Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Garden Predators

Last week’s photograph of our 2-year old granddaughter went far beyond the usual smiling photo sent to grandparents through the modern miracle of the smartphone. Our creative photographer-son managed to snap a shot of Juliana intently inspecting a large praying mantis at close range. Apart from its fascinating appearance, the capabilities of this insect in the scheme of the garden environment is almost beyond belief. In every neighborhood are millions of diverse creatures filling roles of both predator and prey. A catalog of predator/prey relationships may enrich our knowledge of not only our gardens and many of the creatures which inhabit them, but also of the ecology of every corner of our environment.

Some observers may shrink back from the mantis with its threatening weaponry. Others, including most children, find such critters a source of fascination. Their folded forelimbs are reminiscent of a prayer-like posture. If the mantis could actually pray, he may ask for grasshoppers, crickets, wasps, or even other creatures several times his size. Tenodera sinensis is an aggressive carnivore, a common mantis species with a voracious appetite and hunting skills to match. He quietly approaches his prey and snatches it in his serrated forelegs in a sudden eye-blink thrust. Holding the prey securely, the mantis immediately begins to devour his meal.

When I was young I recollect imprisoning a praying mantis in a large jar replete with a few stalks. I supplied my new pet with several grasshoppers which shortly vanished. They became mantis meals. A study of food resources of the living things around us reveals the interdependence of various creatures for nourishment. Directly or indirectly, living things depend on other living things for food. This dependence often amounts to direct predation. Psalm 104:21 indicates that God’s plan for created predators involved providing food for each other: “The young lions roar and seek their food from God.” The Creator has authored the beauty of ecological interdependence; these insects sometimes provide food for other predators.

Returning to our description of tenodera sinensis, we must point out that the physical structure of this mantis is beautiful beyond belief. Its jointed appendages and the overall purposeful construction of its body, including its flying capability, its unique ability to turn its head up to 180 degrees and spot prey up to 20 meters distant using an incredible compound eye system, and its ability to slice up its food with its efficient mandibles—this is merely the beginning of wonders. The beauty of its wing structure and coloration may be an afterthought for young boys more fascinated with the mantis analogy to the activity of soldiers in warfare.

As a believer in intelligent design, I cannot fathom how an evolutionist could dismiss even one unequivocal example of intelligent design in the natural world. We cite the design of tenodera sinensis as an example. Our brief description in the paragraphs above does scant justice to the information personally gained by reading an entire encyclopedic entry on this order of insects. There are about 2000 other species of mantids in 15 families of this insect order worldwide.

Finally, I watched the reaction of Juliana’s brother as he played with the plastic ladder truck he received for his first birthday. In several years he might wonder whether such a complex ladder truck could assemble itself. My suspicion tells me that in a few short years my grandson may be able to understand the ladder truck did not self-assemble. An intelligent designer at the ladder truck factory designed the physical features of the toy in addition to the functional aspects of what it may accomplish. Such analogies do not possess formal scientific proof but the intuitive lesson is powerful and difficult to avoid.

When these grandchildren are even older, perhaps when they are early teenagers, they may understand, in context, verses like Isaiah 66:2 with instruction from their parents: “Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being,” declares the LORD (NIV). Parents and grandparents should pray to have a mentoring role in the deeper discoveries of their children.