Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Monarch Moments

For the third consecutive summer, one of our blog posts highlights the Monarch butterfly, one of the most remarkable animals on the planet. Last weekend I was on hand for a service of healing and remembrance entitled "Monarch Moments" for family members touched by Alzheimer’s disease. Monarch butterflies were released in remembrance of loved ones.

An extra specimen was handed to me to release from its triangular, temporary containment box. My Monarch quickly joined many other released butterflies in sampling the nectar of flowers in the rose garden before sailing off to regions unknown.

After returning home I researched the question of whether such artificially raised Monarchs suffer any ill effects from their culture and release in this manner. All information indicated they do not. The wild population they blend with is not weakened by disease, parasites, or genetic alteration. Most remarkable, they join their wild friends in normal reproductive processes. In northeast Iowa, that means they will lay eggs on milkweed plants. Within a month, those eggs will transform into the adult butterflies of the next generation. At this time of year, that generation will take off for a special, remote forest in Mexico to overwinter, using a guidance system not completely understood by scientists, but known to the Monarchs and their Maker.

At this writing I have four tiny Monarch butterfly caterpillars in a container supplied with fresh milkweeds. They were found in our neighborhood as tiny eggs on the bottom of milkweed leaves. They are now in stage two of the four-stage (complete) metamorphosis manifest by butterflies and moths. Stage three is the pupa; stage four is the adult butterfly. These generation four adults, the last generation of the summer and the only one to migrate, will soon embark on a harrowing, months-long journey to a unique pine and fir forest in the high mountains of central Mexico shared by many millions of other Monarchs. Those butterflies achieving success will have coped with rainstorms, wind, and predators, among other hazards, flying over broad expanses of land and water. Only about 30 acres in size, the destination is the same year after year.

Each Monarch starts life as a tiny egg no larger than a pinhead. In the egg are millions of microscopic cells, each containing even tinier molecules of DNA. Into this DNA is programmed the unique appearance and behavior of each of the four stages of metamorphosis. Perhaps the most remarkable programming results in the migratory scenario which unfolds each fall in Monarchs by the millions. It may be the most spectacular migratory accomplishment of any of earth’s creatures. Scientists can only point to the simple two digit DNA code of information present in all living things, and

Attributing the beauty and behavior of Monarchs to a blind evolutionary scenario is irrational beyond comprehension. How much more rational is it to accept evidence of design by an intelligent agent? Our world has millions of manifestations of intelligent design. The relationship between structure and function, one of the themes of biology, is not always easy to explain. Biologists often describe complex processes in living things, but explaining them is another matter. Therefore, the mysteries of the Monarch may never be fully known.

Psalm 104 contains creation passages of great depth. “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made the earth overflow with your wonderful creations…All the creatures look expectantly to you to give them their meals on time. You come, and they gather around; you open your hand and they eat from it…Oh, let me sing to God all my life long, sing hymns to my God as long as I live!” (Psalm 104: 24, 27, 33 The Message translation)