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Recent Articles, RP App, Science - Creation/Evolution

Masters of disguise!

“Poppa! Have you seen the Mimic octopus?” My oldest granddaughter’s question was lit with excitement. I had been mentioning a presentation I was working on featuring animals with incredible design features, highlighting that some of them were incredibly difficult for evolutionists even to begin to explain. When I mentioned squid and octopus camouflage, her question above popped out. My response of “I don’t think so” initiated a frantic scramble for a nearby phone and a hasty search on YouTube. What I watched for the next minute and forty-nine seconds1 left me with my mouth agape and led eventually to a salt-water aquarium in my home with one of those very creatures inhabiting it. (It’s amazing what homeschoolers learn about!) Like a second skin Even the “average” octopus species is truly incredible, capable of rapid color changes a chameleon could only dream of. Like a pixelated video screen, flashes of light can erupt from their skin surface, sometimes pulsating and other times creating waves of shadowy patterns that make them almost impossible to spot along the ocean floor among its corals and sea plants. They are capable of texture changes to their skin that are downright eerie, which means not only can they simulate the color of objects in their surroundings but also the shape of them to an extent. Rather than describing these creatures’ sophistication and complexity as simply a reflection of the brilliance and glory of their Creator, some naturalists have attempted to explain some of their intricacies as being alien in origin. So “advanced” are these creatures’ abilities (and yet so early do they appear in the evolutionary timeline, supposedly 296 million years ago2), some evolutionary scientists have seriously suggested they perhaps had biological input from alien lifeforms at some point in their “evolution”!3 The mimic octopus’s most impressive copying act is its take on the flounder. It even undulates across the ocean floor just like the founder does. Why do you act that way? But as amazing as “regular” octopi are, the mimic octopus is in a class by itself: it’s the first living thing ever observed to impersonate the shape and behavior of other aquatic species along with color and texture changes. Discovered in 1998 off the coast of the island of Sulawesi (Indonesia), it’s been spotted now as far as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, so may be more widespread than originally thought.4 Many of the creatures it imitates are venomous, so it fools predators into thinking they are encountering a dangerous adversary rather than a sly cephalopod. The exact number of creatures it’s able to mimic is unknown, but watching video of one hide its body and six legs in a hole, change the color of its two exposed arms to the distinctive black and light stripes of the banded sea snake, and then waving them in opposite directions to impersonate a striped serpent is unnerving to say the least! Known “avatars” the mimic imitates include flatfish, crabs, jellyfish, mantis shrimp, stingrays, lionfish, and sand anemones. The uncanny thing about these octopi is that they seem to be able to make accurate and intelligent decisions as to what creature they should imitate depending on the environment they are in or the predators they encounter. For example, because damselfish are hunted by banded sea snakes, mimics often adopt their “snakelike” form, color, and behavior when they encounter damselfish to frighten them away. When traveling across a seabed with little cover, mimics may transform their tentacles to look like the poisonous barbed fins of a lionfish and imitate its pulsing, distinct movement so as to ward off predators. The mimic octopus will burrow down, leaving just two of its tentacles visible, to do a decent impression of the banded snake eel, on the right.  The quick-change artist When considering this creature’s day-to-day activity, you quickly realize it has several sophisticated abilities that depend on accessing and activating tremendous amounts of coded, genetic information. Sensor array: Obviously, the mimic must be capable of monitoring and analyzing its current environment constantly. Response analysis: It must also have the ability to determine an appropriate response(s) needed in different environments or when encountering specific predators it interacts with. (I.e., if A, then B; if X, then Y, etc.). Catalog of aliases: Once a specific creature to mimic has been decided upon, it must then access other detailed “files” for all of the abilities, features, and behaviors of the different creatures it can possibly mimic. Immediate response: The mimic’s systems must then correctly activate commands to alter its shape, color, texture, and movement, which of course requires a body that has the capability to expand or contract, become smooth or rough, rigid or soft, multi-textured, multi-colored and/or precisely patterned almost instantaneously. The pic on the left doesn’t capture the mimic's best lionfish imitation but gives a feel for how it can masquerade as the poison-tipped predator on the right.  Meet “Morph” I named my own mimic, procured from a local pet store, Morph. Morph lived for eight months, but he exhibited spectacular behavior and executed many brilliant performances during that time, with nightly “light shows” being commonplace. Although very shy for the first three days I had him, he became more comfortable, and I was able to hand-feed him shrimp for his supper eventually. Because octopus aquariums are typically a one-species environment (either the octopus eats whatever else is in there or they get eaten by what is), he only “mimicked” once, as there was nothing in the tank to react to. Upon entering my tank for the very first time, Morph impersonated a jellyfish, slowly pulsed down, and then switched to his regular form once he had cover. This made sense, because upon entry he was at the top of the tank with nowhere to hide and didn't know if there were predators in that environment. Note that his mimicry involved imitating another creature not immediately present in his environment (rather than simply blending into the background), which leads to the question, how did he “know” what to do? Mimic octopi are only thought to live nine months (the longest-living octopus live for a maximum of five years), so scientists don’t believe they are simply observing and copying other creatures’ behavior; they are born with it. Which means all of that programming is already present and passed on to each subsequent generation. But how could that have come about? Masterful design Consider this: If a person today were to create and program a mechanism that could perform half the functions this creature does, they would likely receive all of the accolades the scientific community could possibly bestow upon a human being, and probably hail them as the most brilliant scientist on the planet. Their creation would be highly esteemed as an incredible example of intelligent design. However, despite the obvious evidence of design in nature, naturalists seem bound to evolutionary interpretations. One evolutionary blogger from Nature.com tried explaining the mimic this way: "In this species we see the evolutionary 'perfect storm' in which a species with flexibility in their skin and body shape is consistently exposed to a predator-rich environment that contains toxic or venomous species such as soles, lionfish and banded sea snakes. This combination provides both the selective pressures and the opportunity to these otherwise vulnerable animals to evolve into the world's greatest masters of disguise!"5 But that isn’t a real explanation of anything. It’s like saying because evolution is true, evolution happened. But design requires a designer, and programming requires a programmer. Natural selection or genetic mutation are simply not sufficient explanations for what we see in creatures like the mimic octopus. And despite evolutionists concocting many “just so” stories to attempt to explain how so many precisely coordinated and irreducibly complex mechanisms could have arisen in creatures without a designer, for those with eyes to see, the conclusion is obvious. "But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?" (Job 12:7-9) The master designer, the God of the Bible, created these along with all of the other magnificent sea creatures on day five of creation. As much as evolutionists try to mimic God’s creative power through the story of evolution, creation declares its Creator, even in an insignificant octopus! Be sure to check out the 3-minute video below. Footnotes 1 Most intelligent Mimic Octopus in the world, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-LTWFnGmeg 2 Rachel Nuwer, “Ten Curious Facts About Octopuses,” Smithsonian Magazine, October 31, 2013, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-curious-facts-about-octopuses-7625828. 3 E. Steele, et al., “Cause of Cambrian Explosion—Terrestrial or cosmic?” Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology136 (2018):3–23, doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2018.03.004. 4 “The Mimic Octopus,” National Geographic, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/m/mimic-octopus. 5 Sarah Jane Alger, “The Mimic Octopus: Master of Disguise,” October 28, 2013, https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/accumulating-glitches/the_mimic_octopus_master_of. Picture credits from top to bottom: VelvetFish iStockPhoto; VelvetFish iStockPhoto.com; FtLaud Shutterstock.com; Stephan Kerkhofs, MariusLtu, Jenhung Huang, and Vitalii Kalutskyi, all iStockPhoto.com This article was written by Calvin Smith , is published with permission, and originally appeared at https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/calvin-smith/2020/09/07/masters-disguise....

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Riot and the Dance: the TV series

TV series 2022 / 30 minutes RATING: 9/10 The folks who brought you the documentaries Riot and the Dance: Earth and Riot and the Dance: Water are now hard at work creating a TV series and you can watch the pilot episode for free now. This is God's creation accompanied by a classical/rap soundtrack, and viewed through the eyes of a poet and an adventurer. The narrator, Dr. Gordon Wilson, shares that while he teaches a marine biology class, he "needed to go back to school for this film - scuba school!" Why? "I don't want to just sit back and narrate over some pretty picture. I wanted to get as close as I can to as many divinely crafted underwater miracles as possible." First up is an encounter with a round-eyed, chubby-looking, hard-shelled critter. Dr. Wilson can't help but gush: "I love turtles, their eyes, their beaks, their scales like tiles on a fancy floor. What hilarious cartoon characters they are, and what a fantastic cartoonist God is." Next up is a dip down into shark-infested waters, and with no cage to protect him or his crew. Isn't that crazy? Wilson had this reply: "Many, many people have asked why we got in that water with sharks, especially without a cage. The thing is they're amazing. They have an extra sense - electroreceptors that detect even very small disturbances in the water. We saw them respond to a single leaf that landed on the surface of the water.... We need to stop being so distracted at how frightened you're supposed to be, open your eyes and look intently and see their amazing design!" This is creation depicted in a very unique light. Many a Christian nature film will focus more on rebutting evolution than celebrating creation. Or they'll go in the other direction, and celebrate the creation but fail to mention the Creator. Riot and the Dance gets it right on both counts, with nary a mention of evolution, but all sorts of admiration expressed for the God Almighty who can make these marvels. But in addition to the wonder and the intricate dance we see performed throughout all of God's creation, there is also the riotous nature of our fallen world. So it is that we have deadly sharks. And also a giant water-bug that can liquify the insides of a frog many times its size and drink it like an "amphibian-flavored Capri Sun - a frog-shaped juice box." Afterward, we get to briefly gape at a breaching humpback whale, and then swim up close with sea cows. These are quick but amazing clips. And then we're done. This is only a half-hour show, but the first of what they hope will be many. And I do too. You can watch this pilot episode below for free, and if you like it you may want to rent their two feature films, Riot and the Dance: Earth and Riot and the Dance: Water. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Life's Story: the one that hasn't been told

Documentary 2004 / 58 minutes Rating: 7/10 This is a gorgeous investigation of how Creation evidences its Creator. Life's Story was filmed in more than ten countries and it takes us under the ocean waters too. We're introduced to lions, parrotfish, dolphins, giraffes and so many more critters, exploring the genius apparent not only in their bodies, but in their instincts, and even in their relationship with other animals. So, for example, we learn how the parrotfish feeds on the algae that grow on coral formations – this fish needs the coral to serve as its shelter and food source. But the coral also needs the parrotfish to clear away the algae, which otherwise might grow unchecked, and choke off the coral. This symbiosis – two creatures needing each other in order to survive – is a testament to God's intertwined design. It's also a problem for evolutionists to explain, because if each needs the other, then which evolved first, the coral or the parrotfish? God's genius is showcased with one illustration after another, even delving into the creative ways different animal babies are born. Did you know a giraffe baby is born with its mother still standing up, and the afterbirth functioning as a kind of elastic cord to slow the baby's 6-foot descent to the ground? How cool is that? And there's loads of knowledge bombs like that spread throughout. Caution At one point early on the narrator declares the "debate over the origins of life has raged for 150 years, but now, finally, the debate is over." Though he states it quietly, and his British accent adds some gravitas to it, this is hyperbolic. Evolutionists still exist, so the debate continues, even if it really shouldn't (Rom. 1:20). Other overstatements like this mean that as fun as this could be to watch with your family (while pointing out the hyperbole to the kids), it is not the film you'd show your college classmate who's skeptical about the case against evolution. They'd be better off watching Evolution's Achilles' Heels and Dismantled instead. Conclusion A handful of overstatements are what demote this down to being a good, not great, documentary. In its favor it has impressive footage – we're getting close enough to count the lion's teeth, and diving down deep into an underwater world we'd otherwise never see. Viewers will also love all the insights into the intricacies of these critters which are sprinkled liberally throughout. The narrator's calm voice is at times almost sleep-inducing, but the stunning visuals will wake you back up. And if you enjoy this one, be sure to check out the sequel: Life Story 2: the reason for the journey. Another mark in its favor? You can watch it for free below. ...

Science - General

Canada’s beautiful beaver

An internationally recognized rodent has become our northern nation’s emblem, but more importantly, the curious nature of this creature highlights the creativity of its Creator. ***** Most Canadians are rightly proud of the beaver, their iconic national emblem.  Indeed, the beaver is a remarkable animal with exceptional talents! Its lifestyle is made possible not only through the wonderful design of its body, but also through in-built skills. The fact is that beavers are the only animals anywhere which can change the landscape to suit their own needs and desires. Bigger and biggest dam The skill of beavers at dam building is legendary wherever they live. Prior to 2010, a beaver dam in Montana (USA) was the largest such structure known. It was 652 meters long, 4.3 meters tall and 7 meters thick at its largest extent. For our imperial friends, that’s 2,140 feet long, 14 feet high and 23 feet wide! However, the Montana beavers’ claim to fame ended when scientists looking for evidence of climate change, scanned satellite images of Canada’s far north lands. These scientists were not looking for beaver dams. Such a thing had never been visible from space. But now they observed a beaver dam in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta. First visible (in retrospect) in a Landsat 7 image from 1990, in a 2004 image, the beaver dam appeared to be 850 meters or 2,790 feet long. Jean Thie, a remote sensing specialist, first noted the artifact in a satellite image taken in July 2004, but he did not make his identification until 2007. Eventually, in 2009, Parks Canada was informed of the situation. Thus, it was not until 2010 that Parks Canada released a statement to the world. The terrain is so boggy that nobody can access the site, but aerial reconnaissance has confirmed its existence. The dam must be about 35 years old, built and maintained by generations of beavers. To avoid being tasty treats... Beavers are engineers and builders. With only their teeth and front paws, they change landscapes so that a safe home can be built and enough food harvested and stored for winter. The lodges/homes are large and conspicuous, often about 5 meters in diameter and 2 meters high. Animals as large and tasty as beavers would surely be a popular meal for predators if all the hunter had to do was wait by the lodge until the beaver came home. Obviously, hidden entrances are essential to survival. So what the beavers do is to locate the lodge in the center of a body of water. Then the entrances are hidden underwater, well shielded from the view of predators like wolves. Since the beavers are active throughout the year, they must be able to come and go from their lodge even in winter. Since most small bodies of water freeze at that time, the beavers need to find ponds and streams deep enough so that some liquid water remains below the ice. Since such deep locations are hard to find, the beavers instead change shallow bodies of water into deeper locations. This is where the amazing dam-building skills of the beaver are called into play. First of all, the beavers must select a suitable location for their dam. It is the sound of trickling water that stimulates the beaver to plug the flow. The point that the beavers typically choose is where the noise of moving water is the greatest and the flow rate is fastest. Beavers are not committed to any one style of dam. They build whatever it takes to block the flow of water. A sluggish flow of water calls for a very wide dam, as we see in Wood Buffalo National Park. When the current is strong, however, the dam is built with a convex curve in the upstream direction so that it best resists the pressure of the water. The beavers instinctively know how to compensate for stress and strains of the water pushing against the structure. These animals even build outlet sluices for disposal of overflow water. The construction, after all, must not flood the lodge during times of higher-than-normal rainfall. The beavers always make the right engineering choices. Born landscapers The beaver are certainly unique in their water management capabilities. These animals do not learn their building skills from their elders. They just know them. In Europe, beavers were hounded almost to extinction and for generations had no opportunities to use their talents, but now, once again they are displaying their full architectural expertise. In parts of the American West such as Washington, Oregon and Utah, beavers are increasingly being deployed as effective, low cost agents to restore watersheds. Beaver dams and ponds restore complexity to the landscape, slowing the flow of water and sediment and restoring fish habitat. Besides brainpower, each beaver needs the physical ability to actually build dams. These large animals, distinctly rotund in shape, weigh between 16 and 32 kilograms as adults (or 35 to 70 pounds). They look awkward on land but quite the opposite in water. Their fully webbed hind feet, transparent membranes that protect their eyes and special valves in the nostrils and ears all facilitate underwater activities. The oxygen holding capacity of their red blood cells also must be impressive since they are able to spend as much as 15 minutes submerged. So don’t hold your breath waiting for a diving beaver to re-appear! The beavers’ front paws are small and delicate, without webs. They function almost like hands. They are able to carry objects such as sticks, stones or mud in their hands and they manipulate these into place in the course of their building activities. Tremendous teeth and quite the pair of lips The beaver begins his dam by laying sticks and rocks in the streambed at the desired location. Lots of timber is required for this project. Here, too, the beaver is appropriately equipped for his task. His front teeth are hardened with a dark orange enamel (not pretty, but effective). The teeth grow continuously and the outer tips grind against each other. This keeps the cutting edges chisel-sharp. With these tools, beaver can easily fell trees 30 centimeters or even twice that (1 or two feet) in diameter. The trees are used in building operations, and as sources of twigs, bark and leaves for food. Another interesting feature of beaver mouths is the fact that their lips can be closed behind their front teeth. Thus, while submerged, they can chew without choking on sawdust or water. This gives a whole new meaning to the expression “My lips are sealed”! So, people pursue their agendas and beavers fell trees and flood the landscape. We may find beaver activities expensive and annoying at times. On other occasions, we greatly appreciate their work. Wherever they are, we must admit they are beautiful animals. Canada’s national emblem is characterized by skill, initiative and lots of energy. It’s fun to watch them in action. We do not always realize that God confers on some animals amazing behavior patterns which enable them to follow unique lifestyles. Such is the beaver. All peoples, near or far from Canada, who appreciate wonderful design, will surely see the hand of God in the creation of Castor canadensis. Dr. Margaret Helder is involved in headSTART.create.ab.ca an online tool that defines scientific terms from a creationist perspective, highlighting the 100+ most important ones like convergence, Junk DNA, Horizontal Gene Transfer, and the Framework Hypothesis. It's designed for high school students but useful for their parents too, so be sure to check it out! And also be sure to check out this 10-minute clip on beaver lodge creation. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Graphic novels

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse

by Torben Kuhlmann 96 pages / 2014 How did man first learn to fly? It seems we had a little help. This is the story of a little mouse who made the very first transatlantic flight, back when Charles Lindbergh was but a lad. As our story begins we learn what first motivated this mouse to seek the skies. In the late 1800s, another invention was becoming quite popular – the mousetrap! – which had this furry inventor seeking somewhere safer to live. Where could he go? Why not America, a place that welcomed immigrants of all sorts (whether man or mouse)? That was a good destination, but when he tried boarding a boat, he barely escaped the harbor cats. They were guarding the docks, and there was no getting past them. It was there, however, as the little mouse was hiding in the shadows, that he was "struck" by inspiration: "Suddenly wings flapped against his face! Ghostly creatures flew through the dark. They looked like mice, with tiny eyes and huge ears. But they flew with powerful black wings. The little mouse carefully studied the strange flying relatives, then scurried home..." Why not try flying to America using wings like bats! In the many pages that follow we see the mouse draft plans, secure supplies, evade owls, fail, try again, fail once more, and then finally make his way into the skies. What makes the book so special is the enormous, gorgeous, detailed pictures. I want to make the case that this should be shelved in the graphic novel section of the library, even though it isn't what most would think of as a graphic novel. There are no word bubbles, but there are whole sections where the story is told entirely by sequential pictures. It might be accurately called a picture book, but that makes it seem like it's for little children (what older kids read picture books?). This is not a children's story. That's in small part because it has a grim bit here and there – one mouse is depicted in a newspaper picture as clearly dead, caught in a mousetrap, which would be an unexpected jolt to readers in the lowest grades. It might also be too tense with the owls determined not simply to frustrate his flight, but to eat our little inventor. The bigger reason this is older fare is simply the length and depth of the story. The mouse draws schematics that deserve to be closely examined – there are echoes here of Leonardo da Vinci. And he is playing a cat and mouse game on a few levels, not simply with cats, but owls, and people too. So, yes, this visual feast belongs best in the graphic novel section where boys in Grades 4 and up will discover it and love it! Caution The only caution, other than age appropriateness due to the aforementioned grim bits, would concern not this book, but a sequel in the author's "Mouse Adventures" series. In the next book, Armstrong (2016), another mouse takes things even further, developing the first ever rocket to the moon so he can prove that it is not made of green cheese. It's another inventive story, and the only nit I have to pick comes afterward, in an appendix of sorts. There we're told that Galileo Galilei "contradicted the Church's view at the time and his work was banned while he found himself accused of heresy." This is true, but without context, it contributes to the popular idea of Science as the ultimate authority, especially over and above what the Church teaches from the Bible. What this overlooks is that the Church's problem here was its reliance on faulty science in the first place – Aristotilean science – rather than the Bible. Most kids aren't likely to even ingest this section of the book. But this particular lie is a pernicious one, used as a universal solvent to undermine clear biblical teachings on origins, sexuality and gender. While it's only a small mention of a potent lie, it is also delivered to a young audience, which is why I'd give this one a skip for a school library. I'd also skip on Einstein (2020), not because of specific problems, but because there were parts of this picture book/graphic novel that as an adult, I didn't even understand. I think this one was too ambitious, considering the target audience. Conclusion That said, this story is the very pinnacle of creative genius. It will teach children at least a little about what it took to first developed powered flight, providing as fun and wonderfully illustrated an introduction to the topic as you'll find. For more, take a look at the book's trailer below. And if your child enjoys this one, they'll likely also love the third book, Edison: the Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure (2018) in which a mouse invents underwater travel to recover the illuminating invention his ancestor created. ...

Science - General

Half duck, half beaver: the astonishing platypus

In recent years a strange assortment of animals, some familiar and some obscure, have enjoyed a brief moment of scientific attention. In each case, the occasion for this special fame was the publication of the genome – the complete DNA sequence - of that organism. In May 2008, the genome of Australia’s platypus was published. This creature is justly famous anyway, but the genome studies have helped focus attention on why this is so. Not a hoax When British naturalists first saw a pelt of a platypus, they were sure it was a hoax. With its thick fur, webbed front feet and duck bill-like snout, it certainly did not resemble any other animal known at the time. Further study showed however that the animal is perfectly genuine. Eventually, naturalists discovered that this animal lays eggs, but yet it suckles its young with genuine mother’s milk. It seemed as if this creature was a strange jumble of bird, reptile and mammalian (feeds milk to young) characteristics. More careful study however reveals that this organism is actually a beautifully designed entity. The duckbilled platypus remains a highly unusual creature. Not only its appearance, but many aspects of its biology are unique. These small animals (up to 60 cm long) spend most of their time underwater. Indeed they are able to find food only when submerged. Amazingly, however, they swim blind, deaf and without the normal opportunity to detect odors since flaps cover their eyes, ears and nose while they are submerged. Recent research however has revealed that they have some unique abilities to compensate for lack of sight, hearing and smell. Once the genome data has been collected, there is nothing obvious to show what stretches of DNA contain genes of interest. The number of nucleotides in the platypus genome is 2.3 billion, quite close to the 3 billion contained in the human genome. The number of protein-coding genes thus far identified in platypus is also similar to the number in humans: 18,600 for platypus compared to about 25,000 for humans. Faced with endless arrangements of nucleotides, how do scientists “read” the information contained therein? What scientists did was to start slowly in their early genome studies with attempts to identify sections coding for certain basic genes. Gradually they built up a computerized repertoire of DNA coding which identifies important genes in at least one organism. Then when they wish to study a different organism, they use huge computers to look for similar stretches of DNA in the new organism. Fancy mathematics allows the computer to decide whether similar sequences are close enough to represent the same gene or not. Since the genomes of many organisms have now been documented, scientists now have a large collection of nucleotide sequences that code for important genes.  The interesting thing then is to compare how the new organism resembles other creatures and ways in which it differs. Does it have similar genes or different ones? This analysis certainly reveals interesting things about the platypus. Gender and reproduction Genome analysis shows that gender determination in platypus is unique among milk-producing organisms. Rather than X and Y chromosomes such as we normally see in milk producers, gender in platypus is determined by chains of tiny chromosomes. Females have five pairs of tiny X chromosomes, while males have 5 pairs of X chromosomes plus five tiny Y chromosomes. The really interesting thing is that the genetic information on the X chromosomes is nothing like that in other milk-producing creatures. The information, in fact, is faintly similar to the Z chromosome which determines gender in birds. Scientists are totally astonished by this feature of the platypus genome. Unlike other milk producers, platypus and echidnas have just one opening at the rear end of the body. Other milk producers have an opening from the digestive system plus a combined one for urine and reproduction. Platypus and echidnas have one combined opening for everything called the cloaca (like birds and reptiles). But platypus has a unique way of producing young, not at all like birds or reptiles. The female keeps the fertilized eggs inside her body for 21 days. Meanwhile, she seals herself into a small chamber lined with vegetation at the end of an 8-meter long tunnel dug into the bank of a lake or stream. There she lays 1 or 2 tiny sticky, leathery eggs. These she incubates until they hatch in about 11 days. Initially only about the size of jelly beans and lacking developed organs and an immune system, the young suckle milk through pores on their mother’s abdomen. After 4 months, the young become independent. The eggs, it is well known, divide in a manner similar to birds and reptiles and as a result, contain a yolk. However recent genome research reveals that the milk is very similar in composition to that of other mammals. Underwater navigation Recent research has revealed how the platypus is able to find food despite the fact that its ears, nose and eyes are closed underwater. Obviously the creature needs special hardware and talents designed for navigation. Thus it was that in 1985 German scientist Henning Scheich discovered some highly unusual properties of the platypus. This animal reacts to weak electrical fields in water. What this scientist did was bury a small charged battery under a brick in the water. In addition, he placed a similar, but dead battery under another brick. The platypus dislodged the brick sitting on top of the charged battery, but it ignored the other brick/battery site. Later, the platypus avoided a mesh screen placed in front of a charged battery, but it collided with a screen placed in front of a dead battery. Further studies have amply confirmed that platypus have electroreceptors in their bills. As sensitive as a star-nosed mole Since the late 1980s, scientists have discovered that there are two kinds of electroreceptor and one type of touch receptor in the platypus snout. At the front edges of the bill, there are tiny pores containing a membranous receptor. Moreover, over the main surface of the bill there are oblique stripe-like arrays of pores which are mucous-filled. The mucous serves to enhance transmission of a signal to the nerve at the bottom of the pit. The bill of the platypus has 40,000 electroreceptors, while in comparison the 2 species of its closest cousin, the echidna, boast only 2000 and 400 respectively. Mapping of sensors was conducted on anesthetized animals. Electrical sensors were attached to the exposed cortex of the brain, and electrical and mechanical stimuli were applied to the bill. The resulting signals in the cortex were duly noted as were the locations in the bill where the sensitive pores were located. The push-rod mechanical (touch) receptors in the bill are remarkable in their own right. Inside the pore is a compacted column of skin which can rotate about its base or move up and down. These very sensitive touch receptors are similar to the highly unusual touch receptors in the nose of the star-nosed mole. The organ of touch in the snout of the star-nosed mole is so sensitive, that the information obtained from it is almost as detailed as vision. This animal also spends most of its time foraging for food in the water. Until recently, scientists knew of no other creatures with as sensitive a sense of touch. Now it appears that the mechanoreceptors in the bill of platypus are of even more sophisticated design. There is yet another interesting feature of these sensory pores on the bill of the platypus – each is surrounded by petal-like skin flaps which open when the animal is underwater. When the animal emerges from the water, however, tiny sphincters around each pore close the flaps so that the sensors will not dry out. The food which the platypus seeks are small animals living near or in the bottom sediments of lakes, ponds, or rivers. These animals favor some larvae of insects, worms, small crustaceans and other invertebrates. Apparently, these small creatures generate weak electrical fields as they move or simply maintain the processes of life in their bodies. With its electroreceptor capabilities, it seems that platypus can detect the field generated by a freshwater shrimp that is 10 centimeters away. Scientists suspect that the platypus knows how far away an electrical source is, whether it is moving, and in what direction it is proceeding. More and more talents The remarkable thing is that these sensory talents of platypus are so unique. As far as electrical sensing of the environment is concerned, some fish also exhibit this ability. However, in the case of fish, the sensors are all over the body and they are not nearly so sensitive. But platypus has more talents yet! One might have imagined that platypus would not need much in the way of a sense of smell since their noses are closed under water. This conclusion is partly right and partly wrong. As far as genes for normal smell (chemical receptors) are concerned, the genome project shows that platypus has a reduced number of receptor types (only about half of what most mammals exhibit). However, there are chemical receptors called vomeronasal receptors which may be located in the mouth or the nose and surprise, surprise, platypus has the largest variety of vomeronasal type 1 receptors known. At 950 different variations on the vomeronasal type 1 receptor (V1R) the platypus has 50% more than the mouse. Compare this to the chicken, which has no such receptors. Nor, for that matter, do people. The platypus thus has very special electrical, touch and chemical (taste) receptors. The article on the platypus genome published in Nature (May 8/08) discusses the large number of genes which code for the special chemical receptors (V1R). But the article makes no mention of genes for electrical and touch receptors. Obviously, there must be quite a number of genes in the platypus coding for components of these sophisticated sensors. However, the sequence (order) of nucleotides does not come with labels identifying which sections code for what. Scientists need an already established standard order of nucleotides coding for such genes from another, not too different creature. Since these talents are highly unusual, however, no comparison with a similar gene in a similar creature can as yet be made. Thus we don’t hear about how many genes code for electrosensory abilities and for extremely sensitive touch. Defense: immunity and venom Besides food and reproduction, an animal in nature needs to defend itself against larger animals and against microbes. The newly hatched young have only partially developed organs. They have no spleen, no thymus and no killer T and B cells which provide acquired immunity. They do, however, exhibit a very unusual number of natural killer receptor genes. A natural killer is a precisely shaped molecule which is able to recognize other types of molecules characteristically produced by disease-causing organisms but not by the host organism itself. This capacity to stop a large number of common disease agents in their tracks is programmed into the genes of platypus and most other organisms as well. However, since the platypus young are so small and vulnerable, it makes sense that these animals are provided with an unusually large variety of natural killer-type molecules (coded for on appropriate genes). The platypus thus has 214 genes for different variations on the natural killer theme compared to only 45 for rat, 9 for opossum and 15 for humans. In addition, platypus is unusual among mammals in that the male is able to deliver a venom potent enough to kill a dog. There are only a few mammals which are venomous, but all of the others transmit the venom by means of a bite. The platypus, on the other hand, has spurs on its hind legs which deliver the venom. That venom is a cocktail of at least 19 different substances which exert various nasty effects on the victim. God’s creativity and intricate design Secular scientists have long declared platypus to be a strange blend of reptilian, bird and mammal (milk producer) characteristics. Such people consider that the genome study has further confirmed this view. They are wrong. What that study has shown is that this animal is not a jumble of features from a broad assortment of organisms, but rather a wonderfully integrated collection of unusual anatomy and attributes. Certain features may remind us of birds and reptiles, but the similarities are merely superficial. The platypus truly is unique in its navigational abilities and in all the other features. Obviously, this unusual creature was designed to pursue its unique but effective lifestyle and designed to delight us in yet another aspect of God’s amazing creation. So give three cheers for a weird but wonderful inhabitant of Australia!! This first appeared in the September 2008 issue under the title "Awesome Aussie: the platypus looks fascinating from the outside, but a look at its inside – its DNA – is just as intriguing." Dr. Margaret Helder is the President of the Creation Science Association of Alberta and the author of "No Christian Silence on Science." For more on the platypus, check out the great video below. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Finding Winnie

by Lindsay Mattick 56 pages / 2015 It turns out that Winnie the Pooh, a teddy bear who had fantastic and entirely fanciful adventures, was named after a real bear whose adventures were quite something too, and of the genuine sort. Just as Winnie the Pooh starts with a father telling his son a story, so too Finding Winnie beings with a parent telling her child a bedtime tale. In this case, the storyteller is the great-granddaughter of the man who gave the first Winnie his name. Harry Colebourn was a vet living in Winnipeg. When the First World War began Harry had to go, so he boarded a train with other soldiers and headed east. At a stop on the way, he met a man with a baby bear, and ended up buying the little beast. To make a long story shorter, this bear - named Winnie after Harry's hometown – ended up in the London Zoo where a boy named Christopher Robin, and his father A.A Milne came across him and were utterly entranced. It is a wonderful story, but what makes it remarkable is the charming way it's told. This is brilliant, and a homage of sort to A.A. Milne's stories. It's true, so there is quite a difference between his Winnie tales and this author's, but the same gentle humor, the same whimsy, that same charm, is there throughout. This will be a treat for fans of Winnie the Pooh no matter what age. Both my daughters and I were entranced! Winnie by Sally M. Walker 40 pages / 2015 The same year a second picture book came out about the bear behind the bear that was also very good, very fun, and different enough that after reading Finding Winnie it is still an enjoyable read as well. Compared to most any other picture book Winnie is remarkable - really among the best of the best - but it does lack a little of the Milne-like charm of Finding Winnie, and so ranks second among these two books....

Family, Movie Reviews

The Incredible Journey

Family 1963 / 80 minutes Rating: 8/10 What do Elsa and Anna, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Pollyanna, and even Huey, Duey and Louie all have in common? If you said, they'd all been featured in Disney films, you'd be right, but that's not the answer I was looking for. They all lack, and what many a children's story protagonist lacks is, parental supervision. Dead or otherwise departed parents are pretty common in children's fiction and films, and it isn't as nefarious as it might seem. Parents need to be out of the picture because otherwise the story would end before it even got going. How could Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan have explored the wardrobe if they'd been back in London with mom and pop? Parents still home when the Cat in the Hat stops by? He'd never make it past the front door. And Jack and Jill would never have tumbled if their mom had been there to tell them: "You're not old enough to climb the cliff face– it's dangerous! How many times do I have to tell you to use the path on the other side of the hill?" In The Incredible Journey the parents are once again missing, but this time there is a twist: the Hunters aren't so much parents, as owners, and their "children" are two dogs and a cat. While the Hunters are heading to Oxford, where dad is going to teach for a semester, family friend John Longridge has volunteered to take care of their pets back at his own cabin, some 200 miles away. But then he leaves too, heading out on a long hunting trip, and entrusting the animals' care to his housekeeper Mrs. Oakes. Then, when the note he leaves her falls into the fireplace and gets burned up, she thinks he has the animals. The result: when the trio head out on their own, no one is missing them. Luath, a Yellow Labrador, is the leader of the group. He wants to go back to their family, and convinces the other two, Siamese Cat Tao, and Bodger, an English Bull Terrier, to start off with him. While Luath knows the right direction, he doesn't realize that home is more than 200 miles, and a mountain range, away. That's the set up for their incredible journey. On the way, they have to contend with hunger, whitewater, bears, a lynx, and, unfortunately for Luath, a porcupine! Cautions The big caution here would concern the tension. At one point it seems like that cat has been swept away by the river to her death, and the two dogs are left mourning. The only way my kids could get past that was with the reassurance that the dogs were wrong and the cat would actually be okay. Conclusion There's a 1993 remake, where the animals are voiced by big-name celebrities. I like this version better, where a narrator explains what's going on in the different animals' minds. It's a more realistic approach, almost akin to a nature documentary, where we're observing something that could really have happened. Despite what you might read elsewhere, this didn't happen – it is not based on a true story. There's been some confusion on that point because the author of the book that inspired the film said the pets were based on her own – they are based on true pets – but her pets never went on any such journey. What makes this such a wonderful film is the loyalty the animals have for one another. Bodger is old, and a drag on the group, but that only means that he gets to set the pace – Tao and Luath would never think of leaving him behind. Our whole family, from 8 on up really enjoyed it. The appeal for the kids is the pets – our girls love pretty much any story with dogs or cats in it – while the appeal for the adults was the uniqueness of it. This is an old-school Disney film, so it was easy to predict that everything would turn out fine in the end, but these animals took us on quite the journey with twists and turns that weren't so easy to predict. And that sure was fun! ...

Science - General

Why animals don’t get lost (and no, it’s not because they’re willing to ask for directions)

Since the advent of global positioning satellites, or at least since their availability for civilians, scientists have found many uses for these devices. One of the more interesting applications is to track animals. Of obvious popular appeal are programs such as “fish with chips.” A multimillion-dollar "Census of Marine Life" project fitted marine animals in the Pacific Ocean with electronic surveillance tags. As of 2005, about 1,800 sharks, tuna and turtles had been fitted with transmitting devices which relayed information to a satellite when the animal surfaced. By this means, a bluefin tuna was tracked as it crossed the Pacific Ocean three times in 600 days! This fish swam 40,000 kilometers (km) with an average of 66 km/day. More dramatic still, were the exploits of Nicole, a 3.5 meter long great white shark. This specimen swam 11,000 km from South Africa to Australia and back within three months. Nicole averaged 122 km/day! She swam in a straight line, never less than 5 km/hr, and 60% of the time she stayed within one meter of the surface. It's obvious she knew where she was going. Scientists have been astonished to discover how far these and many other animals migrate. Another interesting study involved young fingerling salmon emerging from 16 river systems on the Pacific coast of North America. The tags on several thousand of these fish were scanned as they passed over special receivers placed on the ocean floor from Washington State up to Alaska. This study revealed that the young salmon follow precise migration paths which vary depending upon their river of origin. The results of these tracking studies intensify the question, long pondered, as to how animals navigate long precise routes through the oceans or skies. As our tools for study become ever more sophisticated, our insights might be expected to increase too. This may be, but the more famous cases still abound in unanswered questions.  Sea turtles Most of the seven species of sea turtle can be found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical seas. Despite this wide range, local populations exhibit very specific nesting site preferences and sometimes even a specific preference in feeding sites as well. This might not seem remarkable, until we realize that the nesting and feeding sites may be thousands of kilometers apart. After decades of ecological studies, scientists still have only a poor understanding of the wonders of sea turtle navigation. Green turtles are a rugged, long-lived species (up to 70 years). As is typical with sea turtles, the female lays her eggs at night in the sand of a wide beach along the seashore. She digs a pit and lays as many as one hundred eggs. After covering the eggs, the mother then retreats into the sea. Several weeks later, all the eggs hatch at the same time. The hatchlings emerge from the sand and head straight for the ocean. Once immersed, they swim straight out, farther and farther from land with its multitude of avian, crustacean, and human predators. Only about one in one thousand hatchlings survives long enough to mature. Once in the open sea, young turtles apparently set out for the feeding grounds. Green turtles hatched on beaches of Costa Rica later turn up in Spain, Chile, and Brazil. Then, once mature, females return to the very same beaches from which they hatched fifteen to thirty years previously. Tagging programs with young turtles have never revealed an adult female nesting on a beach other than the one from which she emerged. How do these turtles, out at sea, navigate towards the appropriate beach? Ascension Island One of the more remote destinations on earth is Ascension Island. Situated in the mid South Atlantic Ocean, this island of 88 square kilometers lies about 1100 kilometers northwest of Saint Helena, itself an island famous for its remote location. (Napoleon Bonaparte spent his last days on Saint Helena, a site chosen as his prison because its distance from everywhere made escape impossible). However Ascension Island is even more isolated than Saint Helena. Nevertheless green turtles, feeding in shallow waters along the Brazilian coast, and others in similar habitats near Gabon (Africa), swim due east or west (respectively) to nest on the beaches of Ascension Island. The journey from Africa to the island is 2,500 km and from Brazil to the island is 2,250 km. It is like finding a needle in a haystack. Nevertheless adult female turtles make the journey once every three to four years. Moreover, they do not eat at all during the entire eight month return trip. Leatherback Amazing skills in navigation are not unique to green sea turtles. Studies on the largest turtle of all, the leatherback, reveal some interesting details too. Unlike the green turtle, the leatherback forages for food in the deep ocean so they are less tied to specific feeding grounds. Nevertheless, there are only a few dozen places in the world where these turtles lay eggs. Of these, only four beaches attract large numbers of nesting leatherbacks. One of these four beaches is Playa Grande Beach on the west coast of Costa Rica. Tagging studies have revealed that these turtles travel 2,500 km west from Costa Rica toward the Galapagos Islands and beyond into deeper waters. They confine this travel to a narrow corridor up to 480 km wide. The females return to Playa Grande to lay eggs up to ten times per season. The females of another leatherback population, which feeds on jellyfish in the waters off Canada’s Nova Scotia coast, later proceed to beaches within the Caribbean Sea in order to nest. Studies on turtle navigation have revealed that young hatchlings react positively to wave direction, the earth’s magnetic field, moonlight, and perhaps chemical gradients. Nobody has, however, established precisely how adult turtles navigate thousands of kilometers in the open ocean, or even why they do so. Even if turtles are able to orient themselves in a specific direction, how do they locate the particular beach from which they hatched so many years previously and on which they spent so short a time?  Freshwater eels Eels are long snake-like fish which can grow up to 3 meters long. While some might consider such creatures ugly, many in Europe and North America consider them very tasty snacks. However, there was one longstanding mystery concerning the freshwater eels of eastern North America and Europe. Why were no young eels ever observed? Did they spring fully grown from their parents, like the mythical goddess Minerva who was imagined to have sprung mature and fully clothed from Jupiter’s brain? A Danish biologist solved the problem early in the twentieth century. Johannes Schmidt discovered that freshwater eels from both sides of the Atlantic spawn in a remote region of the Atlantic Ocean east of the Bahamas Islands. As is typical when one mystery is solved, this answer raised many new questions. How and why do all these eels navigate so far? Sargasso Sea The Sargasso Sea, a region of the Atlantic Ocean where water currents slowly move in a gigantic gyre (whirlpool), is roughly the size of Australia. Its existence is a byproduct of the Gulf Stream which carries warm water north along the eastern coast of North America and then eastward toward Europe, and the North Equatorial Current which carries cold water south towards Africa and then west towards the Caribbean. It so happens that this sluggish whirlpool region of the Atlantic is very rich in mineral nutrients. Sargassum, a distinctive floating brown seaweed, grows so thickly there that the sea surface sometimes looks more like a meadow than like open water. Naturally this region is a wonderful habitat for sea life and there the eels go to mate. In the fall, eels which are about ten years old, undergo physical and physiological changes. They stop eating as their stomachs shrink, and their reproductive organs expand. These mature specimens then move from their preferred freshwater habitats down streams to rivers, and from rivers to the sea. They proceed from far inland along the Atlantic coast from Mexico up to Labrador, from Greenland’s coast and Iceland, from the British Isles, from Scandinavia and from lands bordering the Mediterranean and Black Seas. As these eels converge on the Sargasso Sea, they show no specific preference to mate with specimens from their part of the world. Each female then lays up to twenty million eggs. These hatch into thin, flat, almost transparent creatures about one half cm long. As they move north in the Gulf Stream, those which mature first, apparently stop off in the fresh waters of North America. Others may take longer to mature, up to two or three years and these drift towards Europe. The American and European populations look different, but biologists think that genetically they may be almost identical. It is apparent that we know some of the story concerning eels but there are obviously many blanks yet to fill. What causes the eels to migrate to a common area in the open ocean? Why do they not spawn closer to their feeding grounds? Drifting towards coastal areas is obviously easy enough, but how do the eels navigate their way back to the Sargasso Sea? There obviously is more to freshwater eels than a tasty snack. Monarch butterflies One of the most amazing examples of navigation is that of the monarch butterfly. During the spring, these insects leave tiny stands of trees in Mexico where they spent the winter. They fly northeast to destinations throughout eastern North America. Then in the fall, several generations later, these butterflies head back to the very same stands of trees from which their great great grandparents had emerged the previous spring. Several questions naturally arise. It may be that day length triggers the instinct to fly southwest in the fall, but how do these tiny brains identify the appropriate direction? Laboratory studies have shown that adult butterflies emerge at dawn from the chrysalis. This time is apparently internalized within each insect’s 24 hour physiological clock. (Your own physiological clock tells you, for example, when it is time to sleep and time to eat.) It is the insect’s awareness of passing time which allows these butterflies to navigate with the sun as their reference point. As the sun moves across the sky, the butterflies automatically adjust their orientation to the sun according to the time of day and thus they maintain a constant southwest direction. If any butterflies are artificially caused to emerge from the chrysalis at a different point in the day, they cannot navigate according to the sun’s position and consequently they get lost. Imagine a navigating system that automatically adjusts for time of day! This is a fancy computer to cram into a very small insect brain. Obviously the whole system was designed to function in a sophisticated manner while using on a few simple cues. In the spring after over wintering, these very same butterflies will fly toward the northwest. Arctic birds In certain instances a much simpler navigating system than that of the butterflies may suit the needs of an animal. This situation applies to arctic birds on their annual migration south. Navigation apparently is most difficult near the poles since many useful parameters, like magnetic field, all converge. During the late summer of 2005, scientists carried out a study of arctic bird navigation. As flocks of birds passed over the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia, scientists briefly tracked them by radar. From hundreds of such tracks, the travel trajectories (direction) could be calculated. The scientists had calculated the various routes that birds would follow if they were using one or other navigational cues. If the birds were navigating by means of a magnetic compass, for example, they would proceed towards the northeast (not an ideal direction). If they used the sun as their reference point, adjusting their calculations according to time of day, they would proceed towards the east. However if they followed the sun without adjusting direction for time of day, they would proceed in a southeast direction. This was indeed the path these birds appeared to follow. The end result of this strategy is that their route then traces an arc, part of a great circle. Such a route is by definition the shortest distance connecting two points on the globe. For people relying on technology, a great arc requires continuous changes in compass direction. Navigating by compass (magnetic field) is longer but much easier. Obviously, however, one expends less energy on a shorter route. In the case of arctic birds, lacking complex computer programs, they nevertheless manage to follow a sophisticated path out of the arctic. Scientists cannot refrain from asking how these birds learned such a navigational strategy. Conclusion There is no doubt that tracking studies have revealed exciting details about animal navigation. In addition, physiological studies continue to give us glimpses into methods that these creatures use to plot their routes. But none of these environmental cues would be any help at all without senses designed to perceive them, and brains to interpret the data correctly, and to act upon it. Secular scientists may eventually describe the tracking mechanisms ever so precisely, but they will never be able to tell us why or how these remarkable designs were conferred on these creatures. Christians know. Dr. Margaret Helder is the President of the Creation Science Association of Alberta. This article first appeared in the January 2006 issue....