Saturday, May 20, 2023

Insect Multiplicity

 Many young children are naturally fascinated by insects—their intricate morphology and their unique capabilities. We recall many past adventures with our own children and young grandchildren in our yard and in our neighborhood. We have referenced many insect behaviors in our past blog posts, including ants, digger wasps, cicadas, praying mantises, walking sticks, grasshoppers, and monarch butterflies including their larvae, the milkweed caterpillars. We were thankful for these experiences which triggered a powerful sense of wonder in our children.

Your blog author’s 5-year old grandson is a case in point. He is fascinated by the healthy natural wonders highlighted in many YouTube videos available online. In the past year his interests have transitioned from dinosaurs to sharks to snakes to a current fascination with ‘insect wars.’ Most of these videos highlight the ever present need for food to nourish and sustain not only insects but all living creatures. They call attention to many insects’ predatory search for food. God’s instruction for mankind from Genesis 9:3 stated, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” Food is at the top of the list of physiological necessities for living things along with air and water.  

Before I agreed to access YouTubes similar to the Monster Bug Wars feature noted above, I questioned our grandson if the predatory insect wars videos distressed him. He responded with a definite “No.” We have discussed Bible passages such as Job 38:39-41 and Job 39:27-30 and other scriptural teachings that God provides food for the sustenance of all living things He created.

God extravagantly provides food for all living things on Planet Earth. Concepts such as the food chain and the food web allude to living creatures’ acquisition of food common to all living things. Predatory activity is a vital component in the necessary flow of energy to sustain life’s activities. Healthy ecosystems depend on adequate nutrition for all living creatures. Human thriving is ultimately dependent on a healthy insect population.

Insects are the base of the food chains we may have studied in our science classes. The bad news is that many species of insects worldwide are declining in numbers. Statistics vary between 40-70% decline, but some alarming estimates report that biomass of insects is decreasing up to 2% per year worldwide.  

Beneficial insects comprise a great majority of insect species. According to various data sources, the percentage may be as high as 97%. We cite only three examples. (1)  Bees are probably the most beneficial insect species owing to their ability to pollinate food crops. (2) Beetles are natural decomposers comprising 90% of all insect orders on the planet. The human population could not survive without an adequate food supply. Neither could humanity be comfortable without a natural ‘beetle clean-up committee!’ (3) In terms of our appreciation of beauty, the much publicized Monarch butterfly supplies profound joy for our population. The disturbing news is that the migrating Monarch species has declined more than 80% in the last three decades. This is due to reduced habitat; specifically, milkweed plants on which the Monarch larvae feed. We frequently read reports of the hazards of agricultural pesticides and herbicides which may be responsible for the decline of the Monarch population. 

In the midst of bad news we report that CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) which destroyed many honeybee hives several years ago is much improved. We posit that in terms of human food sources, this recovery is highly significant. We must work to sustain healthy ecosystems. Knowledge of insects, far and away the most prolific form of life on our home planet, causes us to rejoice at God’s wisdom in creating diverse life on our unique planet.

We close with a few statistics on insects. An incredible 900,000+ different species of insects have been catalogued, but uncatalogued species of insects exceed that number by multiples. Insects belong to the phylum arthropoda, the most common of 36 animal phyla. Arthropods include various classes, including insects—the most numerous worldwide class of arthropods by far. Insects compose over 80% of all life forms on Planet Earth. The remaining life forms provide startling diversity. A study of these taxonomic groups supplies a biological treat for those observers who wish to study the subject of worldwide animal species diversity.

Estimates of the numbers of insects existing on Earth range up to 10 quintillion—1 followed by 19 zeroes! At any time there may be up to 200 million insects for every human on the planet. Insect biomass is 17 times the biomass of all humans on Earth. 

We recall many times in our experiences with children and grandchildren, whether field explorations or watching YouTubes, when we vocalized the concept that “God had great ideas!” We are reinforced in that concept when we study insect diversity and multiplicity.




Friday, May 5, 2023

Seasons and Cycles

In early May Earth residents are about half way through the annual seasonal weather cycle. Observers in northern latitudes experience rising temperatures, longer day lengths, increased plant growth, enlivened wildlife, and general optimism concerning changes resulting from these seasonal cycles.

Two Old testament books are our personal favorites commenting on cyclical phenomena—the Book of Job and the Book of Ecclesiastes. In our past Science/Faith blog entries, we have stated that the Bible is not a textbook on science, but Bible references to cycles in nature are spiritually thought-provoking. Bible authors cite observable cyclical phenomena about which there can be little disagreement.

Bible authors such as Job and Solomon possessed superb powers of observation. Both authors commented upon many cycles related to weather. It is possible to identify hundreds of cycles in our environment. The discipline of science is inexorably related to cycles—predictable events or phenomena which recur or repeat. The writers of the books of Job and Ecclesiastes made numerous scientific observations, many related to ubiquitous cycles in the world of nature.  

We begin by highlighting the outcomes of Earth’s orbital cycle. Our planet returns to its position on its elliptical orbit each year. This is the epitome of a cycle. Our elliptical orbit generates many other cycles, including the repeating cold to warm to cold cycle of Earth’s annual temperature. This repeating phenomenon has been in place for countless millennia. Embedded in the cycle of variable temperatures are other cycles: shorter day lengths, then longer, followed by shorter. Especially in middle latitudes of our planet’s two hemispheres, lengthening and shortening day lengths with concomitant rising and falling temperatures give birth to cycles of plant dormancy followed by productivity, then harvest and a return to dormancy once more. These interlocking cycles result in increased food production impossible if temperature and day length cycles did not prevail. The Creator of Heaven and Earth designed various climate zones from which we harvest great quantities of food- producing crops.

This 2017 post discusses deleterious effects on Planet Earth without well-defined seasonal cycles:

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author, called the Preacher, Teacher, or Quester, is accurate in his description of cycles. He discusses astronomical cycles of the sun  rising, setting, and returning to its place, along with circulation of wind: “…Around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.” (Eccl. 1:6b ESV) Most impressive are descriptions of Earth’s water cycle in Job 36:27-28 and the first chapter of Ecclesiastes. God “draws up the drops of water”—a citation of liquid water from streams, lakes, or the ocean which first evaporates, later condenses back to liquid water and finally falls as rain. Water vapor is always invisible. Clouds, fog, and mist are composed of small droplets of liquid water. Each small droplet contains thousands of tightly packed molecules of liquid water: H20. When these droplets disassemble, the water molecules break apart and become a vapor, but the vapor is still H20 in its chemical composition. Raindrops fall back to earth. Water has completed its cycle. Many everyday phenomena function effectively because successful cycles repeat over and over.   

Bible authors did not understand the force of gravity in the pre-scientific age in which they lived. The author of Job, however, understood the effects of a force holding astronomical bodies together. Job 37:31 speaks of binding the chains of the star cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the belt of Orion—a clear citation of knowledge of astronomy in Job’s day. David Guzik in Enduring Word Commentary comments on Job 38:31: “Job probably understood the arrangement and patterns in the starry sky, yet he could not even begin to explain the natural forces which governed this arrangement.” In our 21st century science we credit the gravitational attraction of the Sun and Planet Earth for holding the Earth in a predictable gravity controlled cycle.

The Lord Himself in Job 38:32 asks, “Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season?” This term almost certainly refers to the apparent annual cyclical movement of celestial constellations across the sky. This predictable cycle of constellation movement is ultimately due to the force of gravity enabling the consistent orbital path of Planet Earth. Readers may review this link to our past post:

God’s creation is orderly and coherent. He has established numerous cycles in order to make human life more satisfying and enjoyable. Authors of Scripture often highlight divinely designed features of our inhabited world.