian-Texans, see “Bluebirds of Happiness, Plus Enjoying a Lutefisk Banquet”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/12/11/bluebirds-of-happiness-plus-enjoying-a-lutefisk-banquet/ —  a part of which informs us about the lutefisk cuisine arts.

LUTEFISK SUPPER  ‘The Lutefisk Supper is one of the most interesting events in Cranfills Gap [a town in Bosque County, Texas] and is centered round a dried fish imported from Norway.  The tradition began many years ago sponsored by the Ladies’ Aid [Society] of the St. Olaf Lutheran Church.  After several years of time-consuming preparations, organizing, cooking, and serving, the crowds attending the supper became so large that the ladies of the church felt they could no longer carry on this custom so it was discontinued.

In 1965, Oliver Hanson had an idea for a way to financially help the [Cranfills Gap] school’s athletic programs.  To do this, the Lions’ Booster Club of Cranfills Gap High School revived the tradition of serving the Lutefisk Supper.

This group took on the arduous task of preparing the fish.  The fish comes from Norway in 100-pound bales [i.e., stacks of dried codfish]. The weight of each dry fish is from one and a half to two pounds and has already been split in half.  Volunteers saw each dried fish into chunks [note: nowadays the hard-dried codfish is usually cut by a woodshop’s power jigsaw] about four inches long, and then skin the fish of its dry, parchment-like skin.  This is a slow and difficult job.  Next, the fish is soaked in a solution of lye [a strongly alkaline solution, usually dominated by potassium hydroxide] and water for 72 hours.  At the end of these three days, the [now softened] fish is taken out and rinsed and cleaned of any excess skin or any brown spots.  Most of the fins are removed.  Next, the fish is soaked in a solution of lime [limewater is an alkaline solution of calcium hydroxide] and water for a period of 72 hours.  The fish are taken out at the end of that time and carefully cleaned again.  After this cleansing, the fish are then soaked in clear water for 96 hours, changing the water every twelve hours [culminating ten days of various soakings of the no-longer-stiff stockfish!].  By this time the chunks have swelled to four and a half to five times the beginning size and are white.  At cooking time, the fish are placed into a cheesecloth bag, put into a pot of salted, boiling water and boiled about five to ten minutes.  The boiled fish is served with melted butter, white sauce, and boiled Irish potatoes.  Plenty of salt and pepper is a necessity!

lutefisk-please-baby

Lutefisk serves to bring the [Bosque County] community together as an all out effort probably not seen anywhere else.  On the first Saturday of December almost every able-bodied person in the Gap community begins his or her assigned task[s]—some bake turkeys, some peel potatoes, some bake pies [one favorite being a combined cherry-and-apple pie!], others donate coffee, tea, or sugar.  The person in charge of organizing the dinner assigned duties and food preparation.  Tickets are usually sold in advance, but also at the door [of the Cranfills Gap High School gymnasium].  By 4:00 pm the guests begin to arrive.  The [high school] cafetorium will seat about 200 people at one time.  The food is served family style and high school girls are the waitresses.  The boys wash the dishes.  Through the years, each December as many as 900—1,000 guests have eaten a very delicious meal.

Janet Lunde-Landwehr of Hartland, takes a helping of lutefisk. She is wearing a bunad, a ceremonial dress worn in Norway to social functions. Her friends at right, Marion Sorenson of Oconomowoc, and husband Bob Sorenson and Chet Seffrood of Oconomowoc, look on with anticipation.

Lady  wearing  bunad,  ready  to  eat  lutefisk

If a diner is not so certain about lutefisk…[!] turkey, dressing, green beans, [cranberry sauce, in lieu of lingonberries] and pie complete the menu.  The cost of the fish has increased from $500 for a 100# bale to $2000 for an 80# box.  An adult ticket in 1965 cost $4.50, but today the ticket is $18.  In the fifty years the Booster Club has sponsored this traditional supper, $250,000 has been donated to the school towards various projects and improvements.

Betty Carlson Smith added more interest in this event when she began teaching elementary age kids several Norwegian [folk] dances.  These dances are performed in the gym for those waiting for their time to be served.  Betty has since retired but the dance tradition [in the gymnasium ‘waiting room’] continues.  For a very reasonable price there is good food, great service, friendly hospitality, and fun.”

Quoting from Darla Kinney, Charlene Tergerson, Rita Hanson, & Laverne Smith, CRANFILLS GAP, TEXAS:  LOKING BACK AND MOVING FORWARD, November 2015 edition (Cranfills Gap, Texas: Cranfills Gap Chamber of Commerce Historical Committee, 2015), page 56-58 .]

lutefisk-chef-with-words-re-lutefisk

Now that’s an ethnic cuisine tradition worth preserving!   ><> JJSJ

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Rosemaling  plate     (by  JJSJ)

Bees Need to Know!

BEES NEED TO KNOW !
Dr. James J. S. Johnson

bumblebee-over-red-pink-flower-bombus-pratorum

              Bee approaching flower    ( credit: thehoneybeeconservancy.org )

And, behold, there was a swarm of bees [דְּבוֹרִ֛ים] and honey in the carcass of the lion. (Judges 14:8b)

Bees have fascinated me ever since I watched the Moody Institute of Science movie (presented in the mid- AD1970s by my youth pastor, Bob Webel), narrated by Moody Bible Institute’s amazing Dr. Irwin Moon, called “City of the Bees”.(1)

Bees are amazingly active – and they display God’s power and genius in many detailed ways.  But  don’t think that bumblebees are limited to the six senses that humans use (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling physical contact) for observing the outside world. Humans need sensory information just to survive; so do beasts.

Bumblebees need to know what is happening around them and how to relate to it. Like us, bees need accurate data about the world around them—constantly provided by light sensors, chemoreceptors, temperature detectors, etc.—so they can react to threats and opportunities. Bees constantly interact with living and nonliving entities: terrestrial and airborne animals and plants, microbes and toxins, predators, parasites, and poisons. These encounters involve sensor and immune systems that blend as an integrated interface-management system for symbiotic activities that include preprogrammed responses that can be offensive, defensive, or mutualistic.(2)

honeybee-upon-honeycomb

         Honeybee on honeycomb     ( credit: Richard Bartz )

For example, the eyesight of the humble bumblebee is amazing beyond human comprehension:

The brain of the bee is composed of a mere one million neurons (nerve cells), 0.01% of the neurons of a three-pound human brain. Using this tiny bee brain and associated vision, bees have been able to solve complicated color puzzles and even recognize human faces. They do this by using their 6,300 ommatidia that comprise the eye. Bees have also been created with the ability to distinguish up to 300 separate flashes of light per second, an attribute they use as they rapidly fly over the changing landscape.

The next time a busy bee buzzes by you on its way to a field, remember that it is designed to do and find things that our most sophisticated machines and computers cannot do, using vision and a brain that flies in the face (so to speak) of undirected evolution.(3)

Notice the sensory hairs on the honeybee eyes      ( credit: Coxshoney.com )

In other words, like other animals, bees routinely need and get accurate and immediate visual information about their immediate (and not-so-immediate) surroundings — yet bumblebees also acquire data around themselves using another physical sense the existence of which we are just now learning about.

 Bumblebees feed on nectar from flowers. It is thus advantageous for them to find flowers efficiently, expending as little energy as possible when searching for food.

It turns out that all living things, even flowers, have electrical fields. The student of [God’s] Creation will not be surprised to find that the body hairs of bumblebees possess a unique ability, in that they are sensitive to electrical fields, specifically, those produced by flowers.

In addition to other fine-tuned senses bumblebees possess, including the ability to see ultraviolet light, the body hairs of bumblebees move in response to electrical fields. These hairs, called “mechanosensory hairs”, are connected via nerve fibers to the bumblebee nervous system, and when they move, they activate the nerve cells. These sensory hairs allow bumblebees to forage for nectar more efficiently by enabling them to sense electrical charges on flowers.

Like every specialized physiological property, the unique connections between these body hairs and the bumblebee nervous system could not have developed by accident (chance) or in small [incremental] steps. A partial connection would not be useful to the organism [either for survival or for reproductive success]. This system had to work perfectly from day one [i.e., from Day #5 of Creation Week].(4)

honeybee-pollinating-red-flower

        Bee getting nectar, pollinating flower    ( credit: Wikipedia )

But what do bees do with all of the data they receive, all of which is highly quantified in detail?  Interpreting all of the collected data — sights, sounds, even electrical field data – requires the equivalent of a super-computer to analyze, yet bees (as small as they are) have no difficulty with instantly processing math-loaded information as if their little lives depended upon it – which they do.

 Bees can solve complex mathematical problems that would normally keep computers busy for days, according to a new report from UK researchers. Through careful observation, University of London scientists have determined that bees routinely solve the “traveling salesman problem,” in which a subject must determine the shortest route between multiple destinations in order to conserve energy. But the scientists don’t know how the bees do it with a brain the size of a grass seed.

“Bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order,” according to a Royal Holloway, University of London press release. Researchers watched as bees encountered “computer controlled artificial flowers” at random, then quickly calculated the shortest route before visiting them all again.   Current computer programs that perform these kinds of calculations operate by totaling the lengths of each possible route and then comparing them to find the shortest one.

There is no way that such tiny brains, using such little energy, could arrive at the right answer so quickly and consistently using the same approach as these computers. So, the researchers speculated that the bees must be using an unknown shortcut algorithm. Such an algorithm could be a valuable assistance in solving traffic flow problems on roadways and in man-made data networks.

Also crowded into a bee’s tiny brain are other shortcut algorithms that enable bees to completely avoid crash landings. Research has also discovered advanced capabilities in other insects. For example, ants possess superior traffic flow instincts compared to man-made systems. And even slime mold can build more efficient transportation tracks than those devised by Japanese railway engineers. All of these algorithms, if they could be discovered or reinvented, have the potential for use in human designs.

Since not even humans with supercomputers could develop these clever algorithms, they must have been purposefully programmed into the insects by an intelligent programmer. Nature by itself could never put together such intricate programs. Even if it could, where would it obtain the power needed to insert them into the exact animals that require them?  Bees, like ants and so many other creatures, clearly look as though they have been expertly designed. Further, it appears that their Designer is vastly more clever than humans, who have trouble understanding, much less duplicating, the abilities of these creatures.(5)

honeybee-on-aster-flower

Honeybee on Aster flower     ( credit: statesymbolsusa.org )

Thus, bees do their personal research and analysis quickly, using brains so small that their behavior is inexplicably baffling – unless we keep in mind Who designed and constructed and maintains the bioengineering and life of each humble bumblebee: the Lord Jesus Christ, Who delights in confounding the supposedly “great” by what is “little”.

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the “foolish” things of the world to confound the “wise”; and God hath chosen the “weak” things of the world to confound the things which are “mighty”; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption — that, according as it is written, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord”. (1st Corinthians 1:26-31, following Jeremiah 9:23-24)

 

honeybee-at-purplehued-flowers

Honeybee by purple blossoms     (credit: media-treehugger.com)

 

References

(1) Irwin A. Moon, City of the Bees (Moody Science Classics movie, 1962), now available on DVD.  Dr. Irwin Moon, who influenced Dr. Henry Morris, should be recognized as the “morning-star” of the Biblical creation revival movement.

(2) Compare similar text, applied to how freshwater fish need to know, in James J. S. Johnson, “Even Fish Need to Know!”, Acts & Facts, 45(1):21 (January 2016), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/even-fish-need-know .

(3) Quoting Frank J. Sherwin, “Un-Bee-lievable Vision”, Acts & Facts, vol. 35, issue #2 (February 2006), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/un-bee-lievable-vision/ .

(4) Quoting Jonathan C. O’Quinn, “Electric Bumblebees”, CREATION MATTERS, 21(4):12 (July-August 2016), citing G. P. Suttona, et al., “Mechanosensory Hairs in Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) Detect Weak Electric Fields”, PNAS [Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences], 113(26):7261-7265 (2016).

(5) Quoting Brian Thomas, “Bees Solve Math Problems Faster Than Computers”, ICR News (posted November 2nd AD2010), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/bees-solve-math-problems-faster-than .

Texas Bluebonnets Are Tough as Texas, Exhibiting God’s Bioengineering Artistry

Texas Bluebonnets Are Tough as Texas,
Exhibiting God’s Bioengineering Artistry

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

tx-bluebonnets-sunset

Did you ever think about how hard it is to grow Texas Bluebonnets (which are native only to Texas), or how that very difficulty is itself a telltale evidence of God’s bioengineering artistry?

Jared Watkins, a graduate student at Tyndale Theological Seminary, informed me of this worthy observation (based on his independent research), during the summer of AD2016. In fact, he did so shortly after he advised me on some New Testament Greek philology insights, emphasizing how the serious study of wildflowers is a truly Biblical endeavor, according to the Lord Himself.

matthew6-28-30-philology-slide

This verse from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 6:28-30), which is complemented by a similar passage in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 12:27-28), quotes the Lord Jesus Christ using an imperative verb to direct His then-immediate audience to intensively and thoroughly study and learn about wildflowers of the fields, in order to better appreciate what kind of Creator our God is. Having done so, we should better appreciate how much purposeful planning and providential working God has employed to prepare us for life – abundant life now and everlasting life to come!

But do we care how much care God has designed in the flowers of the fields, most of which will never receive a passing glance by any human, during its ephemeral life cycle, much less any prolonged and detailed-observation-based study? As the parallel passage recorded by Luke indicates, our study of wildflowers should include very serious analysis. If we really think through how much planning and bioengineering work God has invested in wildflowers – and He has! — we will much more easily appreciate how much planning and providence God has programmed and orchestrated into our own lives.

luke12-27-28-philology-slide

For just one example of God’s handiwork in a wildflower, consider – consider with serious attention and appreciation – what God has put into the hearty category of leguminous lupine wildflowers that we collectively call the Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus spp.), the official flower of the Lone Star State. In the process of learning about these prairie ornaments – more glorious than any garment Solomon wore on his best day – we can recognize these simple yet important facts:

(1)  More is needed, for Texas Bluebonnets to survive, than sowing their seeds.
(2)  Even planted properly, Texas Bluebonnets have very specific growth needs.
(3)  Texas Bluebonnets contain potential diversity, yet only within boundaries.
(4)  Texas Bluebonnets show God’s big-picture care for ecologically healthy soil.
(5)  Texas Bluebonnets require fine-tuned design and maintenance, not just luck.

Thankfully, Texas Bluebonnet flowers have been intensively and thoroughly studied (matching the blended mandate of Matthew 6:28-30 & Luke 12:27-28) by botanists, agronomists, and ecologists for many years (underwritten by Texas petroleum and/or Texas taxpayers!), especially some affiliated with Texas A&M University — so some serious findings of Aggie horticulturists (Jerry M. Parsons, Steve George, & Greg Grant,) are quoted at length below.(1)

tx-bluebonnets-roadside

 

Planting Bluebonnet Seeds Is Just the Beginning

To start with, God invented plants (on Day 3) with their necessary seeds contained within all of the original ancestor plants. There would never be any plant reproduction if God had not designed the mechanics for successful plant progeny from the very beginning. So, with proper seeds, life can be reproduced, one generation after another — yet sowing seeds is just the beginning.

September and October are the months for planting cold hardy fall annuals which bloom profusely the following spring. This concept is a hard item to sell to most people who are convinced that customarily “April showers bring May flowers”, therefore, they don’t consider planting until April. Nature [i.e., the created arrangement that God preprogrammed during Creation Week], on the other hand, doesn’t need convincing that fall IS the best and proper time for planting winter annuals. A number of spring-blooming wildflowers germinate in the fall, their tops remaining small and inconspicuous while developing a massive root system throughout the winter, then provide us with a riot of color during April and May. The bluebonnet is one of these.

Although heat is needed to germinate the seed, cool weather is needed to develop the bluebonnet’s root structure. Basically, cultural practices for the Texas state flower have not been changed or significantly researched in the past century. Because of research supported and funded by the Worthington Hotel of Ft. Worth and thanks to modern agricultural technology, the bluebonnet is finally becoming “all that it can be”, taking its place among our most treasured, hardy bedding plants. The clue to successfully cultivating bluebonnets lies in a knowledge of the seed. The seeds resemble small, flat pea- gravel and are multi-colored with slate blue and light tan being the most common hues. People can now buy bluebonnet seed which will germinate and begin growing within ten days rather than the months required previously.

One might think that any seed, if viable, will grow when planted; not so with the bluebonnet. Nature [sic – in reality, the subject noun of this sentence should be “God”] has structured the bluebonnet seed in such a way that only a small percentage of the seed germinates during the first season after planting. This delayed germination ensures species survival during periods of adverse growing conditions such as prolonged drought. Nature may want to ration bluebonnet seed germination but planters of the state flower want each and every seed to germinate and grow rapidly.(1)

tx-bluebonnets-field-house

 

There’s More Than Sowing Involved, If You Want to Reap Texas Bluebonnets

As the realtors are known to say, “location, location, location” – and that is true when it comes to the successful germination and maintenance of Texas Bluebonnets. Geography matters, especially in matters ecological(2) —  including wildflowers!

Of course, getting seed to germinate and plants to emerge from the soil is just the beginning. To insure success you must have first chosen the optimum planting site. Emerging seedlings must be protected from the ravages of pillbugs and rotting by soil fungi. Most would-be bluebonnet growers kill plants with too much water. Remember, bluebonnets are actually very drought tolerant and as such are very susceptible to death from overwatering. …

One way to ensure successful bluebonnet bloom from seed or transplants is to plant them in an ideal location. Ideal can be defined with one word, sunny. Bluebonnets will not perform well if grown in the shade or in an area which receives less than 8-10 hours of direct sunlight. If grown in a shaded area, the plant will be tall and spindly with few blooms. Bluebonnets will thrive in any [Texas] soil as long as it is well drained. If you are plagued with a sticky clay soil, try building raised (6 inches or more) planting beds and amending the soil with 3-4 inches of organic matter (compost, tree leaves, spoiled hay, etc.).

Don’t keep the soil too wet; just keep it slightly moist. Remember that once plants become established (two or three weeks after planting), they are drought tolerant and one of Texas’ toughest natives. …

Also remember that during early growth, bluebonnets form ground-hugging rosettes. The whole plant may not be over several inches tall but the leaves may cover an area the size of a dinner plate. This is a natural condition and regardless of how much one waters or fertilizes, the plant will not grow rapidly until the warmth of spring initiates flower stalks. It is also natural for the lower leaves to turn a crimson color after the first freeze.

Beneath the rosette of leaves, a large mass of roots is growing. These roots have the ability to form nitrogen-fixing nodules [how convenient is that?!] which are filled with beneficial bacteria that can take nitrogen from the atmosphere and feed the plant.  This means that fertilization can also be kept to a minimum. No additional fertilizer needs to be added to bluebonnet planting beds since most established planting beds have an abundance of plant nutrients remaining from fertilization of previous crops.

When actually planting bluebonnet seed, FORGET THE IDEA OF JUST THROWING OR SCATTERING THE SEED IN THE GRASS! Much bluebonnet seed has been wasted as bird feed using this scattering technique. The seed MUST be lightly covered or raked into the soil. In naturalized fields of bluebonnets, the seed is gradually covered by washing soil and defoliation of weeds and grass, BUT IT IS COVERED BEFORE IT ACTUALLY GERMINATES.   When planting a bluebonnet transplant, be careful not to plant it too deeply. You will notice that all of the leaves arise from a central crown-like structure. This crown should not be buried, otherwise the plant will rot. …

Bluebonnet planting time is also important. Many people wait until they see bluebonnet plants blooming in the spring to begin planting. IT’S TOO LATE to plant transplants in the spring. Fall is the optimum time! The sooner in the fall (beginning in September) chemically-scarified seed and transplants are planted, the larger the plants will grow in the spring and subsequently more bloom will occur.   Root systems of seedlings and transplants established in early fall expand more and are able to produce a larger plant when top growth and bloom begins in the spring.(1)

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Texas Bluebonnets at Risk, Even If Planted Properly

Of course, plants get eaten – that was part of the original ecosystem plan, even before Adam sinned and thereby incurred the Edenic curse of entropy and death on all of the earth.(3)

Consequently, regardless of the original food-web equilibrium, Texas Bluebonnets must be resilient enough to survive the hungry herbivores of this fallen world, such as various voracious bugs that gobble flowers of the fields.

pillbug-aka-rolypoly

Major enemies of seedlings and transplants are small, nocturnal menaces referred to as pillbugs, rolly-pollys [also spelled “roly-polies”], sowbugs, and several other names which should not be mentioned in polite company. These hungry devils can devour plants overnight. Many times the devastating onslaught does not occur immediately after planting. To ensure seedling and transplant survival, it is wise to broadcast pillbug bait around the newly established or emerging plants and do so weekly during the first month after planting.(1)

According to Michael McDowell, it appears that Texas Bluebonnets are sometimes attacked by Conchuela Stink Bugs (Chlorochroa ligata); these pests appear soon after bluebonnet seedpods begin forming.(4) Another challenge to bluebonnet survival, in a fallen world!(3)

conchuelabugs-on-bluebonnet-seedpods

 

Texas Bluebonnets Display Potential Diversity within Designed Boundaries

Within the genus of Lupinus there are varieties that sport more colors than just royal blue, thanks to the dominant and recessive genes that code for blossom colors — which God artistically incorporated into the original lupine genome.

 In 1982, a terminally ill entrepreneur and Texas naturalist named Carroll Abbott, known to some as “Mr. Texas Bluebonnet”, implanted in the mind of Extension horticulturists a dream of planting the design of our state flag comprised entirely of the state flower to celebrate the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial. This seemingly simple proposal and what has been involved to make it a reality have involved thousands of people, created a multi-million dollar agricultural industry, generated tremendous publicity for Texas A&M, and is still producing new products and wildflower knowledge with no apparent end in sight.

Since the beginning, development of unusual bluebonnet color types has been the main driving force of this project. All of the other developments including bluebonnet transplants, rapidly germinating, chemically scarified seed, commercial seed production and early-blooming plant types were all necessary ingredients needed to find and proliferate the colors needed (blue, white and red) to plant the initial floral goal, a Texas state flag.

BLUE: The blue bluebonnet was, of course, already available. The only thing needed to be done with this color was to enhance seed germination and formulate a commercial production technique which would ensure a dependable seed supply.

WHITE: The white strain of bluebonnet was familiar to most local botanists yet still unknown to the majority of Texans. Photographers always treasure the opportunity to find a rare white albino bluebonnet nestled among the blues to enhance their artistic attempts. Consequently, many people knew where white populations existed.

PINK: The development of a pink bluebonnet was thought to be an impossible task. Even Carroll Abbott considered location, purification and proliferation of the pink, and eventually red, bluebonnet a bit farfetched. This great plantsman had roamed the fields of Texas his entire life and had seen only three pink bluebonnet plants. Most of his native plant friends had never seen even one! In searching for the pink strain, the same criterion used to successfully locate and purify the white bluebonnet strain was used. People were told to collect only seed from pinks in large groups so that natural selection would have already bred some of the blue out of the pinks. However, the pinks were indeed so rare that only four locations throughout the entire state were reported. The “mother lode” of pinks was found within the city limits of San Antonio. Once a gene source was located the pink and shades thereof were added to the bluebonnet color spectrum. Because the pink strain of bluebonnet was so rare and so special, it has been named after the mentor of this project. The ‘Abbott Pink’ bluebonnet is now a reality. Its unique and subtle beauty will always serve as a reminder of Carroll Abbott’s dedication and inspiration to all who love and appreciate nature’s rarities.

OTHER COLOR STRAINS: Like Carroll Abbott himself, the pink bluebonnet is full of surprises. The ‘Abbott Pink’ strain is providing wonderful “bonus” color hues which none could have initially imagined.   The purification of a pink bluebonnet strain will eventually lead to the creation of an entirely new color variant which will make the bluebonnet without a doubt the most revered state flower in history to a certain segment of the Texas population.   Geneticists indicate that for every color in nature, there exist hues or shades of that color. For instance, within the pink bluebonnet there should exist a series of shades of darker pink and, eventually, red.   Another spectrum of colors should exist when blue color shades are mixed with dark pink or red to create lavender or possibly even maroon.   Now isn’t there a group of Texans who might show a subtle interest in developing a maroon colored state flower? Sounds as if the Aggies may have done it again!(1)

tx-bluebonnet-aggie-maroon-variety

Some might wonder: how can these wildflowers be tinkered with to produce these others colors? If a flower is “naturally” blue, so it’s well-known as a “bluebonnet”, shouldn’t it “stay” blue? However, to say that the flower is “naturally” blue presupposes some assumptions about the built-in genetics of the flower – yet exactly what kind of variability did God design into the flower’s genotype, to enable it to be expressed (visually) with a phenotype of different colors – such as red, white, blue, pink, and even Aggie maroon?

The additional colors of the state flower were not genetically created by man; these colors have existed for as long as bluebonnets have bloomed.  The additional colors, which already existed in nature and have for hundreds of years, were simply isolated, purified and grown in large numbers.  No plant breeding or genetic manipulation of bluebonnets has been done except by God.  All of these colors have been developed to enhance the Texas state flower. ALL of these colors, by law, are legally the state flower [since Texas law designates all varieties of the Texas Bluebonnet as “the state flower”].

Now, for the first time in history, color patterns of the state flower can be planted and enjoyed. And, since these colors are all naturally occurring selections, they complement each other perfectly, making design and color selection almost fool-proof. There is nothing prettier than a mixed bed of pink, white and blue bluebonnets. Through working with Mother Nature [OOPS!  —  the phrase “Mother Nature”, here, is a nonsensical appellation here, failing to give credit where credit is due! – in the previous paragraph, however, the authors said it right – God], the Texas state flower can now be raised to new heights of beauty and enjoyment.

Others hasten to add: “If a bluebonnet flower is white, it shouldn’t be called a bluebonnet, it’s a whitebonnet.” The state flower is the bluebonnet, written as one word. A color variant of that flower would be properly described with the name of that color, PLUS the name of the flower. Consequently, the terms white bluebonnet, pink bluebonnet, and maroon bluebonnet are correct. Be advised that from all packets of seed or flats of transplants of bluebonnet color strains such as pink, white or ‘Worthington Blue’ there will be some plants which will bloom with the standard blue color. The new color strains are not 100 percent pure and thus will occasionally exhibit the ancestral blue and possibly other hues as well. Also, be advised that in bluebonnet stands which have been allowed to naturally reseed the mixing of blues with pinks or whites will, in several years, result in reversion to the blue color due to cross-pollination and the subsequent masking of the less dominant color strain.(1)

tx-bluebonnets-westtexas

 

Texas Bluebonnets, Being Legumes, Fertilize Soil with Nitrogen Compounds

But there’s more to marvel, because this lupine ornament fertilizes the Texas soil, by providing organic nitrogen needed throughout local food-webs.

It’s ironic that the name Lupinus is derived from the Latin word lupus, meaning wolf. In fact, at one time bluebonnets were known as wolf flowers because they appeared to devour the soil, as they were often found growing in thin rocky soils which didn’t support any other plant life. But it was later discovered that bluebonnets did not rob, but enhanced the soil.

In nature there exists a form of natural fertilizer which is pure and clean. It is the fertilizer, especially [compounds of] nitrogen, produced by soil organisms. The best known of these nitrogen-fixing soil organisms is a bacterium, known as Rhizobium [a/k/a the Rhizobia, because there is a group of similar bacteria that share the same genus name], which lives on the roots of legumes such as clover, alfalfa and vetch. The relationship between this bacterium and the plant is referred to as symbiotic [or, more accurately, as “mutualistic”], meaning that both organisms involved benefit. The plant receives the much needed nitrogen from the bacterium which has the ability to take nitrogen from the air. The bacterium, in return, lives on the roots and receives life support from the plant.
Man benefits as well because the plant, which has been nurtured by the bacteria-formed nitrogen rather than applied fertilization, can then be utilized as a nitrogen source when the plant tissue decomposes. The nitrogen produced from this system is “clean” because there is no salt or chemical toxin potential.

The use of legumes specifically as a source of nitrogen [i.e., as a source of organic nitrogen compounds] has not been a common practice in Texas. The main reason for this has been the expense involved in their establishment.

There IS, however, a legume which thrives in all areas of Texas, produces nitrogen via Rhizobium bacteria, and is the state flower as well — the bluebonnet. The Texas bluebonnet belongs to the legume or bean family (Fabaceae or Leguminosae). Bluebonnets are probably the most important native rangeland legume in Texas, often occupying hundreds of acres of rolling hillsides during the cool (fall, winter and spring) months. The roots of these legumes are highly nodulated, making them important sources of nitrogen for the soil.  Because lupines are able to invade soils low in nitrogen, they have become established in disturbed areas. This is the reason why certain species are used as cover crops for the enrichment of agricultural soils. Bluebonnet plants have the capacity, with the help of Rhizobium, to produce as much nitrogen as soybeans, which often yield as much as 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre.   Bluebonnets are not a preferred food of deer, as are clover and vetch. Therefore, survival of bluebonnet plants in areas heavily populated with deer is ensured. The bluebonnet is also extremely cold tolerant, so freezes normally will not kill the plants.(1)

tx-bluebonnets-aggie-variety-and-logo

 

Summary Advice for Texas Bluebonnet Horticulture

So, to sum up what the Aggie researchers have documented about Texas Bluebonnets, consider the following horticulture/agriculture facts about planting and maintaining bluebonnet flowers.

• Plant in full sun, in soil which drains well and doesn’t stay wet for long periods of time.
• Utilize transplants or chemically scarified seed
• Barely cover seeds with soil, don’t bury the crown of transplants
• Water seeds only on the day of planting and transplants only when the top one inch of soil dries
• No applications of fertilizer are required but are helpful and will cause more abundant bloom
• Interplant with pansies and other annuals for winter-long color
• Don’t overwater!(1)

Having reviewed the above information and advice on how to raise Texas Bluebonnets, in a garden or across a pasture, consider how utterly implausible it is to imagine that Texas Bluebonnets “accidently” invented themselves, somehow, with their various and unique genetic bioengineering blueprints, physiological traits (and beauty!), and ecological interactions (such as helpfully fertilizing Texas soil with nitrogen compounds). Blind, impersonal, evolutionary “luck” cannot explain the etiology or survival of the wildflowers we call Texas Bluebonnets. These pretty flowers (of any hue) are difficult enough for humans to establish and maintain (even when they start with the right kind of seeds, which God invented from scratch!) — so you can forget about bluebonnets “evolving” their way into real-world existence, via any imagined mixture of fortuitous “luck” and material “accidents”.  In other words, Texas Bluebonnets grow and stand in opposition to all animistic genes-in-magic “natural selection” fairy tales:  materialistic “luck” scenarios can never explain the natural glory of Texas Bluebonnets.(5)

Rather, Texas Bluebonnets – by the glamorous gazillions, by their very exquisite existences — collectively and individually demonstrate(6) how God loves and makes beauty, in Texas fields – as if Texas Bluebonnets were a huge and festive garment for some of the semiarid soils of the Lone State.

So there is a lesson to learn, here, from the diligent efforts of Texan horticulturists who try so hard to plant and maintain Texas Bluebonnets – as they intelligently select, sow, and maintain growth from the right kind of seeds, planted in the right kinds of soils.

No wonder the Lord directed His followers to study, to learn about, and to thoughtfully analyze His providential programming, as it is daily displayed in His marvelous and multifarious (and artfully painted) wildflowers, such as Texas Bluebonnets.

><>  JJSJ     profjjsj@aol.com

tx-bluebonnets-gardener-windmill

References

 1. Quoting Jerry M. Parsons, Steve George, & Greg Grant, “Texas Bluebonnets – Texas Pride”, Aggie Horticulture (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, n.d.), posted at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/flowers/bluebonnet/bluebonnetstory.html [emphasis added], accessed 9-8-AD2016). This article on Texas A&M research and analysis was provided to me by Jared Watkins.

2. See James J. S. Johnson, “Geography Matters, Illustrated by Pronghorns, Mountain Goats, and Old Testament Warfare”, posted at https://bibleworldadventures.com/2016/08/17/geography-matters-illustrated-by-pronghorns-mountain-goats-and-old-testament-warfare/ .

3. Compare Genesis chapter 3 with Romans 8:19-22. 

4.  See Michael McDowell, “Untold Stories of 2013:  When Insects Attack!”, Plano Prairie Garden website (accessed 9-9-AD2016), posted at http://planobluestem.blogspot.com/2014/01/while-we-wait-for-spring-to-come.html (photograph reposted under  Fair Use statute of U.S. copyright law).

5.  Regarding the problem of animistic mysticism parading as “science” falsely so-called (1st Timothy 6:20), see generally Randy J. Guliuzza, “Natural Selection Is Not ‘Nature’s Design Process'”, Acts & Facts, 39(4):10-11 (April 2010), posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/5295/    —  as well as Randy J. Guliuzza, “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter:  How Natural Selection Is Given Credit for Design in Nature”, Acts & Facts, 40(7):12-15 (July 2011), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-how-natural/ .

6.  It is noteworthy that each Texas Bluebonnet flower is a stand-alone exhibit of God’s glorious Creatorship, so the entirety of all Texas Bluebonnets – past, present, and future, anywhere in Texas – “testifies” collectively as a virtual galaxy of silent (yet beautiful) witnesses that provide piled-on proof of God’s glory (illustrating Matthew 6:28-30). Regarding this cumulative (and super-redundant) proof of God’s glory, consider similar logic analyzed in James J. S. Johnson, “Quintillions of Creation Witnesses: Blood Service Agents Testify for Creation”, Acts & Facts, 40(5): 8-9 (May 2011) (“Do not think of blood cells as one or two “generic” witnesses to God’s creativity and bioengineering handiwork. No, every single blood cell in the world today—wherever and for whomever it is doing its God-appointed work—is a stand-alone proof of God’s creation. Each of these quintillions [itself] testifies that God is our Creator!”), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/6045 .

tx-bluebonnets-aggie-statue


Post-script:  This article, about Texas Bluebonnet flowers, is dedicated to the author’s wonderful wife — because she is a patriotic native Texan.  (The author, admittedly, is merely a “carpet-bagger” who calls Texas his earthly home.)


 

Geography Matters, Illustrated by Pronghorns, Mountain Goats, and Old Testament Warfare

Geography Matters, Illustrated  by Pronghorns, Mountain Goats,   and  Old  Testament  Warfare

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And the wild beasts of the field are mine.  (Psalm 50:11b).

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats. (Psalm 104:18a)

pronghorn-coming-fast.closeup-turning mountain-goat.pair-high-up

Geography matters. Consequently, so does the ability to master the challenges of specific geography. When carnivores are hunting for food, which is worth more, to a fleeing herbivore, speed or agility?   It depends upon the geography involved. That is like asking: which was needed more, in Old Testament warfare, infantry or cavalry?

To answer these questions, consider the difference between infantry and cavalry, during Old Testament times, then compare that difference to the relative traits of two North American mammals, the pronghorn and the mountain goat.

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0

Battle Chariot  (Old Testament times)

GEOGRAPHIC CHALLENGES IN OLD TESTAMENT WARFARE

In his insightful summary of Bible battles, Stephen Leston provides a geography-related comparison of the ancient Hebrews’ infantry and cavalry:

Because Judah’s army had to defend their mountains, a contingent of foot soldiers was nonnegotiable. Elsewhere in Judah, valleys and plains demanded the use of chariots—the war vehicle of choice during this time in history [i.e., the time of the divided kingdoms in Israel, after Solomon’s reign and before the Babylonian Captivity].

[Quoting Stephen Leston, ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO BIBLE BATTLES (Barbour Books, 2014, at page 165, emphasis added.]

infantry-spearmen.OT-relief

Think of it—chariots (during Old Testament times) were virtually worthless in the jagged and jumbled terrain of the Judean foothills. Imagine trying to drive a chariot up or down or across a mountainside mixed with bumpy rocks and boulders, loose gravel and felsenmeer, erratic cracks and crevices, gaping potholes and drop-offs! Militarily speaking, the irregular topography of mountain slopes requires infantry—foot soldiers—uniquely equipped for versatile mobility.

Yet the opposite was true (during Old Testament times) of the flat plains and valleys of Israel (Isaiah 22:7). Horse-drawn chariots can outrun and outmaneuver warriors on foot. In open fields, fast-wheeled mobility of chariots can out-charge infantry offensively, and can defensively evade any onrush of soldiers on foot.

chariot-warfare.battle-picture
In short, foot soldiers were essential for mountainous warfare, because infantry have all-terrain agility that horse-drawn chariots lack. Likewise, chariots are advantageous in the flat plains, because cavalry have superhuman speed that surpasses even the fastest of foot soldiers.

This same contrast is illustrated in the mammals of America’s West:  pronghorns race across the open prairies, to escape predators (like cougars or coyotes), while mountain goats prance up and down mountain slopes, evading carnivore predators, with physical agility that pronghorns lack.    In short, God loves variety in both animals and geography, so He has fitted different kinds of animals to fill different kinds of geographical niches.

God chose to fill the earth with different kinds of life. All over the world, we see His providence demonstrated in ecological systems. Different creatures live in a variety of habitats, interacting with one another and a mix of geophysical factors—like rain, rocks, soil, wind, and sunlight. … Different types of habitats all over the planet collectively host an ecological smörgåsbord of alternative habitat opportunities. … Marmots make a modest living above timberline in the windblown and mostly cold arctic or alpine tundra. Sponges use filter-feeding to acquire underwater food in coral reefs. … Salmon (and steelhead trout) begin life in freshwater streams, survive a shocking salinity change as they migrate to oceanic saltwater, and then brave a reverse version of salinity shock as they return to their native freshwater streams to reproduce.… Some ecological conditions might work for a world inhabited by just a few kinds of animals and/or plants, but God did not want a monotonous planet  —   so He designed an earth that could and would host a huge variety of lifeform kinds.

[Quoting James J. S. Johnson, “God Fitted Habitats for Biodiversity”, ACTS & FACTS, 42(3):10-12 (March 2013), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/god-fitted-habitats-for-biodiversity , emphasis added.] This point is easily illustrated by pronghorns and mountain goats, different herbivores that survive (and thrive) on the terrains of very different habitats.

pronghorn-herd.photo-by-HeatherCoen

GEOGRAPHIC CHALLENGES FOR PRONGHORNS OF THE PRAIRIES

Recently I asked a friend to recall the beauty of the prairies. Part of his reply included mention of pronghorns:

What I love about the prairie:

The wind — intermittent here in Alabama, a near-constant on the prairie, whether in Texas heat or North Dakota cold, but always refreshing. I don’t care how hot the air is so long as it isn’t stuffy.

The grass — wheat, alfalfa, small grain, or just grass — the way it blows in the wind and looks like the rising and falling of the ocean waves.

The corn — the opposite of wheat and small grains, the way it stands full inside the fence-lines and looks like the farm has truly been blessed by God’s bounty.

The pronghorns — the sight of a herd of pronghorns running through grassy prairies is truly magnificent.

The endless views — panoramas that extend as far as the eye can see, and make one feel truly free.

[Quoting Dr. John Eidsmoe, email of August 14th AD2016, emphasis added.] Notice what Dr. Eidsmoe portrays as the memorable behavior of prairie pronghorns: “running through grassy prairies”.  Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana)—often called the American “antelope”(1)—are famous for their cross-country running, “in plain view”.

pronghorn-chased-by-coyote.photo

Since the prairies are wide open spaces, with few places to hide from carnivorous predators (such as coyotes, wolves, or cougars), the speed of the pronghorn when fleeing, is a must for pronghorns to survive and thrive on the plains.

Pronghorns are the fleetest of North American mammals and can attain speeds of 60 miles (96 km) per hour. Their enlarged heart and windpipes virtually pour oxygen into their blood and muscles, allowing them to sustain speeds of 45 miles (72 km) per hour [long enough to discourage pursuing carnivore predators]. They can cross the length of a football field [of 300 feet] in 10 strides and 3.5 seconds [!].

[Quoting Mark Elbroch & Kurt Rinehart, PETERSON REFERENCE GUIDE TO BEHAVIOR OF NORTH AMERICAN ANIMALS (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), page 231.]

Another physical feature, that helps the pronghorn’s cross-country running ability, is its feet – its two toes are long, pointed, and cushioned, equipping the hooves to serve as shock absorbers, when the pronghorn flees chasing carnivores.

pronghorn-herd-running.prairie

Pronghorn bodies are also well-equipped for life on mid-continent plains, as heartland prairies experience extremes of cold and hot, which temperature range is tolerated by the pronghorn physiology—retaining heat when it’s cold, and radiating heat when it’s hot:

Pronghorn are especially designed for life on the open plains. … Since their body hair is hollow and can be lifted or flattened at will, pronghorn are able to adjust to temperature extremes. Standing their hair erect allows air to cool their skin, whereas laying their hair down flat retains heat.

[Quoting John Hergenrather, Tom Vail, Mike Oard, & Dennis Bokovoy, YOUR GUIDE TO YELLOWSTONE AND GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARKS (Master Books, 2012), page 138. See also, accord, , “Pronghorn”, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BOOK OF MAMMALS, volume II, K – Z (National Geographic, 1981; Philip B. Silcott, general editor), page 468.]

Whether grazing in well-watered grasses or semi-arid scrubland, pronghorns are committed to living in the open, in “plain view” (pardon the pun). Having no nest or den, they rest in the open grassland (or scrubland), making no attempt to escape heavy rainfall, even giving birth right out in the open, with only some tall grasses or shrubs for privacy! [Stan Tekiela, MAMMALS OF COLORADO FIELD GUIDE (Adventure Publications, 2007), page 303.]

pronghorn-running-blurred-background.photo-by-Sherman

Due to the pronghorn’s superior speed, pronghorns are rarely overtaken by cougars or wolves or other four-legged carnivores.(2)    Thus, the prairie cougar’s challenge, when stalking a herd of pronghorns, is comparable to a foot soldier trying to chase down horse-drawn chariots!

Mountain Goat in Rocky Mountain

Mountain Goat    (Rocky Mountains)

GEOGRAPHIC CHALLENGES FOR MOUNTAIN GOATS OF THE ROCKIES

Unlike the speed-racing pronghorns, mountain goats (of the Rockies) are famous for their agile footwork, miraculously maintaining their balance, up and down and across rock-strewn terrains of precarious mountain slopes.

Mountain Goats in Danger in Mountain

It is this fancy footwork (integrated with the total agility of their narrow-profiled bodies) that enables the mountain goat to routinely elude hungry carnivores, such as mountain lions.

Consider, first, the agility of a mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), the sure-hoofed bovid that habituates the heights of North America’s Rocky Mountains and Cascade Range.(3)

“For those of us who admit to some fear of heights, the Mountain Goat is an animal to be admired … This shaggy animal, its back hunched in a manner somewhat suggestive of a Bison, is a master at negotiating the steepest of precipices. Mountain Goats are truly alpine creatures. They commonly rest on high-elevation snowfields and find most of their food among the plants of alpine meadows. Their hooves are structured to [optimize] balance and grip; the outer hoof is strongly reinforced and the bottom is lined with rubbery material, making the whole structure rather like a good hiking boot. These animals nonchalantly cross dizzying ledges, sometimes even at a trot.”(4)

A female mountain goat with two babies on a rock mountain in Glacier National Park, Montana.

In fact, the high-altitude dexterity of the mountain goat is so phenomenal that it routinely spends most of its time on precipitous terrain steeper than a 40 degree angle, and sometimes at pitches steeper than 60 degrees[!], especially during winter. Furthermore, the leg bones of the mountain goat are engineered to maximize a functional mix of precision balancing (such as perching all four hooves on a small spot), front-forward pulling power, propulsion leverage and maneuverability (for running and jumping), and stability (due to a low center of gravity) against tipping over.(5)

“A mountain goat climbs with three-point suspension. … Lifting one limb at a time [it] frequently pauses to assess the situation, tests the footing, and if needed turns back and selects a different route. Slow, sure consistency allows life on rock steeper than the angle of repose. Because they are most likely the ones to find themselves in a tight spot, kids do most of the go-for-broke climbing. Although a kid might take four or five missteps per year, it salvages the situation almost every time.”(5)

Thus, the mountain goats are aptly designed for moving on rocky slopes. Mountain goats are instinctively careful, and they apply their characteristic agility, as they test their environment.

Agile Mountain Goat Jumping across River

But without the right physical traits for maintaining balance on rugged rocks—traits which God installed on Day 6 of Creation Week—mountain goats could not thrive, as they do, upon the harsh talus slopes and felsenmeer of their high-elevation habitat.

“The [mountain goat hoofprint] track’s squarish imprint is created by the hoof’s spreading tips. The sides of the toes consist of hard keratin, like that of a horse hoof. Each foot’s two wraparound toenails are used to catch and hold on to cracks and tiny knobs. … The front edge of the hoof tapers to a point, which digs into dirt or packed snow when [it] is going uphill. In contrast to a horse’s concave hoof, which causes the animal to walk on the rim of its toenail, a [mountain] goat’s hoof has a flexible central pad that protrudes beyond the nail. The pad’s rough texture provides [skid-resistant] friction on smooth rock or ice yet is pliant enough to impress itself into irregularities on a stone. Four hooves X 2 toes per hoof = 8 gripping soles per animal. As [mountain] goats descend a slope the toes spread widely, adjusting tension to fine-tune the grip. … This feature makes them more likely to catch onto something. It also divides the downward force of the weight on the hoof so that some of the animal’s total weight is directed sideways. Because there is less net force on each downward [pressure] line, the foot is less likely to slide. Think of it as the fanning out of downward forces over numerous points of friction.”(5)

In a word, BALANCE. God purposefully designed high-elevation mountain goats for balance, because living life among high alpine rocks is a high-risk lifestyle.

[Quoting James J. S. Johnson, “Balancing High Risks: Mountain Climbing and the First Amendment”, posted at https://bibleworldadventures.com/2016/06/10/balancing-high-risks-mountain-climbing-and-the-first-amendment/ .]

Mountain Goat Kids Juming ©TMLee

Mountain Goat   kids jumping   © T M Lee

So, when carnivores are hunting for food, which is worth more, to a fleeing herbivore, speed or agility?

If fleeing to precarious precipices of inaccessible rock-cliffs, agility is what is needed – and God gave that trait to the mountain goats of the Rockies.   However, if fleeing across the wide open flatland of the grassy plains, speed is what is needed –and God gave that trait to the prairie pronghorns.

Geography matters. That’s true in human warfare. And it’s also true in the beautifully diversified world of animal habitats, because God loves variety. Accordingly, God programmed His many and multifarious creatures with diversified traits to match – and to “fill” – His geographically diverse earth.   If we have eyes to see it, God’s glory is displayed all around us, even in Earth’s geography and in the creatures God has made to fill it.

><> JJSJ       profjjsj@verizon.net  /  profjjsj@aol.com

Mountain Goats on Rocky Hill

References

 (1) Pronghorns, although often called “antelope”, grow horns differently from both bovid antelope (“true” antelopes) and cervids (the deer family). Pronghorns are compared to (yet not the same as) bovid antelope, cervids, and goats. See Mark Elbroch & Kurt Rinehart, PETERSON REFERENCE GUIDE TO BEHAVIOR OF NORTH AMERICAN ANIMALS (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), pages 231-237. Elbroch & Rinehart observe: “Perhaps the most distinctive physical attribute of pronghorns, which places them [taxonomically] somewhere between cervids [i.e., deer] and bovids [i.e., bovine-like mammals], is their horns. Like bovids, their horns increase in size each year and are attached to the skull by bony, spikelike extensions projecting up from the head. Unlike bovids, and more like cervids (which shed their antlers annually), pronghorns shed their horn sheaths each year. The bony projection on the skull remains, but the tough sheath that forms the horn is pushed off by the growth of the new one beneath.” [Ibid., page 231.]   See also, accord, John Hergenrather, Tom Vail, Mike Oard, & Dennis Bokovoy, YOUR GUIDE TO YELLOWSTONE AND GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARKS (Master Books, 2012), page 138, saying: “Pronghorn, often mistakenly called antelope, have horns made of keratin like cattle, but shed their ‘prolonged’ horns like deer, placing them in a unique category between the cattle and deer kind”.

(2) In crisis circumstances, involving maternal protection, the hunted may turn into the hunter! To see photographs of a bold mother pronghorn, chasing a coyote away from her fawns, see  http://www.yellowstonen.com/Resources/25%20pronghorn%20chasing%20coyote%202.jpg? .

(3) The rope-like “backbone” ridge chain of North America’s West is called the Western Cordillera. Included in its geographic system are the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Range, the primary high-elevation range of most North American mountain goats. See George Constanz, ICE, FIRE, AND NUTCRACKERS:  A ROCKY MOUNTAIN ECOLOGY (University of Utah Press, 2014), page 215.

(4) John Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO ROCKY MOUNTIAN AND SOUTHWEST FORESTS (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998), pages 235-236.  As illustrated in Job 39:1, Israel’s mountain goat is named for how this bearded climber masters its rocky alpine habitat:  ya‘alê-sâla‘  literally means “ascenders of cliff-rock”.  See also Psalm 104:18a.

(5) Constanz, ROCKY MONTAIN ECOLOGY, pages 224-226, with quotes from pages 225-226.pronghorn-herd.open-prairie

Competing, in Plain View, for a Ball of Dung

Competing, in Plain View, for a Ball of Dung

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

DungBeetle.manure-pile
Imagine the life of a dedicated dung beetle. Collecting, moving, and hoarding dung – even raising your children on it. Talk about an ignominious existence – what a life! Yet, from the perspective of a dung beetle, it’s what life is all about. But there is a life even lower than that, actually, an existence that makes a dung beetle’s life look good. Before we pity those who live a “less-than-dung-beetles” life, however, let us consider how dung beetles actually contribute valuable services via their mundane manure-moving lives.

So what is the occupation of a dung beetle, ecologically speaking? How does a dung beetle make the best of herbivore-dropped manure, from which the dung beetle provides for itself, for its family, and for the habitat it crawls around in? What is so valuable about herbivore feces, that dung beetles are observed to fight over dung-balls, energetically “stealing the ball” from one another, as if the dungball-grabbing competition was an Olympic soccer game!

“Although often ignored or reviled, insects are cornerstones of the prairie ecosystem: they spread seeds and pollen, [metabolically] break down plants, fertilize the soil [such as by distributing nitrates in herbivore manure that they spread], and provide food for birds and small mammals. Not quite an inch long, the dung beetle … uses its scooplike head to roll a ball of dung sometimes as large as an apple. Once satisfied with its compacted [artwork], the beetle buries it, feeds on it, and then lays its [fertilized] eggs in it [after crafting an air-hole for each deposited egg]. When the larvae hatch, they finish off what remains of the ball. In this way dung beetles assure themselves of a reliable [albeit humble] diet and, inadvertently [from the perspective of the dung beetle], distribute seeds that may be rolled up within the dung.”

Quoting Burkhard Bilger, HABITATS (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1994, edited by Tony Hare), page 69.

DungBeetle.ScienceMag-photo

In other words, dung beetles serve themselves and their progeny, by accumulating and storing up the dung of grazing animals (such as wild pronghorns or domesticated cattle), and while doing so they serve the ecological needs of their neighborhood. Even nutritious nitrates, contained in cattle dung, are transported to other locations, as well as seeds that along the way got mixed in, with the manure, so both life-growing seeds and helpful fertilizer are simultaneously distributed at places other than where the herbivores defecated. Think of dung beetles as slow-motion couriers, who provide seed-sowing service!

Are these dung beetles being altruistic environmentalists, caring about their native ecosystem? No. Dung beetles don’t study biome ecology; they give no thought to how they further the nutrient dynamics of the American prairies.

Rather, the mutualistic symbiosis network in action, that we see exhibited in these operations of the prairie’s habitat – where cattle provide valuable resources to dung beetles, who help to plant the next generation of grasses, which in turn grow up to benefit the hungry cattle — is a composite and interactive display of God’s preplanning genius and bioengineering. It is God Who is multi-tasking on the great grassy plains, working above and below the surface, providing habitat for plants and animals — and simultaneously providing for human needs.(1)

DungBeetle.smorgasbord-wikipedia

This is but one valuable gem of God’s handiwork in the plains of the Great West. Even the dung beetle is glorifying God, in plain view (pardon the pun), we see, if we slow down enough to see what is happening in the grass beneath our feet.

DungBeetle.NatlGeo-photo
But how does the dung beetle’s routine diligence, in “harvesting” herbivore manure, help to illustrate true value, as taught in Scripture? Consider again the words of the apostle Paul (in Philippians 3:8), when he compared his own human achievements to the immeasurable value of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ:

Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.

Before becoming a Christian, Paul was an extraordinary “winner”, by the standards of his world. Then Paul met the Lord Jesus as his personal Redeemer and Messiah, and Paul soon learned that the most honorable of his own human accomplishments was mere dung (σκυβαλα) compared to the wonderful privilege of knowing, belonging to, and living for Christ. Paul was no “loser” spouting sour grapes; rather, Paul was a “winner” who could speak with authority about discarding worldly “dung”, to better follow Christ in this life (and beyond).

But nowadays we see competition all around us, yet much of the carnal contests – of becoming “rich” or “famous” or “powerful” – is just a tussle over cultural dung, a tourney over the soon-to-be garbage of this ephemeral world. Entertainers of all sorts struggle to out-perform and out-poll one another, as if they were dung beetles trying to grab the prize (dung-ball) by hook or crook. Whoever “wins”, (and keeps) the “most”, is deemed a star to be celebrated, a “celebrity”. Why? Because (based upon our secular habits of covetousness) we assume that “more” must be “better”. So whoever has “more” is labeled and flattered as a “winner” worthy of applause and celebration – a “celebrity”. But do “celebrities” have good and virtuous and joy-filled lives? Do they routinely demonstrate that it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)? Or do most of them live selfish, indulgent, prodigal, empty lives, employing fake smiles (for the camera) to mask their own self-destructive lifestyles? And, for the most part, what are those celebrities “feeding” their babies? The dung of this Christ-dishonoring world.

DungBeetle.ScienceDaily-photo
As the apostle Paul could have told them (and, in fact, he has told everyone who will take the time to read the Bible), worldly success, apart from knowing Christ, is just a pile of dung, a messy cow-pie.   But before we get too self-righteous, as we scoff at (or pity) those who waste their entire lives rolling up dung-balls of worldly ambition and tinseled treasure, let us learn from the foolishness of the ancient Egyptians.

Consider Moses the prophet, God’s appointed man who led the Hebrews out of the idolatry-infested land of Egypt. What pagan idols did Moses challenge, as he rebuked the polytheistic Pharaoh, admonishing him that only the LORD was truly God?  The Egyptians had a foul stable full of nasty idols — and one especially prized idol was Khepri, the “scarab-god” beetle, i.e., a fake god likened to (or symbolized by) a dung beetle with creative powers – with Kepri’s dung-ball imagined with animistic powers that could make life-forms “become” –  somewhat comparable to the mystical genes-in-magic of Darwinists’ “natural selection” animism.(2),(3)

In plain words, ancient Egyptians proudly worshiped a dung beetle “god”, imagining that dung-balls had magical powers to make new life to “become”.

Tempels van Karnak

Egyptian “Scarab” Dung Beetle Idol   (Karnak monument)

How silly of those heathen idolaters, right?

But are they really alone in their folly? Many Americans, in essence, are worshippers of celebrities who are themselves habitually ungodly, vulgar-to-your-face, and blasphemous. (When you think of Hollywood “stars”, or other “celebrities”, do you instantly think of people who reverence God and His Word? Likely not!)   Yet such secular “stars” are lionized, fawned over, and highly esteemed in the popular media (and elsewhere, even in Christian churches) as so-called heroes and “winners” whom we should honor and admire. But their worldly achievements and popularity are repulsive dung, according to Scripture. So why do Americans continue to idolize such immoral and ungodly dung-ball rollers?   In a sense, people who idolize such dung-collectors are not unlike the Egyptians who worshipped dung-collecting “scarab” beetles during the lifetime of Moses. But Moses, like Paul, dismissed the “treasures” and popular honors of his ungodly culture, choosing rather to revere and serve Christ, for better or for worse:

       Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt:  for he [i.e., Moses] had respect unto the recompense of the reward.  (Hebrews 11:26)

No one who reads this was created to be a dung beetle – or to live a life that resembles one. God has done amazing work to create each of us, to be who we are. Beyond that, God has provided Christ to redeem us from sin – giving us guilt-removing forgiveness, plus spiritual power and wisdom to keep us (and our families) from living wasted lives, gathering the dung-balls of this world.

Take a view of the Great Plains – look at the sea of prairie grasses. Then look in the dirt, and below it, for humble dung beetles. Their ignominious lives are worth something, yes — but they are not our role-models! Plaudits and prizes of this passing world are profane dung-balls, compared to living with Christ, here-and-now and hereafter. Pity folks whose life-goals and struggles are like competitively collecting dung-balls. And moreso, pity those who, like ancient Egyptians, celebrate and worship the dung beetles.     ><>  JJSJ

DungBeetle.rolling-dungball

REFERENCES

(1) Dung beetles perform a similar service in the African savanna grasslands: “Dung beetles, such as these Scarabaeus aeratus females, feed on the [fecal] droppings of other animals.  They also collect balls of dungs, as here, and place them in chambers in the ground, upon which they lay their eggs.”  Quoting Peter D. Moore & Brian D. Turner, “Savanah Grassland”, in Encyclopedia of Animal Ecology (Oxford, England: Equinox, 1991; edited by Peter D. Moore), page 72.

(2) See generally Randy J. Guliuzza, “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Natural Selection’s Idolatrous Trap”, Acts & Facts, 40(11):12-15 (November 2011), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-natural-selections . See, likewise, Randy J. Guliuzza, “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: How Natural Selection Is Given Credit for Design in Nature”, Acts & Fact, 40(7):12-15 (July 2011), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-how-natural . Compare also, accord, Jeffrey P. Tomkins,  “Mechanisms of Adaptation in Biology: Molecular Cell Biology”, Acts & Facts, 41(4):6 (April 2012), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/mechanisms-adaptation-biology-molecular .

(2) See James J. S. Johnson, “Bait and Switch: A Trick Used by Both Anglerfish and Evolutionists”, Acts & Facts, 41(1):10-11 (January 2012), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/bait-switch-trick-used-by-both-anglerfish . See also, likewise, James J. S. Johnson, “Survival of the Fitted:  God’s Providential Programming”, Acts & Facts, 39(10):17-18 (October 2010), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/survival-fitted-gods-providential-programming .

 

DungBeetle.Scarab-Egyptian-idolatry

ancient Egyptian idolatry:  worship of “scarab” Dung Beetle