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.


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