March 3, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Exceptional Beauty and Design in Animals

Here are four animals, some you probably never heard of, that deserve design awards for art and technology.

Glimmering sea jewels:  Ever heard of sea sapphires?  You’ll be stunned by a video clip on The Conversation about these little shrimp-like animals in plankton, a type of copepod, that Rebecca Helm calls “the most beautiful animal you’ve never seen.”  Nobody would expect such a small, common thing to be so wonderful:

Amazing FactsThe small creature is a Sapphirina copepod (or, in short, a sea sapphire). Copepods are the rice of the sea – tiny shrimp-like animals at the base of the ocean food chain. And like rice, they are generally not known for their charisma.

Sea sapphires are an exception among copepods. Though they are often small, a few millimeters, they are stunningly beautiful.

Helm has found them off the coasts of South Africa, Rhode Island, and California.  The males of the species create beautiful flashes of sapphire-blue light.  Enough of them can make the sea sparkle like a bed of jewels.  How do they do it?  Micrographs in the article show that the skin consists of about a dozen micro-thin layers of hexagonal plates organized like honeycomb.  The separation of the plates is comparable to the wavelength of blue light, about four ten-thousandths of a millimeter.  Light hitting these tissues reinforces blue reflections, but cancels out other wavelengths.  The result is brief flashes of intense blue color, separated by intervals where the transparent critters seem to vanish.  Helm is not sure if the males do it to impress the females hitching rides on jellyfish, or “to compete with one another, like jousting knights in shining armor, while the females watch on.”

Helm says there are other species that shine in other colors, from bright gold to deep blue.  Her article begins with a photograph of a multi-hued species that should win the prize for artistic use of color.  This is another case of “structural color” (photonic crystals)—color produced by geometry instead of pigment.  It has been found in widely separate animals, including birds, butterflies, beetles, and now marine plankton.

Seal acoustics:  Who couldn’t love the look of a bewhiskered, cross-eyed seal staring into the camera?  On the sides of that slick head, shown in Science Magazine, are amazing ears.  We know when swimming that we hear better in air than in water, because the acoustic environments are so different; underwater, sounds seem compressed in pitch to our ears.  The spotted seal, though, has excellent hearing in both environments.  They can hear fully seven octaves underwater, plus have “surprisingly good hearing in air as well,” comparable to cats whose range is about four octaves.  Maybe some engineer will take note of that to see how they do it.  Ork! Ork!

Tuna body heat:  Ever hear of a warm-blooded fish?  National Geographic says that marlin and tuna are able to transmit heat from their muscles to their eyes and brains through a process called “non-shivering thermogenesis.”  You can actually feel the heat with your finger behind the eyeball of a marlin hours after it has been reeled in.  “The heater organ allows the marlin to move freely from the sunny surface to the cold depths with its eyes and brain warmed and working efficiently.”  The article features Barbara Block, an expert in this process.  “In the tunas, she said, the design was even better: a countercurrent heat-exchange system that warmed the whole body.”

Rainbow frogs:  A remote national park in Peru, reached by a long drive on a dirt road, has set a record for reptile and amphibian diversity, Live Science reported.  Researchers  surveying the habitat have so far identified “a recording-breaking 287 species of of snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs and salamanders within the borders of the largely inaccessible and undeveloped reserve” of Manu National Park.  In addition, the park hosts 1,000 species of birds and more than 1,200 species of butterflies.  The video shows some frogs patterned in rainbow colors, with sharply delineated stripes.  One of the tiniest amphibians in the world, the pygmy frog could fit on a fingertip – but still has all the organs, limbs and anatomy of larger frogs.  What does a pygmy frog say?  ribbit

Whoever loves God should love His creation.  Our first job was to care for it; that job was never revoked.  His people should approach their assignment with enthusiasm, joy, and awe.  None of these articles mentioned evolution (except the NG article on tunas, one time briefly), showing that Darwinism is superfluous for real, practical biological work.  Looking at animals with a designer’s eye makes it much more fun!  Let’s help kids and teens enter science with the spirit of adventure and discovery, like exploring a treasure house that they were given to catalog and care for.  Isn’t reality cooler than a video game?



(Visited 51 times, 1 visits today)


  • John C says:

    I found the video at The Conversation particularly fascinating, not the least for the fact that the researchers apparently were so in awe of it they were struck speechless. Visit that link, people. The Little Gem will blow you away!

Leave a Reply