June 7, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Marvelous un-Darwinian Mammals

Some familiar and unfamiliar mammals share their secrets of extreme adaptation and survival.

The Mongoose that Confounds Conventional Wisdom

Americans may only know about the mongoose from Rudyard Kipling’s stories. Now, National Geographic has provided a delightful look at these snake-hunting, sociable, family-oriented mammals of sub-Saharan Africa, with some surprises for evolutionists. Did you know that unrelated adults mentor the young, teaching them the skills they will need?

“The same pup will stay with the same adult day after day after day for about two months until the offspring can find its own food,” says Michael Cant, an ecologist at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Wales.

How these bonds form is a bit mysterious, but it seems to be “a two-way street,” Cant says. A pup will follow an adult around, and the adult occasionally stops to check that “the right pup” is following. Some pups follow only one adult, while others will follow more than one.

Reporter Liz Langley tells a Kipling-like just-so story of her own, speculating that “Escorting may have evolved because learning diverse methods of foraging can reduce competition within the large groups that banded mongooses live in.” Next, however, her expert says that these cute mammals break the rules:

Cant has been studying mongooses for 23 years, and says that part of their charm is “they reliably do everything wrong”—confounding conventional wisdom about animal behavior.

Camel at AIG petting zoo. Photo by David Coppedge.

The Camel Mammal that Enjoys Eating Cactus

Another fascinating mammal is the camel. In another National Geographic piece, Elaina Zachos explains “This is How Camels Can Eat Spikey Cacti.” Don’t try this at home; humans lack the specialized hardened palate with tough papillae that allow camels to pull this trick off. A video clip shows how two pet camels named Baby and Nessie do it. “The animals’ tough, flexible lips move over the food, and each half of their split upper lips wiggle independently to get close to the vegetation.”

They don’t seem to mind the tough thorns of prickly pear hardly at all; they relish the fleshy leaves so much, they put up with the discomfort that would send us humans to the emergency room. Owner Alex Warnock, an Arizonan fascinated by camels, says, “They just seem to love it.” But do we really need Elaina’s Darwin sermon?

Other animals, including humans, have papillae. Ours are positioned under the taste buds on our tongues, but they’re much smaller than those found on camels due to evolutionary adaptations and a different diet. Many fish-eating birds, reptiles, and fish have papillae throughout their gastrointestinal systems, as well.

If this were a law of nature, Indians of the desert would have evolved camel lips and papillae to enjoy the same diet of cactus.

The Fossil Mammal that Is Not Half-Reptile

When Fox News Science spread a rumor that “Discovery of ‘reptilian-mammal’ fossil could rewrite history,” Mindy Waisberger at Live Science hastened to issue a correction, “No, This Tiny Beast Is Not Half-Mammal, Half-Reptile (But It’s Still Super Cool).”

Cifelliodon (Jorge A. Gonzalez). The mammal stood 3 inches tall and weighed 2.5 pounds.

The mammal in question is Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch. It lived during the Cretaceous period, she says, and belonged to a group that was closely related to mammals. But the artwork looks pretty mammalian.

A small, furry animal with a blunt snout and beady eyes scuttled across what is now eastern Utah some 130 million years ago. And while the wee beast was surely unusual and fascinating, there’s one thing it was definitely not: half-mammal and half-reptile.

Headlines about the recent find have described it as though it were some bizarre hybrid of reptile and mammal. But while it might be amusing to imagine a beast with the front end of a lizard and the rear end of a rat, it’s not very scientific.

With that settled, what makes it “Super Cool”? Waisberger struggles to relate it to reptilian ancestors, saying that this “haramiyidan” was not really a mammal, but was closely related to mammals. To do so, she points to reptilian characteristics it retained, like egg laying. That, however, makes the duck-billed platypus a living fossil. Many of its abilities seem beyond the reach of Darwinian natural selection:

In life, the newly described haramiyidan had a long tail, teeth that could slice and crush vegetation and tiny eye sockets that suggested its eyes were small and its vision was poor. However, its olfactory bulbs were unusually large, hinting that it relied heavily on its sense of smell, according to the study.

Anyone who has watched Illustra Media’s animation of salmon olfaction in the film Living Waters should immediately conclude that to think olfaction evolved is tantamount to believing in miracles. The rest of the evolutionary claims about this mammal come to a show-stopper at that point alone.

Instead of attributing everything to blind evolution, Randy Guliuzza has a better idea. In ICR Acts & Facts this month (June 2018), he continues his series on “engineered adaptability,” explaining how the foresight of intelligent design made animals able to switch on pre-programmed changes that allow conforming to changing environments. “Adaptive changes are purposeful, not random,” Guliuzza explains with examples, logic, and challenges to Darwinism.



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