Bonded bird behavior in same-sex partners: what does it mean?
Many bird species establish monogamous life-long relationships, but is it boy-meets-girl or boy-meets-buddy? Zebra finches normally pair bond, so Dr. Julie Elie’s team at UC Berkeley raised sixteen male finches together to see what would happen.
The birds paired up in eight affectionate nuzzling, preening pairs. After the boy-bonds were established, the team introduced the birds to female finches. Five of the eight pairs ignored the females. Elie says the results reveal “Relationships in animals can be more complicated than just a male and a female who meet and reproduce.”
There was no experimental female group, so whether females would pair-bond is unknown. But, “Female [albatross] partners copulate with a paired male then rear the young together,” Elie said. Elie’s study did not report that these finches mimicked any sexual behavior.
Despite many headlines suggesting a homosexual hurrah—“gay finches,” “homosexual alliances,” “gay birds as faithful as straight pairs,” and “bro-mance”—several journalists have honestly acknowledged the folly of leaping to conclusions about the sexuality of birds or anthropomorphizing them. After the hubbub over male-male penguin pairs—many of whom later went on to have heterosexual relationships—these remarks are refreshing.
Journalist Bob Yirka, for instance, commented, “Though the authors mention the types of activities the bird engage in once they form bonds, no mention is made of whether the male birds attempt to mate with one another, a rather critical factor it would seem, in labeling the birds as homosexual, rather than as just life-long pals.”1 Tim Wall’s assessment warns against applying our cultural stereotypes to animals, saying, “In situations like these, humans are quick to put their own sexual definitions on animals.”
“A pair-bond in socially monogamous species represents a cooperative partnership that may give advantages for survival,” said Elie. “Finding a social partner, whatever its sex, could be a priority.”
Raising these social birds without access to female partners pushed them to form some kind of bond. Having a buddy could provide a survival advantage as evolutionary thinking demands, or it could just be an instinctive need for that species. But boy bird bonding should not suggest that latent homosexual tendencies are somehow a natural form of behavior that should be accepted as normal in humans.
The existence of gender diversity and apparent homosexuality in nature has become a hot topic for some who argue that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable. Yet human beings are not animals. We are created by God, in the image of God, and are subject to the moral standards He created. We don’t condone theft and murder because animals rob and kill each other; neither should we adopt our sexual standards from the animal kingdom.
Another living fossil emerges from deep time.
Dubbed Protoanguilla palau—meaning “first eel”—this little eel is prompting a redrawing of his family tree. Discovered in western Pacific caves 35 meters deep, the eel seems like a patchwork from the eel time machine.
The U.S.-Japanese team reporting in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B2 writes, “In some features it is more primitive than recent eels, and in others, even more primitive than the oldest known fossil eels, suggesting that it represents a ‘living fossil’ without a known fossil record.”
Protoanguilla palau combines many features unique to the 19 living eel families with characteristics found only in eel fossils from the Cretaceous layer. But because P. palau also possesses some “primitive” features found in neither extant nor known fossil eels, the team concludes it resembles the common ancestor of all eels.
The researchers have compared not only the morphological characteristics but also the mitochondrial DNA of P. palau with other eels. Using that information, they have determined its place on their phylogenetic tree of eels. They have used molecular clock assumptions to calculate the time other eels would have required to acquire enough mutations to diverge into various types of eels. They calculate that other eels diverged from P. palau 200 million years ago.
We do not know how many kinds of eels God originally created, but the 820 species of eels we see today (plus extinct fossil forms) descended from the original eels. Reshuffling of the original and mutated eel genes has produced eel diversity.
P. palau may well be much like an original created kind of eel. The presence of its features in so many representatives in the fossil record and the living world certainly suggest that possibility.
The assumptions underlying the molecular clock calculations, however, remain faulty. Molecular clock interpretations depend not only upon a certainty of common ancestry but also upon assumptions about mutation rates. They further depend upon the belief that the fossil record depicts a series of eels which developed from each other. Even when there is similarity within genomes, common descent is unproven as the Creator could well employ the same genes in more than one created kind. Even though the eels are still eels, we cannot be certain which of the eels in the fossil record represent created kinds and which are varieties of eels descended from them.
Biblically we have an eyewitness account that assures us the earliest appearance of P. palau’s ancestor was about 6000 years ago. It is exciting to discover a living creature which may be similar to the original eels God created.
Plesiosaur harbors a paleo-obstetrical surprise.
Stored in the basement of a Los Angeles museum for twenty years, a rock encased fossilized plesiosaur waited to hatch her surprise. When Luis Chiappe and Frank O’Keefe began chiseling, they found a set of large bones and a set of miniatures.
As they sorted the bones, they realized that the smaller bones were of the same species but incompletely ossified, a finding typical of a fetus. Since there were no bite marks on the smaller bones to suggest the baby had been lunch, O’Keefe and Chiappe were convinced they had a pregnant plesiosaur.
Another marine reptile, the ichthyosaur, has been memorialized in the fossil record in the act of giving birth,3 confirming that those reptiles did bear live young. But “This is the first known pregnant plesiosaur. It demonstrates that the plesiosaur gives live birth and did not crawl out on land [to lay eggs]. It puts this 200-year mystery to rest,” said Dr. O'Keefe. “The really interesting thing is how big this bouncing baby is. It's really large by reptilian standards, by human standards, by any standards you use.”
The mother is 15.4 feet long, but her 5-foot long fetus was “not ready to be born; it’s about two-thirds done,” O’Keefe explained. “It would have been a couple meters [6.5 feet] long by the time it was born.”
The extreme immaturity of the flippers suggests to the researchers that the baby plesiosaur would have still required maternal care at birth. “That's what really strikes you about this baby, how not ready for prime time it is,” O'Keefe added. While suspecting that this plesiosaur would have nurtured its baby as marine mammals and some lizards do, he acknowledges, “When you get right down to it, behaviour doesn't fossilise, so we are stuck trying to make these inferences using modern animals where we can observe their behavior.”4
Evolutionists believe that marine reptiles, like marine mammals, evolved from terrestrial ancestors. However, the suggestion that both also evolved social behavior is a bit of a leap for some paleontologists. Others think it was possible, saying the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods had more stable environments than the earlier Triassic, allowing an evolving species to survive despite bearing only one offspring.
From a biblical perspective, we need to realize that all of these layers in the geologic column speak of the very unstable time of the global Flood. Those layers don’t tell us the story of how reproductive strategies evolved. The fossil record also does not reveal whales or plesiosaurs evolving from land-based ancestors. God created the swimming creatures on the fifth day of Creation week, each fully equipped to swim and to reproduce after its kind. We know that whales nurture their young. Based on this pregnant plesiosaur, we now can say that at least some plesiosaurs bore live young. And if they nurtured those young, we are confident that behavior was also instilled by their Creator, not evolved due to a stabilizing Cretaceous world.
Can three walk together and evolve into one?
Mealybugs—dubbed “wooly aphids” due to their rapacious appetites for plant sap—are setting symbiotic records. The citrus mealybug (Planococcus citri) hosts a bacterial symbiont (Tremblaya princeps) which has its own bacterial symbiont (Moranella endobia). The larger bacterium (T. princeps) has the smallest genome yet discovered. And these nested symbionts have a tag-team approach to metabolism which renders them completely interdependent.
The nesting-doll arrangement of these dual symbionts was discovered in 2001. Discoverer Carol D. von Dohlen and microbiologist John P. McCutcheon have teamed up to seek out the symbionts’ secrets. T. princeps has the smallest genome on record with only 121 genes. (Humans have 20,000 to 25,000.)
Neither bacterium could survive without the other. Each is missing some crucial genes. For instance, T. princeps is unable to make the transfer enzymes used to carry amino acids when proteins are being built.5 Thus their metabolic pathways crisscross, requiring the transfer of various molecules back and forth between the bacteria.
The metabolic network may also involve the mealybug. Aphids, like the mealybug, often have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. The bacteria manufacture amino acids that the insect is unable to get from its sugary diet.
Many evolutionists accept the endosymbiotic theory developed by Lynn Margulis. They believe that protobacteria were consumed by other unicellular organisms but, instead of being digested, remained and became mitochondria and chloroplasts. These cellular organelles have some DNA of their own. Symbiogenesis adherents go on to explain that these protobacteria lost some genes over millions of years by transferring them to the host cell’s DNA. Thus two became one.
Evolutionary microbiologists are excited about the mealybug team because they believe they are seeing evolution in action—namely, the process by which symbionts transfer genes to each other as they merge to become one organism. “How bacteria become organelles is something we don't understand so well, because our only examples are millions of years old,” a protist expert in Vancouver commented. “This study ... gives us an opportunity to look at how it's unfolding.”
Symbiogenesis, even from an evolutionary point of view, has problems.6 First of all, the original organisms would have to be already self-sufficient, not needing the merger to survive. Second, mechanisms would have to evolve to transfer cellular products from the main cell to the organelle before the proto-organelle could survive its gene loss,7 but until the genes were transferred to the host cell, there would be no survival advantage to cause selection of the new merger.
Incidentally, Dr. Margulis developed the theory of symbiogenesis because she does not believe that there is evidence mutations can accumulate to produce new species or that there is evidence of gradual changes in the fossil record.8 Her theory that evolution happens by mergers of organisms to create new ones puts her at odds with many mainstream evolutionists.
Nothing about these amazing new discoveries suggests or proves evolutionary symbiogenesis resulting in the formation of mitochondria and chloroplasts. Bacteria which lack sufficient genes to survive on their own may have been designed that way by God in the beginning, their role in the world being to enable other organisms to survive.
Alternatively, some symbiotic relationships may have developed after the Fall with its curse and some in the wake of post-Flood environmental changes. As Answers in Genesis molecular geneticist Dr. Georgia Purdom comments, “Gene loss within the endosymbiotic bacteria may have occurred (or may still be occurring) as a result of the formation of these new symbiotic relationships.”7
Creationists don’t deny that genomes and organisms can change. But like Dr. Margulis, we see no evidence that accumulated mutations can produce new species. As she says, “Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn’t create.”8 Citrus mealybugs are still mealybugs, and these bacteria are still bacteria. Given the highly successful interdependence and the procreative propensities of their pesky landlord, they’ll likely continue to demonstrate the value of cooperation for us for years to come.
Did giant insects seek or shun a high oxygen atmosphere?
The fossil record contains super-size versions of a number of creatures, including insects such as the giant dragonfly. Since no seagull-sized dragonflies fly the skies today, many wonder why they grew so large. A common idea among evolutionists and some creationists involves the presumption that giant growth was fueled by an atmosphere far richer in oxygen than ours. Wilco Verbeck and David Bilton have attempted to reconcile insect gigantism with the toxic9 effects of hyperoxia.
Verbeck and Bilton examined the effects of hyperoxia on stonefly larvae. Like dragonflies, juvenile stoneflies live in the water. They found that high levels of oxygen were far more detrimental to juvenile stoneflies than to air-breathing adults. Larvae are less able to regulate gas exchange than adult insects.
Larger larvae have a smaller surface area-to-volume ratio. Since oxygen intake by the larvae is related to their surface area, the researchers believe that larger larvae would have a survival advantage. The result: giant insects.
Hyperoxia is thought by many to have enabled giant insects to get by on smaller quantities of air, given the physical limitations of insect respiratory systems.10 Evolutionists generally believe the early earth had no oxygen because oxygen would have been toxic to the biochemical building blocks of life. Following the evolution of photosynthetic organisms, they believe the world became oxygenated. They maintain that Carboniferous coal swamps drove atmospheric oxygen up to 31-35 percent.10
Some creationists have espoused the canopy model, suggesting the pre-Flood earth experienced a massive greenhouse effect due to a vapor canopy. A hyperoxic atmosphere is a part of some versions of that model—as well as some other models. However, the canopy model has not held up to either scientific or biblical scrutiny. Answers in Genesis along with many creationists do not consider it a viable model, but we always want to encourage researchers who continue to examine the issue.11 We do not at present accept the idea that earth necessarily had an exaggerated level of atmospheric oxygen. Furthermore, the idea that earth once had no oxygen is not borne out by geological findings.12 Biblically we know that God provided the earth with oxygen early in the Creation Week—plants would have been producing it on Day Three and animals would have needed it to breathe by Day Five.
We cannot know for certain whether the pre-Flood atmosphere differed from our own—or, if so, to what degree. The global Flood and its aftermath may well have altered our atmosphere in some way. We cannot be dogmatic about differences. But we know that high levels of oxygen do have several detrimental effects.
Some have suggested that higher atmospheric oxygen was the cause of longer lifespans in the pre-Flood world.13 They suggest that people lived longer and some animals grew bigger because of the hyperoxia. However, genetics and physiology better explain the dramatic drop in post-Flood lifespan, accelerating the effects of the Curse on mankind.14
We do not have to invoke high oxygen levels to explain the existence of giant insects. Normal variation of some created kinds may have simply included gigantic varieties. Perhaps the climate changes in the post-Flood world were too stressful for many animal varieties that tended to grow large. With more extreme winters and shorter growing seasons, smaller varieties may have reached maturity and reproduced more successfully within the seasonal constraints. Natural selection would have then eliminated the larger varieties.
Thus while the current study tells us something about oxygen toxicity to larvae, we cannot assume the cause of insect gigantism has been uncovered, since there is no good reason to insist the world once had a hyperoxic atmosphere. We also cannot be dogmatic about the cause of gigantism or the extinction of those creatures. The idea that gigantic varieties of creatures were stressed out of existence by climate changes in the wake of the global Flood is a biblically consistent explanation. Even so, there may be other explanations yet to be thought of, and multiple factors may have been involved.
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