Why we are here:

Our signature Bible passage, the prologue to John's Gospel, tells us that Jesus (the Logos) is God and Creator and that He came in the flesh (sarx) to redeem His fallen, sin-cursed creation—and especially those He chose to believe in Him.

Here in Bios & Logos we have some fun examining small corners of the creation to show how great a Creator Jesus is—and our need for Him as Redeemer. Soli Deo Gloria.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A fast, cold trek on the penultimate day of 2008

I admit it—I’m not a big fan of winter hiking, in the woods or anywhere else. I don’t think my body is well adapted for it. I shiver; I turn various shades of red, purple, blue and mauve (never have been sure of what mauve is exactly, but it was probably in my epidermal palette today).

But on this penultimate day of the year, I made a quick jaunt around the trail at the Celery Farm—well, actually, I made it about a third of the way around, climbed Pirie platform, was hit by frigid wind gusts and turned back. I think one of the reasons for making the trip on December 30th is that I just like the word penultimate—sounds sophisticated.

Along the (short) way, I did click the shutter of the 40D a few times and was thankful for the image stabilizer on the Canon 100-400L and its ability to minimize the effect of my shivering and quivering.

Of course, I’m exaggerating here—it was an enjoyable, if attenuated little trek. The air was bracing and the Celery Farm always, even in the dead of winter, offers some enjoyment of the Creation and photographic opportunity.

After getting home and warming up—maybe even before warming up—I snatched the CF card from the camera, cussed the computer for its repeated error messages, and managed to get some jpeg files into a folder. Then, as is always true with my amateurish photography, came the fun part—making lemonade out of some pretty photographically rotten lemons. A few of the results appear above, for what enjoyment or criticism they may bring.

The chorus line of gulls (they certainly would fail in Rockettes tryouts) all aligned into the prevailing wind, was the only bird life evident (at least to my non-birder eyes) in or around Lake Appert. A few flew in and left during my brief visit, so I know at least a few were not frozen in the ice.

Ice is nice, especially when coming or going—offers some intriguing postmodern patterns and subtle pastel-ish hues (OK, I did un-subtle-ize some of the hues just a tad). And combine it with rocks and logs and it makes for something moderately interesting to stare at. In fact, it can be absolutely fascinating. Don’t get me started on the unique properties of water and our total dependence on them (the properties, that is). The Creator done it right when He invented the stuff.

Bark is nice, at any season—texture, texture, texture! It’s not just cork!

Of course, most everything (besides the gulls) is in a dead or dormant condition in late December, so to see a flash of green was a thrill. How those honeysuckle leaves manage to look like they’re actually doing some photosynthesizing is beyond me. But they sure look healthy and crisp (not in the same way my hands and toes were by that point in my walk).
Now I conclude, before the midnight chime strikes and the day is no longer the penultimate.

Enjoy staring for a while—and don’t forget Who made it all and sustains it even in the midst of a cold New Jersey winter. Happy New Year!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Finished (mostly)!

Here we are. Gifts are wrapped (mostly)—if what you call what I do wrapping. Well, what do you want? I didn’t have any (w)rap music to listen to while doing it. (By the way, if anyone is peeking, those tall green things are definitely not alcoholic.)

The minimalist decorations are up—with the smallest tree you’ve ever seen. No, it is not my custom to display a big organic conifer, ever since Willy the cat died around 1955. You see, it was Willy’s job to find exactly the same spot on the white sheet under the tree on which to sleep, every Christmas for fourteen years—and to knock the same ornaments off with his vertically oriented tail. So ever since, out of respect for Willy, I have enjoyed other people’s trees but have kept my decorations simple and inorganic.

And the cards are mailed, mostly, later than ever. With regards to addressing envelopes and signing cards, I am not a procrastinator; I’m a PRE-crastinator. I make up my mind in advance that I’m going to put it off until even past the last minute.

With all that said and done, it’s time to relax and reflect on the real meaning of the season. Let’s remember that the first Christmas gift was a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, rather than brightly colored paper. And that that gift was laid in a feeding trough made of wood that He Himself had created
(See John 1:1-3) . And let us remember that, thirty-three years later, that perfect gift gave His life on a tree—and that, unlike my procrastinating performance, His timing was perfect, as it always is and ever shall be-- and that, if we bow the knee to Him as Savior and Lord, we are wrapped in the white robes of His righteousness (wrapped around our still sinful flesh.)

So let’s take some time to read about these important matters, in books written by those who were there—you know, those guys whose names begin with M, M, L and J.

My imperfect Christmas wrapping and mailing plans are finished (mostly) and God’s plans are finished (mostly). His perfect sacrifice on Calvary
finished His plan of salvation of those He came to save, (Matt. 1:21); but His final gift, that of returning for His people, is yet to be given. But it will be— soon!
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Day Late and a Connection Short!

It’s getting dangerously close to a month between blog posts—and past my promise to escape from the political and to get back to the biological and theological. So here’s a little something.

Last Friday was Members’ Night at Fyke Nature Association. It was a fun meeting with eight or nine members presenting small sets of photos or other bits of handiwork related to nature. There were some outstanding examples of photography and even videos of Celery Farm birds.

For my part, I did a little study of Queen Anne’s Lace and its various stages of development, with a bit of comic relief at the end, showing a couple of pictures of a not-too-favored bird, the European Starling. I Introduced those images with a statement about the total non-connection between the two species, Daucus carota and Sternus vulgaris.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, I missed the perfect opportunity to make a connection between the two. You see, the very next day I was doing some additional research on Wild Carrot for a little book I am trying to get finished—and up pops the tidbit that starlings (at least in their home continent) actually line their nests with the leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace! It seems that the plant produces a natural insecticide that kills the mites that habitually infest starling nests. What a great segue that would have made!
Yep, It was indeed a day late and an educational opportunity lost. But at least I learned one more fact about the amazing intelligence with which the Creator has endowed His creatures, as well as the advanced biochemistry degrees He has awarded to all plants. And learning something new about the Creator's wisdom is always a blessing.

You learn something new every day. If you don’t, you’re probably dead. Check your
Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, November 08, 2008

On the other hand...

The Obama Victory Party
As the truth continues to sink in that the President-elect has gained his position by nefarious means and that he has the shadiest background (and we most likely don’t know a fraction of it) of any president in the history of the Republic, The Lord pushes our sinful little heads into His Word and commands us to pray for the man.

First, He guides us gently to
I Timothy 2:1-6. Then, lest our prayers be prideful and self-serving, He inexorably moves our fingers to I Peter 2:13-20 , rubs are noses in the truth of the passage—and leaves us without excuse.

Yes, we are to pray for the man. We are to pray that God may soften his heart, remove the veil, show him the truth of the Gospel (which he certainly wasn’t exposed to in his former liberal, black liberation-centered “church”) and draw him to repentance and salvation. And we are to pray that God would use this man to the furtherance of His glory and honor, to bring undeserved blessing or rightly deserved judgment upon our land.

But that doesn’t mean, from the position of citizens of the United States, we shouldn’t hold the man responsible for his actions and see his character for what it is. We should pray that God would enable us to see the irreparable harm to our nation that an Obama presidency may cause and lead us to do all we can to mitigate that harm.

Will we ever get back to the pleasantries of this blog? After all, the theme of Bios & Logos is all about beauty, rather than ugliness. But even in its beauty, there is an ulterior (or rather, superior) motive: to leave the reader without excuse.
(Romans 1:18-20)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Genesis 3 in Action

I couldn’t find an image in my collection of looming clouds; the image of ominous ground fog will have to do to illustrate the following.

I know that we are all supposed to say gracious, politically correct things when one side wins an election. Indeed, the loser and the President have done their duty and made those statements. Be those statements sincere or not, their duties have been performed.

But let’s face the fact that the citizens of the United States of America have just elected a Marxist charlatan to the highest office of the land. Great crowds cheered the victory. Did you see the Hammer and Sickle flags and tee shirts in the crowd? Wonderful! Moral relativism and postmodern deconstructionism have won over biblical truth—but only temporarily, of course. Ultimately, truth will win (Romans 8:20-21), (Philippians 2:9-11). The second chapter of 2 Thessalonians should also be considered.

Let us pray that the system of government devised by the founding fathers will work to hold the power of all three branches of government in check so that irreparable damage is not done to the republic, to the Constitution, to the institution of holy matrimony, to the lives of millions of pre-born babies, as well as to other timeless principles.

Kyrie eleison!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Huge—and all-important—Side Trip

The term “creation” involves more than the usually limited scope of this blog and its focus on “natural theology” or how created things, such as bugs and posies reflect the Creator’s design. So to start off November (what happened to October?) I will plunge into dangerous waters—waters so important that the very future of the United States of America is at stake.

The first and second chapters of Genesis describe the creation of all things and especially the creation of Man and Woman in the image of God. All of creation was pronounced “very good.” But things didn’t stay very good for very long. Genesis 3 relates Man’s fall into sin and the resultant curses on the creation. Suffering, disease, death, environmental degradation ensued and have ordered the creation ever since (held in check by God’s sustaining power, grace and mercy).

So that fallen Man would not destroy himself and the creation, God instituted human government. Throughout history, various forms of governance have been tried: tribal leadership, kingdoms, dictatorships, communes. Some have held societies together for a time, but most eventually have failed.

Our founding fathers, rebelling against tyranny, cobbled together an experiment, partly based on English law, but, more importantly, founded on Holy Scripture, with which colonial culture was infused. In the formation of our experimental government, a form of representative republican democracy, this bunch of adventurous young men incorporated (either consciously or by way of the culture of the time) two Biblical principles: the imago dei (man created in the image of God) and the fallen nature of that image. The combination, worked into the Constitution, was intended to ensure God-given inalienable rights and some limits on those rights to hold society together in light of fallen human nature and its tendency toward sin and discord.

The experiment has worked, through many trials and near failures, for more than two hundred years. It has been, by any measure, the form of government that has produced more blessing for its citizens—and for people throughout the world—than any other in history.

On November 4th, the work of the founding fathers will be put to what may be its biggest test, the most crucial presidential election in the history of this young republic. Its citizens (hopefully most of the voters will be citizens) will make a selection between two men as Commander in Chief:

A man whose entire life, from childhood on, has been infused with duty, honor and country, and who has given his life to service and leadership.
A man whose entire life, from childhood on, has been infused and saturated with Muslim schooling, liberal education, and close associations, over much of his adult life, with radical socialists, Marxists, black liberation theologians, a crooked Chicago slum lord, dirty Chicago politics, as well as with an organization that is creating havoc with the registration and election processes. And this man has brushed aside, obfuscated and outright lied about these associations throughout his presidential campaign. He also broke his promise to use public financing for his campaign, thus allowing him to collect obscene amounts of (largely untraceable) cash to spend on big productions, advertising and infomercials. An important bit of reading can be seen here .

In addition (and directly related to the subject of the inalienable right to life) this man is a radical supporter of abortion (all nine months and beyond). Click here
for absolutely essential reading in this regard.

Most of the talk of late has focused on the economy. That is certainly an important topic. Peoples’ lives are being affected. But the economy will get fixed, sooner or later, with or without bungling government interference. Money is useful but temporary--Character lasts forever.

What won’t get fixed, or perhaps even survive, if we make the wrong choice, is the very character of the republic. And since our nation has largely abandoned the biblical base upon which it was founded and has abandoned itself to economic and sensual “blessings” rather than true blessings from the Creator and Savior, I have real doubts that Tuesday’s decision will be a sound one. In the last analysis however, the decision is in God’s hand. He, the Potter, uses us, the clay
(Romans 9:21-23) to the ultimate end of His glory and honor. Will His decision be one of much deserved judgment or totally undeserved mercy?

Perhaps, after November 4, one way or the other, this blog will get back to picturing some of God’s creative wonders. After all, there is still beauty in this world, but only by His incredible grace and all enduring mercy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Little Side Trip

I thought it would be good for a change to take a side trip away from the usual photo essay format of this blog and share a few items I’ve found particularly interesting or relevant. Be sure to click on the links to go to the related articles.

The most dangerous place to send your child:

My freshman orientation week at what was then called Montclair State Teachers College a half-century ago consisted of silly things like wearing a red beanie called a dink, learning the Alma Mater and maybe some non-memorable ice-breaking activities. It was somewhat intimidating to a shy eighteen-year-old—but non-life threatening. For several years now, after hearing horror stories about campus life today, I have often reflected on the thought that college might be the most dangerous place to send your child. College campuses have become in many cases dangerous physically, emotionally, philosophically and most of all, spiritually. Click here to read an article that makes the case. The author’s book might be a good investment if you have a child near college age.

Dino Classification Chaos:

In this blog I often poke some fun at over-zealous plant and animal taxonomists and even nature lovers who care more about picky species identifications than just enjoying plants and animals for what they are—fantastically complex and beautiful creations. I did it in the last post about goldenrods. Last year I lambasted botanists for messing around with one of my favorite plant genera,
Eupatorium . If biologists can get into trouble with presently existing species, imagine what paleontologists can do with extinct ones. A recent post in Creation-Evolution Headlines has many important implications, especially about what science can and can’t and shouldn't try to do.

21st Century Reading:

I finally yielded to temptation and bought an Amazon Kindle . It’s a reading device about the size and weight of a paperback book. With it you can buy, download wirelessly and read over 170,000 books from Amazon at prices much lower than the paper versions. The screen is different than a computer screen (it’s called “e-paper”) and much more comfortable to read. I can read for much longer periods without eyestrain than I can a paper book. I have begun to load the Kindle with theology, biology and some lighter material. I think the thing will eventually pay for itself, but I’ll have to maintain some budgetary discipline. To paraphrase old Senator Everett Dirksen, “$9.99 here and $9.99 there—and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

One of the fun books I’m reading now is
The Book of Animal Ignorance with strange facts about everything from aardvarks to worms. Maybe I like it for its writing style, which is about as quirky as mine.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that the 2.4 billion ants in a square mile of rain forest weigh more than four times as much as all the local mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians put together. Or that an eagle’s feathers weigh more than twice as much as its bones.

You learn something new every day!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Solidago sp.

Having recently completely blown a pretty easy plant identification based on seeing photographs, I have taken a solemn vow never to go there again—and that plant wasn’t even a goldenrod.

Adding “sp.” after a genus name may be a cop-out, or it may mean that differentiating between and among species of a particular genus is difficult, impossible—or maybe just not worth the effort. When it comes to the 60+ species of goldenrods indigenous to the northeast, I’ll go for Solidago sp. almost every time. Life is too short. Yes, there are many fairly easily distinguishable species—but life is still too short.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy the goldenrods. They are 18K treasures in God’s jewelry armoire and we appreciate them far too little. After all, their foliage throughout the summer may appear somewhat weedy and may be easily confused for other really weedy plants. And since most species wait until late summer or fall to show off their floral finery, they have by then damaged their reputation as genuine “wildflowers.”

Another problem for our admiration of the Solidago group is that when they finally bloom, we tend to see them as mere bunches of yellow stuff, especially when we encounter massed displays in the middle of a meadow or field. That’s like looking at the ocean from a hotel window or like bird watching through the wrong end of your bins!

So dare to get cozy with the Solidagos—real cozy. Take a hand lens with you. Go ahead. Stick your nose right in there. OK, there might be a bee or a wasp doing the same; but that’s what flowers are for, after all. The bees won’t bother you—they’re too busy lapping nectar and packing pollen. Most wasps are friendly, too.

If I haven’t convinced you to go up-close goldenrod gawking in vivo, the included photos should offer a somewhat satisfying substitute. Wow! They are actually really flowers! They look like miniature daisies! Well, that’s what they are—members of the Composite family, with ray flowers and disk flowers. Each bunch or spray is like a delivery from
www.proflowers.com --but you don’t have to pay extra for the vase—and it lasts longer!

Never be satisfied with seeing “bunches of yellow stuff”—with leaving God’s gold shut up in the armoire.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Now that’s a bug—Really!

Yes, really. Whoever first nicknamed the VW beetle a bug was obviously not an entomologist. Beetles are beetles; bugs are bugs; never the twain shall meet. Actually, the car looks more like a beetle, like a ladybug, which is a beetle. So who were the better entomologists, the namers or the nicknamers? Is this getting confusing? Maybe we should ask the Beatles, who were clever enough not to spell their name like insects but after their rhythmical musical genre, which changed popular music for all time--probably for the worse.

I think we had better get back to the bug.

The pictured handsome guy is a bug, an Hemipteran. He’s flat across the back and has that shield shape, due to the fact that his forewings are half leathery and half membranous. That’s what makes him a bug. Of course, there are other differences as well. This guy has piercing-sucking mouthparts; beetles usually chew.

In my curious youth, I carried a relative of the pictured specimen, a big Hemipteran called a Wheel Bug, in the car on a family trip. I put a couple of moths in the jar with it and watched as its piercing-sucking mouthparts reduced the moths to powder in a matter of minutes. Mom and Dad were thrilled.

The photograph pictures one of the “leaf-footed" bugs, for reasons that may be obvious. Its genus is Acanthocephala—why do insects usually have names longer than their bodies?

Now that I’ve driven you buggy with this buggy drivel, I’ll just say so long for now. Don’t let the bedbugs bite—and yes, bedbugs are real bugs, although they are not as buggy in appearance as our typical pictured specimen.

Now I’ve gotcha itchin’!

Theological lesson? If it weren’t for sin and its consequences, maybe we would have only friendly vegetarian insects. Just a thought.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Plants are simply amazing—but not simple!

Click here to read an article about just one of countless examples of plant biochemistry and how plants use other creatures to do their bidding. It will also introduce you to one of the most amazing websites I have found. David Coppedge and his staff (I have never been able to figure out how many he has helping him with his site) do an amazing (there, I used that word again) job of cutting through the baloney and logical fallacies in scientific articles whose authors take Darwinian theory as proven fact. Dr. Coppedge works for JPL (Jet Propulsion Labs)

For future reference, a link to Creation/Evolution Headlines is included in the “Links to Good Stuff” over to your right. Check it often. I think you will find it....ing!

Friday, August 29, 2008

May I use your phone? —my car broke down…

The pictured duo may look like refugees from an Orkin® commercial. (If you haven’t seen a recent Orkin commercial, the title of this post undoubtedly has you baffled.) But these chitin-clad beauties will probably not be ringing your door bell or eating your house. They could be building their own papier-mache houses under an eave, in your mailbox or in any other semi-concealed cranny. Polistes is the name—paper nest making is their game.

If I have them taxonomically pegged, the top photo is of Polistes dominulus, while the bottom bunk is occupied by P. annularis. They are two of the twenty or more species of paper wasps found in the U.S. While P. annularis is a native species, P. dominulus found its way to Massachusetts from Europe, in some modern version of the Mayflower, somewhere around 1980. In less than thirty years, it has colonized most of the continent. It’s just one more of those unfortunate alien species stories with which we have become so familiar. P. dominulus, while mostly harmless, has probably displaced some native wasps. By the way, although it resembles a Yellow-jacket, it is larger, and it doesn't particularly enjoy picnics like that pesky little hornet does.

Paper wasps are voracious predators, attacking leaf-munching caterpillars, making them beneficial to gardeners—except when it involves the larvae of our favorite butterflies. Of course, the adults don’t eat the caterpillars; they sting them to paralyze them, then take them back to the hive, chew them up and spit them out for the benefit of their babies. Adult wasps are limited to a liquid diet of nectar, honeydew (secreted by aphids) and even liquid food upchucked on cue by their babies. That is the downside of having a wasp waist (the envy of every human female) and digestive organs located in the abdomen—nothing but liquid gets past the constriction.

There must be a lesson or two in here somewhere, at least for the Christian reader. Maybe it’s “don’t be a wasp-waist Bible reader”. Yes, meditate on the Word. Chew on it—but be sure you digest it for yourself before trying to share it with others. That works. Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Swamped by the Mallows

Jim & Patty's Swamp Mallow (Jim's photo):
Researching the Mallows:
Swamp Rose Mallow at Phair's:
Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris):

Fellow blogger Jim Wright recently posted a photo of a “swamp mallow” that his wife planted a couple of years ago by a stream near his back yard. It is producing brilliant red blooms this year. It got me thinking--is this the same species as the “swamp rose mallow” growing at Phair’s Pond? That clump of plants, growing almost in the water, is producing pale pink blossoms—and its leaves are different from Jim’s plant, which seems to be the Halberd-leaved Rose Mallow.

Well, that little mystery sent me rifling through three books and a passel of websites before I came to a few tentative conclusions about the matter:

1. Common names are often confusing (a pretty well known fact).
2. Even Latin names can be confusing!
3. Color means almost nothing in these Hibiscus species (Look at the computer screen shot—all pictures of the same species!)
4. Botanists are often in disagreement about classifying closely related species.
5. I might be completely (in the words of General Honore) “stuck on stupid” when it comes to trying to identify any of these plants.

Now let’s see if we sort out these plants. First, it’s all about the Genus Hibiscus—or maybe not. Some of the plants called “Mallows” belong to this Genus, but not all of them. Both the Wright plant and the Phair’s plant do. But they are obviously of two different species. I say this because of the leaves—two entirely different shapes.

Jim’s name, “swamp mallow” is probably a safer (and acceptable) choice for his wife’s persistent plant than anything including the word “rose”, because roses these Hibiscuses ain’t. That’s where common names can become particularly misleading. I suppose the Hibiscuses reminded someone of the Swamp Rose, Rosa palustris, a fine specimen of which we had blooming near the Pena Bench earlier in the summer. Well, its flowers are big and pink; but that is pretty much where the resemblance ends. So whoever named those mallows after a rose should be ashamed.

To add another layer of confusion, there are other “mallows” that don’t belong to the Genus Hibiscus, the most famous of which is the Marsh Mallow—and I haven’t had one of those roasted over a campfire in a long time! No, seriously, there is a real plant called the Marsh Mallow. In fact, the campfire treats originally were made with a gummy substance from that plant. Oh, I never knew that!

Marsh Mallow, Althaea officinalis, is an alien plant, native of Africa and Europe, pink-flowered and furry of leaf. And for economic reasons, cheaper substances, like galatin, are now used to make marshmallows.

It is one of the Hibiscus species from which carcade, a healthful herbal tea
(Here's an interesting article) is made. Mussolini tried to get the Italians to drink the stuff. I think his penchant for insisting that the trains run on time had some connection with carcade—a connection that completely escapes me at the moment. Let your imaginations go--imagining.

Well, enough of this marshmallow fluff for now. If I started in on the confusion in the Latin names of some of these plants, you would be tempted to put me on a stick and roast me.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shall we gather at the Asclepias incarnata?

As August races toward its final weeks, flowers are transitioning to fruit, and seeds will soon be flying or being carried to new places to put down roots. Wind, birds and mammals are helping. The milkweed clan is no exception, but no seeds are flying just yet.

While at least two of the other milkweed species
(See this earlier post) are proudly plumping their puffy pods, the Swamp Milkweed is still in florist-fresh condition and attracting pollinators and nectar slurpers. For more than a month, insects of at least four Orders have enjoyed exploring and sipping from the plant at the end of Phair’s Pond Path.

Last year, I blabbed about insect wings and how they are used to classify insects into their Orders. Now, how about looking at the antennae, which may not be as Order-definitive, but are no less fascinating. The problem with antennae is that they are generally small. But blowing them up via photography can help us enjoy them.

Skippers are strange in many ways
(See a post from last year). They are generally some shade of brown, with yellow and russet highlights, less gaudily colored than some other butterflies; and they are rather hairy, more mothy than butterflyish. And their antennae are special as well. Moths generally have feathery antennae, while butterflies have matchsticks. Skipper antennae are matchstickish but with a little hook on the tip, as you can see—well, barely—insect antennae are hard to get in focus!

Obviously, the Longhorn Beetle’s antennae give it its name, while the oversized yellow feelers of the European Paper Wasp look like they would make the insect top-heavy. Nothing too special about the antennae of the Small Milkweed Bug, except for their many segments—and for the fact that all insect antennae are special both structurally and functionally.

If you want to get buried in insect antenna structural terminology, go
here ; and if you want to get really buried in the details of insect antenna development, go here .

Functionally, insect antennae are not radio aerials. Beetles can’t tune into a station featuring old Beatles hits. No, insect antennae are noses, that is, olfactory organs. And as noses, they are extraordinary. They are best at detecting pheromones (sex attractants), enabling males to zero in on females, often from great distances (the most famous example is the male Luna Moth’s ability to detect pheromone concentrations in the parts-per-billion range up to five miles away from the female that has secreted the hormone.)

We have prated at considerable length here and have included more links (some just silly) than a
Jimmy Dean sausage :) So you can click on them all and learn a lot, as I did, or you can just enjoy the photos.

But, as always, I remind us that insects are fantastic engineering miracles, not the product of some sort of “goo to you, by way of the zoo” blind evolutionary process! Sorry, Charlie D. Modern biology has made sausage of your theory.

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, August 15, 2008

Seedy Free Verse (Does it have legs?)

At the seedy centipede spelunker convention,
All crowded around the mysterious sinkhole.
Staring into the inky abyss, they pondered—
How deep? How deep?
We must explore!

Or as seedy (or maybe indehiscent fruity?) haiku:
Seedy centipede spelunkers.
Mysterious deep sinkhole.
Must explore!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

At the end of its bloomin’ rope

The Moth Mullein grew unusually tall and gangly this year, its single flower stalk topping out at a yard or more. But it retained its habit of distributing its unusual flower buds equidistantly and opening them only one or two at a time, starting at the bottom and working upward, day by day.

As of August 13, it’s almost the end of the line. I see only one or two flower buds above the bloom of the day. And such a flower—such a bud! As you can see, there is nothing “standard” about either—a cabochon ruby bud opening into a blossom with strange, feathery sex organs.

But it’s the fruit that takes the prize for alien mien. To the naked eye, it may look like a cute little marble, but attack it with a macro lens and—that’s just weird! (Don’t anyone light that fuse!) But it’s beautiful even in its weirdness.

To be fair, much plant material reveals strangeness under magnification. Veininess and hairiness are standard equipment in various parts of many plants, all designed to transport, protect and serve in countless ways. Those gland-tipped hairs on most parts of the mullein most likely keep chomping insects at bay.

In a way, it’s probably a blessing that the Creator hasn’t given our eyes the resolving power of macro lenses. Our relatively fuzzy vision allows us to see superficial beauty undistracted by functional weirdness. And the thought of someone turning a pair of macro lenses on us is not a pleasant one. Those magnifying vanity mirrors are bad enough.

On second thought—and a much more important one—there is a macro lens—one with omniscient resolving power—focused on us 24/7. Read
Psalm 139 . Yikes! That’s why we need a Savior. In fact, for those who don't know Jesus Christ as Savior, this psalm should be absolutely terrifying! To His sheep, it is pure comfort and helps keeps us humbly in line behind the Shepherd. What a great pride killer!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bipolar Flora and Fauna

(Click on the picture to lift your mood.)

Actually, the title has nothing to do with mood swings, but rather with the fact that both the pictured bee and plant are friendly at one end and deadly at the other.

In the honeybee, the bipolarity is easily perceived. This worker bee is sipping nectar from which to make delicious honey—for the hive and for us. At the other end, however, her modified ovipositor is ready to inflict pain, inflammation—and for the allergic, threat of death.

The plant is the Spotted Knapweed. What could be bipolar about a scrawny, insignificant-looking weed? Even the flowerhead, enlarged and beautified in the photograph, is actually small and far from being a showcase in the meadow. But at least it is secreting some nectar for the benefit of bee nutrition.

It’s the “other end” of the knapweed that provides the "depressing" side of the story. Its roots secret a deadly herbicide called catechin to kill competing plants, allowing the knapweed to take over acres of ground, including grazing land for cattle.

So what seems like a simple flower and bee story turns out to be a veritable biochemistry textbook! Here are some of the main characters:

*Anthocyanin pigment in the flower petals, used to attract the bee. See
Queen post for some anthocyanin chemistry.

* Nectar secreted by glands in the bases of the knapweed florets as a reward for the bee. It consists of simple sugars (monosaccharides), including glucose and fructose, as well as a small percentage of sucrose (disaccharide), a host of minerals, enzymes, volatile oils and vitamins. Nectar is very dilute, but back at the hive it gets concentrated to less than 18% water content by evaporation (worker bees beat their wings to death doing that).

*Catechin, secreted by the roots of the knapweed. It’s a natural herbicide that is as effective as 2,4-D
(See here) and is used by the knapweed to kill its competition for space. The question is: why doesn’t the stuff kill the knapweed? The plant is clever enough to secrete the compound as fast as it makes it, not allowing it to build up its own roots—and by blocking its re-entry. There is a tremendous amount of sophisticated cell physiology going on. The other side of this story is that there are different forms of catechin. The other forms include wonderful anti-oxidants found in tea! Here is a health food store’s worth of information.

*Apitoxin (bee venom) secreted by glands in the tail end of the bee, consists of a complex mixture of proteins and is similar to snake venom. It causes local inflammation and is an anti-coagulant. When as little as a tenth of a milliliter is injected under human skin, it causes pain, blasphemous utterances—and in the approximate 1% of victims, who are allergic, anaphylactic shock and possible death. Of course, the pictured friendly honeybee is not likely to attack (The only time I have been stung by a honeybee is when I stepped on one). It’s another story with Yellowjackets and White-faced hornets!

What a
Gilbert's Chemistry Set of diverse compounds is produced by cells in the two ends of two of God’s creatures! What blessings and curses the minor tweaking of molecular structure may produce! What stories may be told of biology before and after Man’s fall into sin and the resultant curses, as related in Genesis 3!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, August 04, 2008

As mad as what?

Note: in the remodeling of the Blog, the introduction referred to in this post has been removed. But I think the essay has some enduring interest, so it remains.

I suppose it’s about time that I attempted an explanation of why, in the introduction to this “nature” blog, I would attribute a paraphrase of a line in a nasty 1976 movie to the Almighty.

The movie is Network, and the original form of the oft-repeated compound sentence has become almost idiomatic in our increasingly crass and angry culture. You can see the scene
here (with French sub-titles, of all things). Warning (as if any were needed)—coarse language. Notice how nothing much has changed since 1976!

The question is, is God really as mad as hell?

Well, the word used in Romans 1:18 is wrath. It’s a translation of the Greek word orge, which has meanings ranging from violent passion to righteous indignation and abhorrence. It certainly doesn’t mean “mild annoyance”! It means that God is furious at sin—all sin.

The particular sin condemned in Romans 1:18 and following is Idolatry—intentionally suppressing the truth that God created everything—and worshiping the creation in place of the Creator. It is that sin that is alluded to in the blog introduction. But ancillary to the sin of idolatry is that of attributing the work of the Creator to merely “natural” causes.

Suppose that you were to exert your time, talent and energy to produce a beautiful oil painting. Then suppose I were to view your work and pour compliment after compliment on the painting and its beauty—but then make an off-hand remark that the painting looks as if it had been produced by accident—maybe you had some help from a series of careless paint spills.

What an insult!

That is the principal point of the blog introduction. If we admire the Creator’s handiwork and then attribute it to mindless Darwinian evolution, the True Artist is bound to be offended.

Of course, there is more—much more—to Romans 1, and indeed to the first three chapters of Paul’s epistle, in which he condemns the whole human race as hopeless, spiritually dead sinners. Pagans, moralists and religionists (and that includes all of us) all get the bad news—in preparation for the Good News of the once and for all perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary for the salvation of all who would place their trust in Him.

You can read the whole thing at
BibleGateway.com You have your choice of a zillion different translations. Read and be amazed.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, July 28, 2008

Queen pricks her finger whilst tatting!

…and that, according to the fable, is how the exquisite lace doily of Daucus carota got a single dark red (or blue) floret as the centerpiece of its umbelliferous inflorescence.

The queen was Anne of Denmark, of course
(See biography) and the plant is the Wild Carrot, the same species (but different sub-species) as our orange root veggie.

I have spent several hours in the past couple of weeks photographing this amazing plant in various stages of demonstrating its tatting talent. So some separate posts will certainly be required to do justice to the development of the blooms. But this time I want us to think together about that tiny central blossom.

How does this plant “know” how to make one pigmented floret in the exact center of a sea of white? And how does it know how to synthesize those complex anthocyanin molecules and pour them into the central vacuoles of the cells of that one floret? It’s genetically programmed, of course. But saying that is letting us off far too easy. The following description of the biosynthesis of anthocyanins should convince us of the complexity of the process:

Anthocyanin pigments are assembled like all other
flavonoids from two different streams of chemical raw materials in the cell:
One stream involves the
shikimate pathway to produce the amino acid phenylalanine. (see phenylpropanoids)
The other stream produces 3 molecules of
malonyl-CoA, a C3 unit from a C2 unit (acetyl-CoA). These streams meet and are coupled together by the enzyme chalcone synthase (CHS), which forms an intermediate chalcone via a polyketide folding mechanism that is commonly found in plants.
The chalcone is subsequently isomerized by the enzyme chalcone isomerase (CHI) to the prototype pigment
Naringenin is subsequently oxidized by enzymes such as flavanone hydroxylase (FHT or F3H), flavonoid 3' hydroxylase and flavonoid 3' 5'-hydroxylase.
These oxidation products are further reduced by the enzyme dihydroflavonol 4-reductase (DFR) to the corresponding leucoanthocyanidins.
It was believed that leucoanthocyanidins are the immediate precursors of the next enzyme, a dioxygenase referred to as anthocyanidin synthase (ANS) or leucoanthocyanidin dioxygenase (LDOX). It was recently shown however that flavan-3-ols, the products of leucoanthocyanidin reductase (LAR), are the true substrates of ANS/LDOX.
The resulting, unstable anthocyanidins are further coupled to sugar molecules by enzymes like UDP-3-O-glucosyl transferase to yield the final relatively stable anthocyanins.

More than five enzymes* are thus required to synthesize these pigments, each working in concert. Any even minor disruption in any of the mechanisms of these enzymes by either genetic or environmental factors would halt anthocyanin production.

*Enzymes, large, three-dimensional protein molecules, are far more complex than the anthocyanins they are responsible for synthesizing.

We all understood that, right? Just think how long it took very smart biochemists, working in million-dollar, government-funded laboratories, to work out those biochemical pathways! And we are expected to believe that “nature,” given millions of years, figured out how to do it by a long series of DNA-damaging accidents and natural selection!

Right—and we are all just “lucky mud.” Probability theorists would tell us that the "Queen Anne's lace-making boo-boo tale" would be infinitely more likely than any evolutionary just-so story in explaining the existence of the magical Daucus carota "blood spot"-- or even one of the machine-like enzymes necessary to make it!

(Note: click on the photos to magnify the magnificence of the Queen's work.)

Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Monarda Musings

The meadow is ablaze with Wild Bergamot! Well, maybe not ablaze, unless the blazes are gas flames—but even that doesn’t quite describe the pale, lavender-ish color of Monarda fistulosa blooms. Whatever the tint, there is a lot of it in the meadow in July. The bees are happy!

We have three Monardas showing off at the Celery Farm. To see the other two, you’ll have to mosey off to the Butterfly Garden. It’s worth the trip. The showstopper is, of course, Monarda didyma, called Bee-balm or Oswego Tea. It’s red—very red—intensely red—like no other! Unlike some of my photos, I didn’t adjust or try to boost the color. You can’t intensify intense!

If Oswego Tea is too strong for your taste and Wild Bergamot a bit washed out by comparison, maybe you will prefer the Purple Bergamot, whose complexion seemingly is achieved by mixing the other two paint colors. Its scientific name is perfectly descriptive: Monarda media.

Don’t limit your Butterfly Garden visit to Monarda musings. The faithful garden ladies have planted and cared for a floral phantasmagoria, designed to attract fluttering Lepidopterans—but we humans are certainly allowed to admire the beauty and fragrance of this special place. Rest a spell on the bench.
(Click on the pictures to make them even more phantasmagorical.) Note: the photo of the garden scene was taken well before its prime season--July is much better than June.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Appreciation of Asclepias

It’s mid-July, if you can believe it! The flowering season for the Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is through, and the plants have entered one of the least attractive periods of their life cycle. Shriveled, brown remains of their once glorious flowerheads hang dejectedly, perhaps reflecting on the inefficiency of their clever pollination scheme. Of the dozens of blossoms making up each umbel, only one, two—rarely three—have been successfully pollinated. Those successes are now evidenced by the presence of small but growing seed pods (technically “follicles”). These puffy, rubbery nurseries will continue to grow, then dry, ultimately to release hundreds of parachute-equipped, wind-borne seeds come fall.

As Asclepias syriaca finishes blooming, other representatives of the Genus take over—at least three at the Celery Farm.

On your walk at Phair’s Pond, rest a moment on the new Carlos Lopez bench. As you look toward the pond, you will see at water’s edge a small stand of A. exaltata, the Poke Milkweed, with its loose, drooping umbels of whitish, magenta-tinted flowers. It’s a smaller, more delicate species than its more common relative.

Further along the Phair’s Pond path, several specimens of Swamp Milkweed, A. incarnata, will catch your attention. Their intense pink-purple color and the intricate engineering of their typical milkweed floral design will demand your close examination and appreciation. You may even meet a dapper, chitin-clad longhorn beetle while you are admiring the flowers. The Pirie Platform area is another good spot to see this amazing plant.

Just coming into bloom in mid-July is perhaps the most brilliantly colored of the milkweeds, A. tuberosa, the Butterfly-weed. Look for it in the Butterfly Garden and later on in the Wildflower Meadow.

Visit the Celery Farm soon, while the Asclepias show lasts—or at least enjoy the small gallery of photos presented here—all taken within the past week. (Click on each photo to enjoy its full detail.)

And as always, I will remind us all to give all glory to the One Who very intelligently designed these plants and Who upholds them in spite of the curse that sin has brought on His creation (Romans 8:19-22).