Mammals Worth Looking Up to (or Down at)
Furry friends around the world get respect from researchers who look at them carefully.
Giraffes: How do the world’s tallest mammals stand up safely on those long, skinny legs? Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College wanted to know. Science Daily notes that giraffe limb bones are under a lot of stress from the weight of these giants. The secret is really groovy! “Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) of London found that a supportive ligament is protected by a groove in the animals’ lower leg bones,” the BBC News reports. “This groove is much deeper in giraffes than in other animals, and the researchers say this helps the spindly-legged giants support their bodyweight.” By measuring the predicted force on the limbs of giraffes that had died for unrelated reasons, the researchers found that the animals’ limbs are overdesigned: “the limbs remained upright and stable without any additional support and could even withstand greater loads.”
Kangaroos: Trivia question: what mammal walks on five legs? The kangaroo, according to Nature. “When kangaroos move slowly, their muscular tails work as a fifth leg.” Even though kangaroos do not hail from Canada, a Canadian researcher found that “Per kilogram of body mass, the animal’s tail provided as much useful work as a single leg for a walking human.”
Apes: Do chimpanzees have a gesture language? The BBC News claims that they can use 66 gestures to communicate 19 meanings. Their voices, however, don’t seem to have anything to do with the gestured messages.
Monkeys: The diversity of facial decorations in guenon monkeys from Central and West Africa is remarkable, as this photo gallery in the BBC News illustrates. The explanation given is that this diversity evolved in order to prevent interbreeding. There are more than 25 species of guenons; their faces help keep the species distinct.
Pandas: A panda (but hopefully not its poacher) eats shoots and leaves. They’re related to meat-eating bears, but pandas live on a diet of bamboo for breakfast, lunch and dinner. How do they do it? Science Magazine explains what researchers found by observing them in the wild. The pandas roam different elevations to catch the nutritious early shoots for some seasons, and the mature limbs at other times. They get enough nutritional variety this way to sustain them. It works well, as a viral video shows how much fun they have.
Rats! Whiskers on a rat perform the same functions as fingers on a human hand, according to research at the University of Sheffield reported on Science Daily. They’re called whiskers for a reason: the little mammals whisk them back and forth to gain tactile information on obstacles and their textures, much like a human in the dark might walk with hands outstretched. Whisker sensation is not new to scientists, of course, but “until now they did not know to what extent animals were able to deliberately control their whisker movement.”
Surprising mammal fossils: A midget fossil tapir and hedgehog have been found in British Columbia, Science Daily reports. It shows that the range of these creatures was once far more vast than it is today. Live Science calls them “pocket pets.” Both were a surprise to researchers, who found them by accident and didn’t expect to see tropical and forest mammals living side by side.
How do evolutionists explain the mammals reported above?
Speaking of giraffes again, Live Science quoted lead researcher Christ Basu, who said, “I’d like to link modern giraffes with fossil specimens, to illustrate the process of evolution.” Unfortunately, Basu didn’t point to any known fossil transitional forms that would fulfill his wish.
The fossil discovery in Canada was called an “evolutionary experiment,” without acknowledgement that experiments are normally conducted by intelligent design. As for how these complex, well-adapted mammals appeared there in small stature, they didn’t say.
As for ape language, “the gulf remains,” one primatologist said. While thinking the research was “commendable in seeking to fill the gaps in our knowledge of the evolution of human language,” Dr. Susan Schultz of the University of Manchester found the results “a little disappointing” in her opinion. “The vagueness of the gesture meanings suggest either that the chimps have little to communicate, or we are still missing a lot of the information contained in their gestures and actions,” she said. “Moreover, the meanings seem to not go beyond what other less sophisticated animals convey with non-verbal communication.” Perhaps she was thinking of crows.
As for the guenon monkeys, one researcher trumpeted, “This is perhaps the strongest evidence to date for a role for visual signals in the key evolutionary processes by which species are formed and maintained, and it is particularly exciting that we have found it in part of our own lineage.” (BBC) It’s not clear, though, why the monkeys would prefer not to hybridize or interbreed, if they all began as members of the same evolutionary branch. The researchers assumed that geographic isolation led to the differences, but that’s a controversial hypothesis in the face of mounting evidence for sympatric speciation (speciation within the same geographic population). Either explanation begs the question of speciation.
Observers may wonder what to think about Robert Dudley’s hypothesis that drunken monkeys gave humans a thirst for booze (PhysOrg). That’s what his new book, The Drunken Monkey, Why We Drink and Abuse Alcohol, tries to argue:
So, I hypothesize that social facilitation of communication and food sharing and all these bright warm fuzzy feelings we get when we have a drink have basically evolved to facilitate rapid identification of fruit at a distance – you smell a plume, go upwind, and you get to the fruit. Fruit flies do it, we just don’t know if primates do or not. But they might. And once you get the fruit, you consume as much as possible before others do, or you share it with your close relatives, which is a well-documented behavior. The positive psychoactive effects of alcohol may simply exist to enhance the efficacy of these behaviors and, ultimately, they are the targets of natural selection.
It’s not exactly clear why a drunken monkey would bear more offspring, or how drunkenness would be coded in genes that would make some humans (but not all) want to get drunk today, ostensibly tens of millions of years later. Note: Dudley grew up in a family with an alcoholic father.
Even the strictest Biblical creationists like Ken Ham believe that quite a bit of diversification of mammals has occurred since the Flood just a few thousand years ago. Answers in Genesis’s Creation Museum in Kentucky argues that the original created kinds did not look like any of the animals we see today. After the Flood, animals dispersed and diversified to a remarkable degree according to programmed variability God built into each kind. The difference between that and Darwinism is that programmed variability is not a blind, purposeless, unguided process. It’s like pre-adapted software that could deal with a variety of new situations. We should not be surprised, therefore, that guenon monkeys exhibit such diversity today. On Noah’s ark, according to the Biblical interpretation, just one pair of each kind would need to be taken aboard. The built-in programmed variability would serve the descendents well as they spread out over a drastically re-formatted world. This is not mutation and natural selection; it’s a form of intelligent design that illustrates God’s forethought and planning for robustness against environmental perturbations like the Flood.
The evolutionary interpretations stated above, by contrast, rely on storytelling about what blind, unguided processes “might” do. In science, actual evidence is preferred to speculation. If critics of Genesis become picayunish about “species” verses “kind” we remind them that the word species means kind in Latin. It was used by Linnaeus, whose goal was to delineate the original created kinds. Today, creationists do not believe that species correspond to the created kinds, but that’s just a matter of categorization; some kinds are species (e.g., Homo sapiens), some kinds are probably genera or families.