Critters Are Smart, Using Cues & Signals

Animals Use Environmental Cues, plus Animals Communicate with Signals

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Image result for balaam

25 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall: and he smote her again.  26 And the Angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.  27 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he [again] smote the donkey with a staff.  28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these 3 times?  29 And Balaam said unto the donkey, Because thou hast mocked me; I wish there was a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.  30 And the donkey said unto Balaam, Am not I thy donkey, upon whom thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day?  Was I ever known to do so unto thee? and he [i.e., Balaam] said, Nay.  31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he [i.e., Balaam] saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way, and His sword drawn in His hand; and he [i.e., Balaam] bowed down his head, and he [i.e., Balaam] fell flat on his face.  32 And the Angel of the LORD said unto him, Why hast thou smitten thy donkey these 3 times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before Me.  33 And the donkey saw Me, and she turned from Me these 3 times: unless she had turned from Me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.    (Numbers 22:25-33)

Making sense of biological senses is a losing battle for evolutionists, yet explaining creature communication is even worse. There is no chance that animal messaging can be explained by random accidents of bumping biochemicals.

Although their mouths are not “opened” (enabled for speech) like Balaam’s donkey, higher (i.e., nephesh-possessing) animals routinely send other forms of purposeful signals, to influence behaviors of other animals or humans.(1)

To appreciate this, however, we must distinguish between animals using environmental “cues” and truly communicative “signals”.(2)

Ecologically speaking, “cues” are environmental or creature features that, when detected, are useful in acquiring information relevant to future activities.(2),(3)

mosquito-CO2-cartoon

For example, when blood-thirsty mosquitos seek “fast food”, they often fly upwind if their chemoreceptors sense carbon dioxide (CO2), because continually exhaled CO2 reveals where warm-blooded mammals are.  (Carbon dioxide in the air is a “cue” to female mosquitos — indicating that mammal blood is nearby!)

But exhaled CO2 is not a “message” intentionally sent (by mammals) to mosquitos!

Rather, exhaled CO2 is a “cue” to mosquitos, indicating “mammal blood is available here”—but there is no mammalian intent to transmit that (disadvantageous-to-the-mammal) information unto the blood-thirsty parasitic pests.(2)

dogs-with-food-bowls

Contrast that to domesticated dogs barking, to alert humans: “I’m hungry! Feed me!”  That barking, ecologically speaking, is a messaging “signal”—a consciously prepared

message, sent to another intelligent creature (in this example, a human)—for the purpose of prompting a behavioral response (that helps the “speaking” animal).(2),(4)

This is true communication; there is a message sender, a transmitted message (understandable coded information), and a receiver—and the sender’s messaging purpose was to influence responsive action by the receiver.(4)

Yet, for there to be purpose, in message sending, senders must have motives, think, decide, and communicatively act. So message-senders must possess some type of personal (or person-like) internal “software” enabling motivation, thinking, decision-making,–as well as physiological “hardware” sufficient for preparing and transmitting “signaling” actions.(4),(5)

Of course, actions are not true “signals” (i.e., messages) unless they have purposes for influencing responses by signal-comprehending recipients.(2) If signals are incomprehensible to the intended receiver(s), those signals fails to be meaning-conveying messages.(2),(4)

Likewise, message recipients must be able to understand (i.e., decode, decipher) the message sent, sufficiently to facilitate timely and relevant adjustment of the receiver’s own behavior, in response to messages received.(4)

Without these ingredients—(a) sender preparing and sending messages; (b) using language (or comparable code of information) known to both sender and receiver; and (c)  receiver’s reception and response-relevant understanding of messages—no real “communication” occurs.

Yet when creature communication does occur—as it does worldwide, daily, in many contexts—it powerfully demonstrates God’s providential bioengineering design for meaningful and purposeful messaging.  Don’t expect an impersonal “big bang”, eons ago, to invent any of that!

Accordingly, environmental tracking makes sense, because God designed and equipped animals to acquire and adjust to contextual cues.(3)

Furthermore, God designed and equipped us humans—and higher animals—to intentionally communicate purposefully coded signals, to intended recipients, for prompting expected responses.(4),(5),(6),(7)

Get the message?

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References

(1) Numbers 22. To illustrate dog-to-human communication, in the stranger-than-fiction adventures of Antis (the RAF aviator-dog who, during World War II, displayed lots of nephesh!), see James J. S. Johnson, “High-Altitude Flying Is for the Birds”, Acts & Facts, 45(3):20-21 (March 2016), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/high-altitude-flying-for-birds .

(2) Davies, Nicholas B., et al., An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology, 4th ed. (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pages 394-423, especially page 395 (contrasting “cues” and “signals”).

(3) See Randy J. Guliuzza & Phil B. Gaskill, “Continuous Environmental Tracking: An Engineering Framework to Understand Adaptation and Diversification” Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Creationism, edited  by John H. Whitmore,  (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 2018), pages 158-184.  See also Randy J. Guliuzza,  “Engineered Adaptability: Continuous Environmental Tracking Wrap-Up”, Acts& Facts, 48(8):17-19 (August 2019), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/continuous-environmental-tracking-wrap-up/ .  Specifically regarding how fish need informational cues within their underwater habitats, see James J. S. Johnson, “Even Fish Need to Know!”, Acts & Facts, 45(1):21 (January 2016), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/even-fish-need-know .

(4) As 1st Corinthians 14:8 reminds us, sounds only make sense if sender and receiver are agreed on the “code” for interpreting messages sent.  In human terms, it takes a common language (or code) for humans to send and receive meaningful messages. Thus, those not knowing the conventional code, or “language”, of signals sent, won’t recognize intended message meanings.  This is true, generally, of all coded information, including God’s biogenetic programming designed to produce biochemical results in protein construction at inanimate ribosome factories.  See James J. S. Johnson, “DNA and RNA: Providential Coding to ‘Revere’ God”, Acts & Facts40(3):8-9 (March 2011), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/dna-rna-providential-coding-revere .

(5) Genesis 1:20-24; 2:19; 9:10-16; Numbers 22:25-30. James J. S. Johnson, “Clever Creatures: ‘Wise from Receiving Wisdom”, Acts & Facts46(3):21 (March 2017), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/clever-creatures-wise-from-receiving .

(6) The principle of 1st Corinthians 14:8 even applies to the sounds of locomotive train air-horns, a/k/a train “whistles”  —  see JJSJ, “Steam Trumpets, for Those with Ears to Hear” (August 20th AD2019) posted at https://pinejay.com/2019/08/20/steam-trumpets-for-those-with-ears-to-hear/  .

(7) James J. S. Johnson, “The Ghost Army”, Acts & Facts44(11):20 (November 2015), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/ghost-army .


 

 

Remembering Mount St. Helens, After 39 Years

Remembering Mount St. Helens, After 39 Years  

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.  (Psalm 144:5)

MountSt.Helens-eruption-AD1980-05-18

Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption on May 18, AD1980   (public domain)

WHEN DID MOUNT ST. HELENS BLOW UP?  WHAT HAPPENED THERE, AND WHEN?

The first eruption of Mount St. Helens happened Sunday morning, May 18th of AD1980; that month I graduated (with an A.A.!) from Montgomery College in Germantown, Maryland.  The seismic force of eruption was measured at 5.1, on the Richter magnitude scale, which is actually deemed a mere seismic “disruption”, not a seismic “disaster”, much less a seismic “catastrophe”.  Of course for those people who died, or lost their homes, it was a “catastrophe”.   Thousands of mammals (like elk and bear) died, as well as millions of salmon in destroyed hatcheries.

Being a grandfather of 9, I’m old enough to recall the eruptions of Mount St. Helens, during May of AD1980, especially since I took a summer course under Dr. Henry Morris (founding president of California’s Institute for Creation Research, teaching for what was then Christian Heritage College) only a few weeks later.  Dr. Morris called the Mount St. Helens eruptions (and the mudflows and sedimentary “pancake” layering deposited as a result, as “God’s gift to creation science” (or “God’s gift to Flood geology”), because its demonstrated, on  a small scale – in hours and days (not millions of years) – how a sedimentary layered canyon, like the Grand Canyon, could be formed catastrophically, with a lot of water and a lot of power, over a little bit of time – as opposed to requiring little bits of power repeated over imagined millions of years.

Specifically, the “Little Grand Canyon” of the Toutle River is a 1/40th scale comparable to the famous Grand Canyon of Arizona.  In other words, catastrophic geological processes that occurred during the Genesis Flood, like volcanic eruptions and flooding (including high-powered mudflows), can easily explain the water-blasted formation of Arizona’s Grand Canyon.  The key to understanding much of earth’s history, the apostle Peter reminds us (in 2nd Peter chapter 3), is the Genesis Flood.

MountSt.Helens-forming-LittleGrandCanyon

HOW DID VOLCANIC ERUPTION(S) AT MOUNT ST. HELENS EXHIBIT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT GEOLOGISTS CALL “UNIFORMITARIANISM” AND “CATASTROPHISM”?

Uniformitarianism is the assumption, made by many scientists (especially those with no forensic science background), that the usual events and processes of today’s world, that we can observe in the present, matches the events and processes of the no-longer-observable past.  In other words, uniformitarianism assumes that the “present is the key to (understanding) the past”.  This is wrong.  Actually, Scripture teaches us that knowing the truth about the past (which we can learn from Genesis and the other books of the Bible) is the key to understanding our present situation.  Why? Because our present situation is the result of past events – most of which we cannot observe or learn about directly, especially unique events like Creation, the Fall, and the worldwide Flood, as well as the life of Christ, His crucifixion and resurrection.

For an example relevant to Mount St. Helens, consider Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Was it formed by slow and gradual natural processes over unobserved eons of “deep” time? Uniformitarian geoscientists propose “yes,” but Genesis records a globally catastrophic “no” in Genesis chapters 6-thru-9.

MountSt.Helens-aerosol-ash-clouds-in-Othello.HelenHysjulien

Mount St. Helens volcanic ash cloud looms over Othello, Washington   (Helen Hysjulien photo)

Consider this analysis by geologist Dr. Steve Austin, who repeatedly visited Mount St. Helens while it was active, and repeatedly researched its post-eruption conditions (and its amazingly powerful mudflows), after the eruptions during both AD1980 and AD1982.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18, 1980, is certain to be remembered as one of the most significant geologic events in the United States of the 20th century.

The explosion, on May 18, was initiated by an earthquake and rockslide involving one-half cubic mile of rock. As the summit and north slope slid off the volcano that morning, pressure was released inside the volcano – where super hot liquid water immediately flashed to steam. The northward-directed steam explosion released energy equivalent to 20 million tons of TNT, which toppled 150 square miles of forest in six minutes.

In Spirit lake, north of the volcano, an enormous water wave, initiated by one-eighth cubic mile of rockslide debris, stripped trees from slopes as high as 850 feet above the pre-eruption water level. The total energy output, on May 18, was equivalent to 400 million tons of TNT – approximately 20,000 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs.

On May 18 and also during later eruptions, critical energy thresholds were exceeded by potent geologic processes which were able to accomplish significant changes in short order. These processes challenge the traditional uniformitarian way of thinking about how the earth works, and serve as a miniature laboratory for catastrophism.

Institute for Creation Research scientists have spent three summers investigating the geologic changes which have occurred at the volcano. Four of the most significant discoveries are summarized in this short report.

RAPIDLY FORMED STRATIFICATION

Up to 400 feet thickness of strata have formed since 1980 at Mount St. Helens. These deposits accumulated from primary air blast, landslide, waves on the lake, pyroclastic flows, mudflows, air fall, and stream water. Perhaps the most surprising accumulations are the pyroclastic flow deposits amassed from ground-hugging, fluidized, turbulent slurries of fine volcanic debris, which moved at high velocities off the flank of the volcano as the eruption plume of debris over the volcano collapsed. These deposits include fine pumice ash laminae and beds from one millimeter thick to greater than one meter thick, each representing just a few seconds to several minutes of accumulation. A deposit accumulated in less than one day, on June 12, 1980, is 25 feet thick and contains many thin laminae and beds. Conventionally, sedimentary laminae and beds are assumed to represent longer seasonal variations, or annual changes, as the layers accumulated very slowly. Mount St. Helens teaches us that the stratified layers commonly characterizing geological formations can form very rapidly by flow processes. Such features have been formed quickly underwater in laboratory sedimentation tanks, and it should not surprise us to see that they have formed in a natural catastrophe.

RAPID EROSION

Erosion during volcanic eruptions at Mount St. Helens was accomplished by scour from steam blast, landslide, water waves, hot pumice ash flows (pyroclastic flows), and mudflows. Since the eruptions, the erosion process has been dominated by sheet flooding and channelized flow of water, with occasional mudflows.

About 23 square miles of the North Fork of the Toutle River Valley was obstructed by two-thirds cubic mile of landslide and pyroclastic debris, which has been rapidly eroded since 1980. Jetting steam from buried water and ice under hot pumice reamed steam explosion pits with associated mass-wasting processes at the margins of pits, producing rills and gullies over 125 feet deep. Photographic documentation assembled by ICR scientists demonstrates that very pronounced rills and gullies had formed at the margins of seam explosion pits before May 23 – less than five days after the pumice was deposited. The rills and gullies resemble badlands topography, which geologists have usually assumed required many hundreds or even thousands of years to form.

Mudflows, from Mount St. Helens, were responsible for the most significant erosion.

A mudflow on March 19, 1982, eroded a canyon system up to 140 feet deep in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Toutle River Valley, establishing the new dendritic pattern of drainage. As ICR scientists surveyed this new terrain, they began to contemplate the processes which may have formed the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.

The little “Grand Canyon of the Toutle River” is a one-fortieth scale model of the real Grand Canyon. [emphasis added]

The small creeks which flow through the headwaters of the Toutle River today might seem, by present appearances, to have carved these canyons very slowly over a long time period, except for the fact that the erosion was observed to have occurred rapidly! Geologists should learn that, since the long-time scale they have been trained to assign to landform development would lead to obvious error on Mount St. Helens, it also may be useless or misleading elsewhere.

UPRIGHT DEPOSITED LOGS

The landslide generated waves on Spirit Lake stripped the forests from the slopes adjacent to the lake and created an enormous log mat, made up of millions of prone floating trunks that occupy about two square miles of the lake surface. These logs float freely as the wind blows them, and the decreasing size of the log mat indicates that the trees are gradually sinking to the lake floor. Careful observation of the floating log mat indicates that many trees float in upright position, with a root ball submerging the root end of the trunk, while the opposite end floats out of the water. Hundreds of upright floated and deposited logs have been grounded in shallow water along the shore of the lake. These trees, if buried in sediment, would appear to have been a forest which grew in place over hundreds of years, which is the standard geological interpretation for the upright petrified “forests” at Yellowstone National Park.

In order to get more information on the upright deposited logs in Spirit Lake, members of the ICR research team worked with Dr. Harold Coffin, of Geoscience Research Institute, to survey the lake bottom, using sonar and scuba. Hundreds of upright, fully submerged logs were located by sidescan sonar, and scuba divers verified that they were, indeed, trunks of trees which the sonar detected.

Extrapolating from the area of lake floor surveyed to the entire lake bottom, we estimate more than 19,000 upright stumps existed on the floor of the lake in August 1985. The average height of an upright deposited stump is 20 feet. Sonar records and scuba investigations verified that many of the upright deposited trees have root masses radiating away from the bases of the trunks. Furthermore, the trees are randomly spaced, not clumped together, over the bottom of the lake, again having the appearance of being an in situ forest. Scuba investigation of the upright deposited trunks shows that some are already solidly buried by sedimentation, with more than three feet of sediment around their bases, while others have no sediment around their bases. This proved that the upright trees were deposited at different times, with their roots buried at different levels.

If found buried in the stratigraphic record, these trees might be interpreted as multiple forests which grew on different levels over periods of thousands of years. The Spirit Lake upright deposited stumps, therefore, have considerable implications for interpreting “petrified forests” in the stratigraphic record.

PEAT LAYER IN SPIRIT LAKE

The enormous log mat floating on Spirit Lake has lost its bark and branches by the abrasive action of wind and waves. Scuba investigations of the lake bottom showed that water-saturated sheets of tree bark are especially abundant on the bottom of the lake, where, in areas removed from volcanic sediment added from the lake shore, a layer of peat several inches thick has accumulated. The Spirit Lake peat resembles, both compositionally and texturally, certain coal beds of the eastern United States, which also are dominated by tree bark and appear to have accumulated beneath floating log mats.

Coal is supposed, conventionally, to have accumulated from organic material accumulated in swamps by growth in place of plants and burial. Because the accumulation of peat in swamps is a slow process, geologists have supposed that coal beds required about one thousand years to form each inch of coal.

The peat layer in Spirit lake, however, demonstrates that peat accumulate rapidly. Swamp peats, however, have only very rare bark sheet material because the intrusive action of tree roots disintegrates and homogenizes the peat. The Spirit Lake peat, in contrast, is texturally very similar to coal. All that is needed is burial and slight heating to transform the Spirit Lake peat into coal. Thus, at Spirit Lake, we may have seen the first stage in the formation of coal.

CONCLUSION

Mount St. Helens provides a rare opportunity to study transient geologic processes which produced, within a few months, changes which geologists might otherwise assume required many thousands [if not “millions”] of years.

The volcano, therefore, challenges our way of thinking about how the earth works, how it changes, and the time scale we are accustomed to attaching to its formations. These processes and their effects allow Mount St. Helens to serve as a miniature laboratory for catastrophism.

Mount St. Helens helps us to imagine what the Biblical Flood, of Noah’s day[s], may have been like.

[Quoting Steve Austin, “Mount St. Helens and Catastrophism”, ACTS & FACTS,  volume 15, issue 7 (July 1986), posted at  https://www.icr.org/article/mt-st-helens-catastrophism .]

MountSt.Helens-ash-blanket.VintageNews

Volcanic ash blanket form Mount St. Helens eruption   (Vintage News photo)

For those with eyes to see, the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens illustrates how sudden and drastic geological change can occur, and why uniformitarian canyon-formation assumptions fail.

MountSt.Helens-ashblasted-wasteland.Pinterest

Mount St. Helens devastated the landscape, killing people, animals, trees  (Pinterest photo)

Many eyewitnesses observed, and cameras recorded, how a 1/40-scale-model version of Grand Canyon was violently formed within just a few days, during AD1980 (and later again in AD1982, just 2 years after Mount St. Helens’ AD1980 explosion), disproving the notion that such stratified-rock-layered canyons require “millions of years” to form their “evolution”-facilitated pancaked layers (of mud-hardened-into-sedimentary-rock).

MountSt.Helens-LittleGrandCanyon-SteveAustin

“Little Grand Canyon of the Toutle River” (photo by Dr. Steve Austin)
[see also Steve Austin, “Mount St. Helens and Catastrophism” (1986),
posted at   https://www.icr.org/article/mount-st-helens-catastrophism ]

So why are uniformitarians reluctant to appreciate catastrophic canyon formation? They continue to assume that “today’s present world is the key to understanding the past”, especially unique events that occurred in the ancient world. Today, both Mount St. Helens and Grand Canyon appear peaceful. But the relatively non-catastrophic natural processes operating today are not trustworthy guides for understanding past geological events such as Mount St. Helens’ eruption, or the Genesis Flood, or the Ice Age.  But there is more, much more, that uniformitarian thinking gets wrong.

Uniformitarians also assume (like atheists) that God is operationally absent  — or else they assume (like Deists) that God is relatively uninvolved, from what occurs in nature. They willfully ignore (to use the apostle Peter’s words) the many physical and historical evidences of His Creatorship (and of the global Flood), as they act as if God wasn’t (and isn’t) obviously active in, and with, His own creation.

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Volcanic Steam Plume on May 19, AD1982 (Mount St. Helens re-eruption)

IS MOUNT ST. HELENS RELEVANT TO ESTIMATING THE AGE OF THE EARTH?

Mount St. Helens illustrates how quickly catastrophic geology can form sedimentary rock canyons, so it refutes the idea that sedimentary rock canyons must require millions of years to form. Yet there is more to the age debate!  If you really think it through, you’ll see that how old Earth is cannot be determined by looking at its present condition   — yet empirical scientists pop out opinions about Earth’s age like popcorn!

But the age of something, or of someone, cannot be known with certainty without a reliable eye-witness.   Here’s an example: How old are you, exactly? How do you know when you were born?  Obviously you were there, when you were born, but you were so young at the time, you don’t remember what day it was!  Because your birth is a unique event, and it is no longer observable, the uniformitarian assumption can’t be used to prove your birth-date.  However, a reliable eye-witness was there – your mother!   (Trust me, she was there  —  and she remembers the day you were born!) And your birth-date was promptly written down, by reliable record-keepers, before it could be forgotten.  Without a reliable eye-witness you can only guess when you were born.

Likewise, without the book of Genesis (which contains God’s eye-witness report of Earth’s creation, in error-free writing), we cannot know how old Earth is.  But if we close the Holy Bible, we only make wild guesses about how old Earth is (and how it got here).

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Ecological recovery at Mount St. Helens   (U.S. Forest Service photo)

WERE ANY SCIENTISTS SURPRISED AT THE ECOSYSTEM’S POST-ERUPTION RECOVERY?

Evolutionists assumed that it would be generations before the volcanic ash-blanketed area around Mount St. Helens would “bounce back”, ecologically speaking. Yet within weeks, revitalization was evident:  avalanche lilies grew up through the deposited volcanic ash. During AD1992 our family vacationed near Mount St Helens, and we visited the area, noticing bright-covered flowers growing up through the devastated landscape.

MountSt.Helens-recovery-wildflowers.SeattleTimes

Wildflowers (lupines, Indian paintbrush, &c) at Mount St. Helens   (Seattle Times photo)

Less than 20 years later bushes and deciduous trees were growing there, providing food and cover for insects, birds, and mammals.  Now an entire canopy of trees have restored much of the area to productivity, with a mix of plants and animals thriving at the very site of total devastation less than 40 years ago.

So Mount St. Helens illustrates ecological resilience, a trait that God intentionally designed into ecosystems around the world, because God values biodiversity that “fills” Earth’s various habitats.  No surprise on that, really, because it was God Himself Who originally commanded (and equipped) diverse life-forms to “fill the earth”.  (And this divine decree was renewed after the Flood  —  see Genesis chapter 9.)

In short, Earth’s ecology is  a lot more resilient than design-resistant evolutionists think it is – Mount St. Helens proves it!

Stauer-Helenite-jewelry-advert

Stauer Helenite necklace, earrings & ring   (made from Mount St. Helens ash)

CAN MOUNT ST. HELENS’S ASHES HELP GODLY HUSBANDS AND THEIR GODLY WIVES?

Mount St. Helens can provide a witness for God, and a benefit for your marriage, if you and your spouse are witnessing Christians.  Part of our family’s vacation (in AD1992) included a visit there, and I still have some vessels filled with volcanic ash (including some that I obtained from friends or merchants who gathered ash during AD1980).

Better yet, some Mount St. Helens volcanic ash was used (somehow) to make brilliant green “Helenite” jewelry (some of which I bought for my wife).  Whenever someone comments on her Helenite necklace, she can tell them about the scientific importance of Mount St. Helens  —  and how it illustrates that a geologic catastrophe can quickly produce a miniature Grand Canyon, in just a few days, with no need for the gazillions of years that uniformitarian evolutionists assume is needed.

(Hey, there’s an idea for you ladies!   –  tell your husband to google “jewelry” and “Helenite”, because you want to wear some Helenite jewelry, to help you give a Biblical witness to those who ask for a reason for your faith!)

Stauer-Helenite-4carat-ring-advert


 

 

Dr. Konrad Gessner, 16th-Century Creation Scientist

Dr. Konrad Gessner, 16th-Century Creation Scientist

James J. S. Johnson

For the invisible things of Him [i.e., God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and deity, so that they are without excuse.   (Romans 1:20)

Konrad-Gessner.painting-publicdomain

Dr. Konrad Gessner (also spelled “Conrad Gesner”), who lived from AD1516 to AD1565, was a true Reformation-grounded biologist and ecologist, as well as an accomplished intellectual in other fields. Gessner was born and originally educated in Zürich, Switzerland, the Protestant city pastored first by Ulrich Zwingli, then next by Heinrich Bullinger (a personal friend of Gessner). During AD1532-1536 he studied at various universities in Strasbourg, Bourges, and Basel.

In AD1537 he taught as professor of Greek in Lausanne, yet soon afterwards began science studies leading to a Medical Doctor’s degree in AD1541 (in Basel). Returning to Zürich, he taught science there for most of the rest of his life. Dr. Gessner authored scholarly works on various subjects, such as:

  • botanical studies (including subalpine flowers) in AD1541, with more in AD1542;
  • a bibliographic encyclopedia of world literature in AD1545, with supplements in AD1548-1549;
  • zoological studies (mammals, birds, fishes, etc.) in AD1551-1558;
  • comparative language studies (on 22 translations of The Lord’s Prayer) in AD1555;
  • doxological mountain hiking, mixed with montane ecology, in AD1555.

Dr. Gessner’s research on snakes and insects was published posthumously. In AD1541, Gessner resolved to climb at least one mountain each year, a habit he thereafter maintained.

Mountain-hiking to Dr. Gessner, as a true biblical creationist, was a joy and an opportunity to appreciate God’s creative glory in nature.

Of special importance to creation geologists, such as William Hoesch (who is quoted below), Dr. Gessner also wrote on fossils (see article quoted below), refusing to accept the faddish contra-biblical fossil theory of his generation:

The history of thinking about fossils is a study in worldviews. Conrad Gesner of Zurich (1516-1565) is considered by some the greatest naturalist of his century. His book, On Fossil Objects, in many ways reflects his Protestant upbringing. The fact that he lost his father in armed combat between Catholics and Protestants in 1531 reminds us that this was a time when it was costly to believe. Gesner’s close friend growing up was none other than Heinrich Bullinger, one of the most influential Christian figures of his century. Gesner’s interest in science led him to universities at a time when Renaissance humanism was the dominant worldview. In his work on fossils, his Protestant upbringing shines through in some interesting ways.

First, Gesner placed great emphasis on firsthand observation which can be seen in his detailed woodcut illustrations of fossils. In this, he broke with the Renaissance tradition of science, placing the opinions of the “Ancients” (Aristotle, etc.) above that of observation. Gesner reversed this. At the time, it was not at all obvious that marine-looking fossils found in stone far from the sea were the remains of once living organisms. Neoplatonism held that the funny fossil shapes were controlled by mysterious astral influences, and Aristotelianism attributed marine-looking fossils to the transport of “seeds” of ocean-dwelling organisms that got carried inland and grew in place after lodging in the cracks. Gesner made no effort to challenge these teachings, but in comparing side-by-side quality woodcut illustrations of living marine organisms with marine-looking fossils, he helped to move thinking toward an organic interpretation of fossils. Firsthand observation is an essential step in “taking dominion over nature” that is mandated in Scripture, and Gesner seemed to manifest this.

Second, Gesner took a peculiar delight in the study of nature. When he considered the minerals and gems which were at that time considered in the category of “fossils,” he was transfixed by the thought that these were earthly reminders of the jeweled City of Jerusalem. An accomplished physician, he delighted in hiking the Swiss Alps where he sought to catalog botanicals for their potential medicinal use. It was considered odd at this time to “enjoy” nature, but Gesner is hailed by some today as the father of recreational hiking! Despite nature’s fallen condition, he was able to “see” the invisible things of God and His attributes (Romans 1:20). The level of delight Gesner took in nature cannot be credited to his Neoplatonic or Aristotelian training. It is as if he saw all of nature as a divine revelation.

The considered wisdom of “the Ancients,” that fossils grew in place, was ultimately an article of pagan philosophy. Gesner, and others who followed, helped to change the thinking process. Early church fathers like Tertullian actually had it right; they understood an organic origin for fossils. For them, to get the remains of marine creatures high on the hills required an unusual agency—it obviously took a global Flood! Although long forgotten, and requiring thinking big about earth history, this teaching of a global Flood would return in the seventeenth century and play a key role in returning science to a solid foundation. 

[Quoting William Hoesch, “Fossil Political Correctness in the Sixteenth Century,” Acts & Facts / Back to Genesis (January 2007).]

Gessner-Rhino.drawing

Don’t expect a lot of pop-culture applause for Dr. Gessner, though —  because he glorified God in his Protestant Reformation-informed scholarship.  Thus, unlike many secular scientists who accomplished much less, Gessner’s work is mostly ignored.  However, God has not ignored Dr. Gessner’s reverent and careful creation research and scholarship  —  because God gives credit where credit is due (Romans 13:7), regardless of whether the truth is popular!  Meanwhile, God’s glory as the Creator is “clearly seen” everywhere.

<> JJSJ    profjjsj@aol.com


 

NOT DEER OR BOVINE, SO IT MUST BE AN ‘ANTELOPE’

  NOT DEER OR BOVINE, SO IT MUST BE AN ‘ANTELOPE’

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

The hart, and the roebuck, and the fallow deer, and the wild goat, and the pygarg [dîshōn], and the wild ox, and the chamois.   (Deuteronomy 14:5)

Addax-Morocco.Haytem93-photo

ADDAX male [photo credit: Haytem93]

Most likely the “Pygarg” [dîshōn] is what today is called an ADDAX.  An ADDAX is a desert-dwelling member of the ANTELOPE family.  [See George Cansdale, ALL THE ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE LANDS (Zondervan, 1976), page 85, saying “Among several quaint animal names found only in the AV [i.e., KJV] is the Pygarg, from Heb. dishon; this is merely a transliteration of the [LXX] Gr. Word meaning ‘white-rumped’, by which [Greeks] had long ago described an antelope. … [The reference in Deuteronomy 14:5] between two animals that are probably desert species, coupled with a long-standing tradition, suggests that this is the Addax, Addax nasomaculatus, a desert antelope classified between the oryx and hartebeests”.]antelope-family.jjsj-PPTslide

But, what is an antelope?

Antelope, and antelope-like animals, live in many different parts of the world—except not in Australia or Antarctica. For examples, pronghorns live mostly in America’s Western prairie states. The oryx live in Israel and many of the Arabian deserts.  The Dorcas gazelle lives in the top half of Africa.  Impalas live in eastern and southern Africa.

Serengeti-migraton-wildebeest-zebra.ZambesiSafari-photo

Wildebeests and Zebras migrate through Serengeti  /  Zambesi Safari photo

The blue wildebeest (also called “gnu”) are famous for their huge migratory herds, that often mix with zebras, that seasonally travel through Tanzania’s Serengeti.  Tibetan antelope, of course, live in Tibet, as well as in neighboring parts of Asia.  The Indian antelope (also called “blackbuck”) lives in India, Pakistan, and Nepal.

GreatMigration-Serengeti.Pinterest

Great Migration (Serengeti & Masai Mara)  image credit: Pinterest

These plant-eating mammals (animals that give mother’s milk to their babies) are different from other four-legged mammals – such as deer, cattle, horses, camels, sheep, goats, pigs, cats, and dogs.

In many ways antelope (and antelope-like animals, like the pronghorns of America’s prairies) are like deer. But unlike deer, which have antlers (that grow and shed each year, then regrow the next year, and are later shed, etc.), antelopes have horns (like cattle, bison, sheep, and goats), which continue to slowly grow out from their heads, anchored to bony roots.

Impala-w-oxpecker.jjsj-PPTslide

Antelopes often live in flat grasslands (such as the grassy prairies of America’s West), where their plant-food is plentiful. However, in grasslands there are usually very few trees, so antelopes cannot hide in forests from other animals (such as mountain lions or wolves), so it is good that God made them to have great speed for running across flat land.  And that is what antelopes (and pronghorns, which are antelope-like animals) often do–with great speed!–when they run away from predators at high speeds—sometimes as fast as 55 miles/hour for a mile, or 42 miles/hour for 2 miles, or 35 miles/hour for 3 miles.Gazelle-foraging.jjsj-PPTslide

Dorcas is the Greek word for a gazelle, which is a member of the antelope family. Because gazelles are graceful and beautiful animals it is unsurprising that girl babies have been named Dorcas, including one who is mentioned in Scripture, in Acts chapter 9.Dorcas-philology.jjsj-PPTslide

Dorcas-Acts-chapter9.jjsj-PPTslide

In North America the primary antelope-like mammal is the PRONGHORN. To learn about this beautiful, graceful, and extremely speedy animals, see “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/ .

pronghorn-coming-fast.closeup-turning

When we see beauty, grace, strength, and speed — displayed in antelope (and antelope-like pronghorns) — we are reminded, by these living exhibits of God’s making, that God Himself is amazingly beautiful, graceful, strong, and quick, beyond our comprehension.


 

What Are those Animals Called ‘Unicorns’ in the Bible?

rhino-Indian-1horned-in-wild

Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? Or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? Or wilt thou leave thy labor to him?  Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?  (Job 39:9-12)

Rhino-1horned-Indian.WWF

What Are those Animals Called ‘Unicorns’ in the Bible?

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Scoffers are known to poke fun at Scripture’s mention (in the King James Bible) of “unicorns”, accusing the Bible of being “unscientific”.(1),(2)  Such pseudo-science ridicule is readily refuted, however, even when it’s uncertain which beast is represented by the English word “unicorn”.

The scoffer’s ridicule of “unicorns” (in Scripture) relies upon this flawed syllogism:

ASSUMPTION A: If the Bible is perfectly true it would not treat mythical animals as if they really exist.

ASSUMPTION B: The Bible treats “unicorns”, which are mythical beasts, as if they really exist.

INFERRED CONCLUSION: Therefore the Bible can’t be perfectly true and credible.

With that sophism scoffers giddily dismiss the Bible’s perfection. Of course, the entire mockery rests upon a Straw-man Fallacy(3) because scoffers presuppose that the term “unicorn” is the core controversy—yet the real question is whether or not the underlying Hebrew noun (re’ēm) refers to a real-world animal.(4)

Assumption A contains the Uniformitarian Fallacy,(3) by assuming the Hebrew noun re’ēm must match some animal alive today. However, in light of the inescapable reality that some animal varieties are going extinct, there is no reason why re’ēm must refer to a beast existing today.

Assumption B contains the Bait-and-Switch Fallacy,(3) by assuming thhe mythological beast called a “unicorn”, that exists in fairy tales (and Hollywood cartoons), must equal the Hebrew noun re’ēm that is referred to 9 times within the Old Testament.

Yet reviewing the relevant Biblical contexts (see below) shows re’ēm was a horned beast, like a wild ox or maybe a rhino — neither of which you would try to domesticate!

Furthermore, skeptics sometimes add a corollary assumption to buttress their ridicule of Scripture’s “unicorns”—acting as if their challenge cannot be refuted unless and until Christians positively identify a real-world “unicorn” (i.e., what the Hebrew Bible calls re’ēm), presuming that any doubt about the re’ēm’s taxonomic identity invalidates the Bible’s trustworthiness.(4)

However, refuting the skeptic does not require that “unicorns” be identified with certainty; it is enough to show that plausible solutions exist, proving that “unicorns” need not refer to “mythical” beasts. In fact, more than one plausible candidate (for the “unicorn”) exists—or previously existed(2)—as shown below.

Could the “unicorn” be a rhinoceros, especially a one-horned variety?

Most modern readers don’t know that the word “unicorn” formerly referred to a one-horned Rhinoceros. Consider, however, this is the primary definition of “UNICORN” in the 1828 edition of Noah Webster’s Dictionary:

UNICORN, n. [L. unicornis; unus, one, and cornu, horn.] 1. An animal with one horn; the Monoceros.  This name is often applied to the rhinoceros.(5)

The one-horned rhinoceros remains a plausible candidate for the horned beast that Moses (and other Hebrews) called re’ēm, of which there are living varieties:  Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus).(6)

Could the “unicorn” be a wild horned bovine, like aurochs or bison?

The presumed ancestor of domesticated bovines (including cattle, water buffalo, yak, zebu) is the now-extinct aurochs.(2) One of its kind is the inherently wild bison (a/k/a “buffalo”).(7) These wild beasts both have two horns (see Psalm 22:21; Deuteronomy 33:17), are built to be powerful (Numbers 23:22), and are biologically comparable to domesticated bovines (Psalm 29:6; Isaiah 34:7).  Harnessing such dangerous bovines, to plow a farm field’s furrows, would be a reckless undertaking, for any foolish farmer who might try it (see Job 39:9-10).

So, what does this prove? First, the skeptic’s Uniformitarian Fallacy guts his criticism of Job 39:9 (and other Scriptures that refer to re’ēm).  Second, the skeptic’s insistence that the English term “unicorn”, as used in the AD1611 King James Bible, equate to a spiral-cone-horned horse, is a bait-and-switch-facilitated strawman challenge, because there are plausible candidate, among real-world animals, that could fit the identity of the Scriptural re’ēm.  Consequently, the scoffer’s caricature of Biblical “unicorns” is not a genuine impeachment of the Bible’s verity.

Aurochs-looking-like-Bison

REFERENCES

(1)The King James Bible uses the English word “unicorn” in 9 Scripture passages: Numbers 23:22 & 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalms 22:21 (v.22 in BH) & 29:16; Isaiah 34:7.

(2)Dr. Henry Morris, concluded that the “unicorn” (of Job 39:9) was a wild ox-like bovine, the aurochs, that became extinct: “The unicorn is supposedly a mythological animal; actually the creature referred to here is the extinct aurochs, or wild ox, a fierce animal that once inhabited this region. Many of the animals mentioned [in Job chapter 39], as well as other parts of the Old Testament, are of very uncertain identity, and various translators have tied them to a considerable diversity of modern animals. The probable reason for this uncertainty is that many of the animals, like the ‘unicorn’, are now extinct, because they could not long survive the drastically changed environments following the great Flood.” [Footnote to Job 39:9 in The New Defender’s Study Bible, page 822.]  Zoölogist George Cansdale concluded that re’ēm was the now-extinct aurochs. [George S. Cansdale, All the Animals of the Bible Lands (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), page 82.]  The aurochs is depicted repeatedly on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, now relocated to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

(3)Regarding logical fallacies, James J. S. Johnson, “Staying on Track Despite Deceptive Distractions”, Acts & Facts, 41(5):9-11 (May 2012) (re straw-man fallacy, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/staying-track-despite-deceptive-distractions/ );  “Bait and Switch: A Trick Used by Both Anglerfish and Evolutionists”,  Acts & Facts, 41(1):10-11 (January 2012) (re bait-and-switch fallacy), posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/bait-switch-trick-used-by-both-anglerfish  );  “Is the Present the ‘Key’ to the Past?” Acts & Facts, 43(6):19 (June 2014, posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/8165 ).

(4)A related inquiry is why Bible scholars, seeking to translate re’ēm into Greek, Latin, and English, used words like “unicorn” in their translations.  The Septuagint (“LXX”), a Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated re’ēm as monokerôs.  Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translated re’ēm as rinocerotis in Deuteronomy 33:17 and rinoceros in Job 39:9, and unicornes in Isaiah 34:7!  This indicates that at least some translators though that re’ēm was one-horned,  perhaps the one-horned rhinoceros.

(5)Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (San Francisco, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education; 1995 facsimile of Noah Webster’s 1st edition of 1828), unpaginated.

(6)See Eric Dinerstein, The Return of the Unicorns: The Natural History and Conservation of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros (NY, NY: Columbia University Press, 2003).  Obviously the term “unicorn” is not a good fit for two-horned rhinos, such as the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), and Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis).  But the Hebrew noun re’ēm, unlike the English word “unicorn”, does not require the beast to be one-horned, as is indicated by Deuteronomy 33:17 (which refers to unicorn “horns”, possibly denoting a two-horned rhino).  Some evolutionist paleontologists have expressed interesting (albeit forensically flawed) opinions about the ancestral rhino that they believe led to the “unicorns”.  [See Deng Tao, Wang ShiQi, & Hou SuKuan, “A Bizaree Tandem-horned Elasmothere Rhino from the Late Miocene of Northwestern China and the Origin of the True Elasmothere”, Chinese Science Bulletin, 58(15):1811-1817 (May 2013).]

(7)Another candidate is the one-horned Arabian oryx antelope, but its less-intimidating traits (compared to rhinos, bison, and aurochs) seem less likely to fit the Bible’s re’ēm.


rhino-1horned-closeup

Black-tailed Jackrabbit: Big Ears are Good for Living in Hot Deserts!

Black-tailed Jackrabbit:  Big Ears are Good for Living in Hot Deserts!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.   (James 1:11)

The sun can provide a burning heat, especially in a hot desert — such as the 3 hot deserts located in America’s Southwest  —  the Sonoran Desert, the Mojave Desert, and the Chihuahuan Desert (the last of which Big Bend National Park is part of).  Yet the Black-tailed Jackrabbit, famous for its gargantuan ears, lives in all of those deserts quite nicely.   So what about those huge ears?  Do they help it to live in hot deserts?

Blacktailed-Jackrabbit-BigBendNP.FredWasmer.jpg

BLACK-TAILED  JACKRABBIT:   El Paso, Texas:  Big Bend Nat’l Park

Yes!  The jumbo-sized ears of the jackrabbit are not primarily for hearing desert noises, although the rabbits’ ears are used to hear with, of course.  Rather, the most critical importance of having huge (and relatively thin) ears, for the Black-tailed Jackrabbit, is how it providentially equips him (or her) with a heat-shedding advantage  —  a very practical trait for such desert-dwelling lagomorphs.  In short, thanks to God’s bioengineering wisdom, the Black-tailed Jackrabbit controls its body temperature by radiating out excess heat over the relatively large surface areas of its ears!

 

“These large, floppy-eared rabbits inhabit not only the deserts of the [American] southwest, but also large reaches of midwestern prairie. At one time it was supposed that the large ears were used to enhance their hearing ability, but it has been found that their ears perform a far more important function. Laboratory investigations on heat-stressed jackrabbits have indicated that the blood leaving the ear is significantly cooler than the blood entering the ear. During heat stress, a jackrabbit can increase ear blood flow to very high levels through expanded blood vessels. The research indicates that the large, nearly bare ears serve as efficient heat radiators! Thus, even in mid-day heat, this animal may sit in the shade of a bush with its ears erect, and radiate sufficient heat toward the cool portion of the sky (away from the sun) to prevent it from reaching uncomfortable temperatures. Studies on a number of large mammals possessing permanent horns with high blood circulation, have shown that these structures also are used for heat regulation.” [Quoting John Meyer & Kenneth Cumming, “Biology of Grand Canyon”, in GRAND CANYON: MONUMENT TO CATASTROPHE (Santee, CA: ICR, 1994), pages 158-159.]

Thankfully, those gigantic ears really take the heat off those desert jackrabbits!   ><> JJSJ


PHOTO CREDITS:

featured image of standing Black-tailed Jackrabbit: Pinterest

Black-tailed Jackrabbit at Big Bend Nat’l Park:  Fred Wasmer

Blacktailed-Jackrabbit-HugeEars.Pinterest

Woodchucks, Rockchucks, and a Shadowy Holiday

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies  [i.e., the Rock Hyrax of Israel  —  a lagomorph mammal with a lifestyle ecologically similar to that of the “rockchuck” (marmot) rodents of America’s western mountain states].   (Psalm 104:18)

Woodchucks, Rockchucks, and a Shadowy Holiday

 Dr. James J. S. Johnson marmot-yellow-bellied-lowcrawling

What do we know, from the Holy Bible, about “marmots”, the herbivorous mammals we call “woodchucks” (or “groundhogs”) and “rockchucks”, other than that they were made on Day # 6, and that their ancestors were preserved during the global Flood by riding inside Noah’s Ark?

There is no specific mention in Holy Scripture, that designates the mammal family that we today call “marmots”, but the Scriptures do refer to rat-like rodents (‘achbarîm = “rats”) plaguing the idolatrous Philistines (see 1st Samuel chapters 5 & 6) —   plus another rodent (שָּׁפָן  = shaphan, the rock hyrax, less accurately known as “rock badger” or “coney”) that fills a marmot-like eco-niche in Israel:

 The rock hyraxes are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks.  (Proverbs 30:26)

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the rock hyraxes. (Psalm 104:18)

Israel’s rock hyrax (שָּׁפָן) is categorized with other “lagomorph” mammals – like rabbits, hares, and pikas, —  as a creature that practice hindgut fermentation digestion (involving a reingestion process variously called “cæcotrophy”, “refection”, “cecophagy”, “coprophagia”, or reingesting “night feces”) —  yet these small lagomorphs do not have divided hooves:

 Nevertheless these ye shall not eat of them that only chew the cud, or of them that only have the hoof cloven: the camel, and the hare, and the rock hyrax, because they chew the cud [literally: they fetch up partially digested (“stirred”) food for re-chewing] but part not the hoof, they are unclean unto you.  (Deuteronomy 14:7). RockHyrax.on-rocks.png

These two Old Testament verses describe 3 important traits of the rock hyraxes — (1) physiologically, they practice hindgut fermentation “refection” (i.e., hindgut-facilitated re-digestion); (2) anatomically, they have undivided (i.e., un-split) hooves, and (3) ecologically, they make nests in rocky habitats. It is the third trait – making homes in rocky places – that is ecologically comparable to many “marmots” that inhabit rocky places outside of the Holy Land.[1]

However, as we shall see, some of the marmot family – groundhogs (a/k/a woodchucks or “whistle-pigs”) – are known to live in non-rocky habitats.

In fact, it is the groundhog (Marmota monax), under its nickname “woodchuck”, that gives rise to this tongue-twister:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could, if a woodchuck could chuck wood!

 Now, to introduce the “marmot” family, first consider that it is classified as a squirrel-like mammal (family Sciuridae), having many traits in common with various squirrel “cousins” (tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, etc.):

 SQUIRRELS:    Sciuridae    This [taxonomic] family includes a wide variety of [herbivorous] mammals. Marmots, woodchucks, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and tree squirrels all belong here.  They have 4 toes on front [feet], 5 on back [feet].  Tail is always covered with hair, [and] is sometimes bushy.  All are active during the daytime except the flying [i.e., gliding] squirrels, which come out only at night.  Marmots, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and chipmunks all nest in burrows in the ground or beneath rocks or logs.  Tree squirrels and flying squirrels nest in trees.  Most of the ground-living species have a habit of sitting up “picket pin” fashion on their haunches.  This enables them to see over low vegetation and avert danger.  Ground squirrels and chipmunks have internal cheek pouches; most of them store food.

Quoting William H. Burt, A Field Guide to the Mammals, North America North of Mexico (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980; Peterson Field Guide Series), pages 90-91. In other words, marmots are a special category of large ground squirrels.

  woodchuck-pic-encycbritannica

WOODCHUCK  (a/k/a Groundhog & Canada marmot —  Marmota monax)

This term is used to describe the “groundhog” – the smallest variety of marmot – that habituates the eastern half of the United States, as well as much of the boreal forest of Canada – as the range map [from Wikipedia] below shows.

Woodchuck.RangeMap-Wikipedia.png Canadian mammalogists have described the common Woodchuck as follows:

 The Woodchuck is our smallest marmot. It has brown dorsal fur grizzled with silver-grey, and a reddish-brown ventral pelage.  The head is dark brown with no white markings on the face; the fur on the sides of the neck does not contrast sharply in colour with the fur on the flanks and back.  The front legs are covered with reddish-brown hairs; the dorsal surface of the hind feet is dark brown to nearly black.  The short, nearly flat, bushy tail varies from dark brown to blackish.  …  The posterior pad on the sole of the hind foot is oval in shape.  …  [Ecologically speaking, it habituates] valley bottoms, lowlands and the lower slopes of the mountains, … [living in] open forests, recently cleared forests, agricultural fields, meadows, ravines associated with streams and rivers, road embankments, and campgrounds. In agricultural areas, Woodchuck burrows are most concentrated in edge habitats bordering fields and cleared areas.  Its elevational range in British Columbia is from 350 to 1,250 metres [i.e., ~1,150 feet to ~4,100 feet].

Quoting David W. Nagorsen, Rodents and Lagomorphs of British Columbia (Victoria, Canada: Royal British Columbia Museum, 2005; volume #4 in the Mammals of British Columbia series), page 136-137.

Groundhogs can reproduce quickly, like other rodents. That is helpful for maintaining Groundhog populations, because they are potential prey to several carnivorous predators, including wild canines (wolf, fox, coyote, dog), wild felines (cougar, bobcat, lynx), bears, and even large birds of prey (e.g., eagles).  Survival requires eating on a regular basis, of course, and groundhogs  — being mostly herbivorous – eat grasses of many types, as well as other lawn/meadow ground cover (e.g., clover, dandelions, alfalfa), berries, and even some agricultural crops.  Not completely herbivorous, Groundhogs will sometimes eat insects (grasshoppers, insect larvae, etc.), even snails or nuts.

woodchuck-aka-groundhog-by-tree  Groundhog burrows often have two (or more – maybe 5 or 10!) openings, a main entrance and a “spy hole”, as well as tunnels to the various entrances (to escape predatory home invaders). These underground dens serve various functions – climate control during winter hibernation months, safe haven form hungry carnivores, and various aspects of active family life.  Groundhogs even dig themselves an outhouse-like “excrement chamber”, separate from the “nest” quarters of the burrow.  Tunnelings near the surface can be annoying to human homeowners and farmers, depending upon the “environmental impact” of the Groundhog’s diggings.

The Groundhog has his own seasonal holiday in America (“Groundhog Day”), called Grundsaudaag or Murmeltiertag in Pennsylvania Dutch/German, and called Jour de la Marmotte in Canadian French.

Traditionally this special day is celebrated on February 2nd of each year – and its purpose is to predict whether spring will “come early” or not, i.e., to indicate if springtime-like weather will arrive before the vernal (spring) equinox, after which day the daylight hours “grow” and the nighttime hours “shrink”. So how do we “know” when spring weather will arrive?  If it is a cloudy day on February 2nd – when the groundhog emerges from his hibernation den – the woodchuck cannot see his shadow. For some (unexplained) reason the cloud-cover-prevented shadow is supposed to herald spring weather before the vernal equinox.  Contrariwise, if February 2nd is a sunny day – in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania – the den-emerging groundhog should see his shadow (due to sunlight being intense enough to cast shadows), forecasting the marmot’s retreat-back-into-the-burrow, symbolizing that more winter weather is coming (and that spring weather will be delayed for another 6 more weeks). Some have said that this predictive “test” is accurate from 3/4 to 9/10 of the time – but others say this is accurate only about 4/10 of the time.  Groundhogs, being apolitical creatures (so far as we can tell), have indicated no official position about the truth or falsity of any supposed “global warming” crisis. groundhogday-cartoon-pic

(Interestingly this tradition was the inspiration for a uniquely Texas “holiday”, “Armadillo Day”, but that’s another “story” not to be covered here!)

In regions west, i.e., mostly west of the Groundhog’s usual habitat regions, many of its “cousins” live in higher elevations, in or near ranges of the Rocky Mountains (or Cascade Mountains). Rockchuck-aka-Marmot.in-rocks.jpg ROCKCHUCK  (various western marmots of North America  —  Marmota species, including the Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris), as well as its western “cousins, such as the Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata), the Olympic Marmot (Marmota olympus), and the Vancouver Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis). Unsurprisingly, the name “rockchuck” refers to the rodent’s observable habitat  —  this variety of marmot is found in America’s Great West, especially in (though not limited to) the rocky timberline elevations of America’s Rocky Mountains, where alpine meadow vegetation suffices for such herbivores.

marmot-colorado-on-rocks

Rockchucks are social creatures, living near one another, and the nickname “whistler” (or “whistle-pig”) refers to their practice of whistling alarm when danger approaches. The rockchuck prefers “flight” to “fight” – scurrying for cover inside a rocky hideaway, if a potential predator is perceived as too close.  Some rockchucks, however, have become accustomed to peaceful tourists — and may even approach humans in hope of food, such as a salty PAYDAY candy bar![2]

YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT  (rockchuck mother and her nursing pups)

Of the western marmots the Yellow-bellied Marmot is the most populous. Its range stretches from as far south as the Sangre de Cristo Range (in New Mexico and Colorado) up into Canada.  Yellow-bellied Marmots reside as far east as parts of South Dakota and the western edge of Nebraska, and as far west as all but the coastal edge of Washington and Oregon, even inhabiting small edges of California. marmot-yellowbellied-rangemap

This variety of rockchuck lives near timberline in the western states of America, yet in Canada it lives at lower elevations (e.g., < 1300 meters in British Columbia).

HOARY MARMOT  (a/k/a “mountain whistler” — Marmota caligata)

Another variety of rockchuck is the Hoary Marmot, famous (as its name suggests) for its “senior citizen” hair color, i.e., its fur is dominated by silver-grey.  Hoary marmots tend to live in mountainous places  — but only in America’s northwest corner (i.e., Idaho, Montanan, and Washington), plus montane lands in western Canada and Alaska, north of that corner.  This is the “extra-large”-sized marmot. Marmot-on-rock.closeup.jpg

Perhaps this tongue-twister could be used for the Groundhog’s western cousins:

How much rock would a rockchuck rock, if a rockchuck could rock rock?

But marmots don’t “rock” rocks!  However, being rodents, with ever-growing front teeth, rockchucks might use a somewhat-flat rock as the equivalent of an emery board – to file down his teeth! Maybe doing so provides access to rock-borne minerals that the marmot needs.  Anyway, marmot teeth should be respected, especially by mountain hikers who take naps at timberline.   ><> JJSJ

marmot-front-teeth-closeup


[1] Notice that the Rock Hyrax of Israel is a lagomorph that behaves, ecologically speaking, like the rodents that we call marmots (i.e., rockchucks and woodchucks). This illustrates how animal ecology does not slavishly follow taxonomy.

 Biomes … have animals which occupy particular roles within the ecosystem, tapping particular environmental resources.  These may differ very considerably in their taxonomy from one part of the world to another, but are nevertheless ‘ecological equivalents’.  For example, the South American pampas is grazed by the guanaco [a camel-like mammal], which is the [ecological] equivalent to the Australian kangaroo [a marsupial mammal], the Asiatic ass [an equid mammal] and the North American bison [a bovine mammal] in that it is a relatively large, fast-moving herbivorous animal living in herds.

Quoting Peter D. Moore, “The World’s Biomes”, in The Encyclopedia of Animal Ecology (Oxford, England: Equinox Books, 1991; edited by Peter D. Moore), page 40.  However, another possibility is that the Hebrew noun SHAPHAN refers to the pika (perhaps the Collared Pika), which is a lagomorph that looks a lot like a squirrel or chipmunk. Pikas are known to have lived in the rocky highlands just south of the Black Sea (in present-day eastern Turkey), which was and still is part of the economic-cultural “world” of the Israelites. Remains of a Collared Pika (Ochotona rufescens) have been found in an Eagle Owl pellet, in a mountainous part of Turkey, supporting the plausibility of the SHAPHAN being a pika. See Stanislav Čermák et al., “Notes on the Genus OCHOTONA in the Middle East (Lagomorpha: Ochotoniae)”, LYNX (Prahah), n.s., 37:51-66 (2006), reporting new pika finds in both eastern Turkey and Iran, indicating a fairly wide range for the montane lagomorph.  [Immediately preceding insight regarding the Collared Pika possibility was added 12-31-AD2016 & 1-10-AD2017.]

[2] Many years ago this author was hiking up Horn Peak (in the Colorado portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost sub-range of the Rocky Mountains). Horn Peak’s elevation is listed as 13,450 feet (4100 meters), slightly above Little Horn Peak (elevation: 13,143 feet/4006 meters).  On a group hike I tired above Little Horn Peak but below the summit of Horn Peak.  Thoroughly exhausted – crawl, rest, crawl, rest, crawl, rest, rest some more – I lay down on the ground for a shut-eye/nap, covering my face with a sweaty (and therefore salty) cloth handkerchief, to avoid getting my face sun-burned while I dozed.  (Having told other hikers what I was doing, as they continued to ascend to the summit, I requested that I be awakened by them on their return trek, as I expected them to return to where I was on their descent, later.  After sleeping for an unknown amount of time I was awakened by someone removing the white handkerchief form my face – it was the up-close face of a Yellow-bellied Marmot!  (I screamed: “What are you doing?” – forgetting that marmots don’t speak English.)  I was rattled!  I had scared the marmot (who perhaps was attracted to the salt on my sweaty handkerchief), but only momentarily.  The marmot gingerly wandered back closer to me, looking at me expectantly – apparently other hikers had given snack food to this marmot, and he was expecting me to do the same.  All that I had remaining, then, of my trail snacks, was a PAYDAY candy bar – a treat composed of peanuts, caramel, and salt – which he gulped down instantly!

payday-candybar