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Have you ever thought about our planet's waste disposal systems?

 

Over our heads birds constantly fly back and forth. On the ground, mice, squirrels, rabbits, and various other small animals scurry to and fro. Larger animals inhabit rural areas and forests.

 

We are literally surrounded by all kinds of creatures busy living their lives.

 

This vast multitude of creatures live..... and then they die.

 

Yet, how often do we see a dead bird, a dead squirrel, a dead rabbit, a dead deer, a dead whatever? Very rarely indeed. So rarely that when it does happen it seems to be so out of place that it is somewhat troubling. Likewise when we see an occasional man-killed road animal, that too is somewhat unsettling and reminds us of how seldom we do see dead creatures.

 

Just a moment's thought about it and we have to admit - the ground should be littered with dead birds and creatures!

 

Why then do we seldom see dead things? Is it by purely by accident? Or is something rather marvelous taking place - and we don't even think about it.

 

Two alternatives

Ponder for a moment - is it by pure accident that there are so few dead carcasses to be seen? Is it by pure accident that with rare exception we can hike all day through a forest and never see a dead thing? Is it by pure accident that we can enjoy strolling a lake or ocean beach that seems in a pristine state with little or no dead litter that would spoil our enjoyment?

 

Or, could it possibly be waste disposal systems have been put in operation? Systems so quiet, so efficient, so routine, that we don't even realize they are at work? Systems so effective that the only time we might think about them is when one item has not been taken care of?

 

Are vultures part of a system?

When thinking about waste disposal, vultures might quickly come to mind. They circle around high overhead constantly seeking carrion to feed on.

 

Are vultures part of a system? Have vultures been designed for their purpose? Let's go to widely acclaimed nature scientist, author, and evolution supporter, David Attenborough (8) for an answer, "Vultures have naked heads, for they feed by thrusting their heads inside corpses and feathers would quickly become soiled by blood and guts and would become the source of infections."

 

A thoughtful example

Source (1) wrote a story about his family as they watched a National Audubon Society documentary on African wildlife. The segment was about a herd of large elephants. In the film, one of the elephants stopped and deposited a huge mass of dung on the ground.

 

We have seen similar happenings many times. But then came the penetrating logic of a child. The youngest daughter whispered to her father the question,

"Who cleans up the mess?"

 

Good question youngest daughter! One adults should be asking themselves. But instead adults too often take it all for granted and don't even exercise the questioning mind of a child.

 

You see - elephant messes are taken care of!

 

 

 

 

 

Dedicated clean-up crews at work

Those who travel in Africa report they rarely see elephant dung on the ground. There just happens to be elephant mess collectors seemingly assigned to that very task.

 

Scientists recognize the collectors and have named them dung beetles. Source (1) explains, "When an elephant deposits a pile of dung, the odor of the material attracts the beetles. Within 15 minutes of being deposited over 3,800 beetles were observed on one sample studied by scientists. Within 30 minutes this sample of over 30 quarts of dung, weighing about 75 pounds, was gone!" Does that seem like an extremely efficient waste disposal system to you? It sure does to me.

 

Further information is given by source (7). "One research team in Africa reported counting 16,000 beetles on a single elephant pat."

 

The book continues, "Entomologists have discovered that as many as 120 different species and tens of thousands of representatives of those species will converge on a single large pat of dung as soon as it is laid."

(Added Sep 19, 2008) In their book, What Bugged the Dinosaurs, George Sr. and Robert Poinar provide more information. "A mature elephant voiding up to 22 pounds - 17 times a day - can provide over 300 pounds of feces in just 24 hours. Up to 16,000 dung beetles have been reported to rush just a small 3 pound dropping, scurrying this way and that in their haste to obtain their share."

Is it possible 120 species and tens of thousands of collectors are part of a carefully designed planet-wide waste disposal system?

 

Source (1) continued, "The beetles had cut the dung into various sizes - from BB size to tennis ball size - and had buried the balls in the ground. Each ball had a beetle egg placed in it. When the baby beetle hatches out of the egg it has all the food it will need until it is able to function on its own."

 

Consider for a moment if there were no elephant dung beetles. Just four elephants produce a metric ton of dung per day. As a frequent week end visitor to two Grandpa's farms, this writer has stepped around, and yes stepped into, my share of cow pies, so I can well imagine the problems with odor, flies, germs, suffocation of vegetation, etc. that huge 75 pound piles of elephant pies all over the place would cause!

 

Why not just one?

You might think one specific beetle handles elephant dung. Not so. Actually there are over 2,000 species of dung beetles in Africa. Why so many? Wouldn't just one be enough to do the job? Source (1) tells us,

 

"Well, with so many species, each with its own habits, the dung is scattered and spread out. Some beetles bury the balls as far as three feet under ground while others go just deep enough for it not to be visible. Some beetles bury it on the spot, while others roll the ball to a distant location - sometimes as much as 150 feet away."

 

Is it also possible there has been a carefully thought out scattering plan? Not only is the ground cleared of the dung, the burying also..."fertilizes the soil at several different depths, it puts moisture into the soil that otherwise would evaporate, it aerates the soil by putting holes in it, and it provides food for the life forms that live below the soil."

 

Are we reading about a waste disposal system that is not only super efficient, but one that has other benefits than just cleaning up messes?

 

Without dung beetles

What if there were no dung beetles? Obviously they are very important to the disposal of elephant dung. The book(2), gives us another example illustrating their importance. Cattle do not naturally occur in Australia. When cattle were imported, the only dung beetles available were those handling the hard, dry pellets produced by kangaroos. The author tells us:

 

"These native dung beetles could not cope with the soft cowpats produced by the vast herds of cattle. This created problems. Because the dung was not being disposed of, it acted as a superb breeding site for the bush fly, Musca vetustissima, which is a serious nuisance to both cattle and people. The scale of the problem is huge: each cow produces enough dung annually to cover about 13.5 acres."

 

The solution? "The African dung beetle, Onthophagus ferox was imported and now helps dispose of cattle dung in Australia".

 

Source (3) gives more information about dung beetles. "One approach [by beetles] is to construct a series of branching subterranean chambers directly beneath the dung. This then lies conveniently to hand to be pulled down below and molded into a spherical, pear-shaped or sausage-like brood mass."

 

An example of small corpse disposal

The authors tell us how some small animals are handled. "A small animal corpse, such as a mouse, is the trigger for a complex suite of behaviors, usually performed by a male and female working together. .... The pair toil away to scrape and bite the fur off the corpse as they gradually inter it inside a "crypt" beneath the ground. Once safely hidden from competitors, the nice clean-shave meaty corpse can now easily be molded into a more or less globular shape, in which the female chews a bowl-shaped depression. It is into this that the larvae eventually crawl, sticking out their tiny heads and begging for food from their parent's mouths, like chicks in a nest."

 

The authors add as a matter of interest that parents and offspring communicate with a series of chirps.

 

What about large bones?

Don't worry, they have been taken care of too. The book(8) explains, "This is where the Lammergeyer's [also known as Bearded Vulture] specialist feeding technique comes into its own. Though apparently hardly nutritious, the large bones of the carcass do contain substantial quantities of marrow - but these, especially the long bones of the legs, are too substantial to be eaten whole. The Lammergeyer therefore picks them up in its feet and flies above a suitably rocky area before dropping them, if necessary time and time again, until they break."

 

"The bird uses its long, slim tongue, shaped like a narrow trowel, to scoop the marrow from the core of the bone. In fact the tongue precisely parallels in shape the marrow scoops - usually made of silver - of the last century, used [by humans] to extract marrow from the long bones when, to humans, bone marrow was a table delicacy. Other fragments of bone, with marrow attached, may be eaten whole. No matter how sharp and dangerous they seem, powerfully acidic digestive juices soon break them down."

This writer watched a fascinating video(9) that had a filmed segment where viewers could see the vulture flying off with a large bone, then seeing it smash as the bird released it from a great height.

 

How about undertakers in the insect world?

Let's look at one of the tinier creatures. Source (1) writes about a study done by Karl Visscher of Cornell University. His study shows "1% to 2% of a bee hive colony is devoted solely to the job of removing dead bees from the hive. These undertaker bees remove any bee that dies in the hive to a distance up to 400 feet away from the hive. To prove that dead bees are truly selecting dead bees,....Visscher deposited freshly killed bees and balsa wood models that resembled dead bees into a hive."

 

"Within an average of seven minutes, the dead bees were removed from the hive, but it took more than seven hours for the models to be removed...more as a nuisance evidently" So the "undertakers" were shown to be legitimately after dead bees.

 

The reasons for such fast removal are obvious. Source (1) explains,..."by removing them, the diseases from which they might be dying are also removed from the other bees. Left to rot, the dead bees could draw undesirable scavengers and fungus that could threaten the hive."

 

As we ponder which is true, evolution or creation, we might consider a couple of questions:

1) If honeybees evolved, as some say from a fruit fly - becoming a 25% honeybee, to a 50% honeybee, to a 90% honeybee, finally to become a full 100% honeybee - if this is so, at what point did the undertaker bees evolve?

2) How does the undertaker bee ratio of 1 to 2% remain so constant? Just enough to do the job, yet not too many so as to burden the hive?

3) Who, or what, selects those to be undertaker bees?

An American undertaker at work

Source (10) tells us about the American burying beetle. Although the beetle is only 1½ inches long, it scans the countryside with antennae that can detect decaying flesh one mile away!

A male will fly to the carcass at night. Then emit powerful chemical pheromones that attract female beetles. Lying on its back, and using its legs like a conveyer belt, a beetle can move a carcass 200 times its own weight!. Working together, a mated pair:

1) buries the carcass,

2) clips off fur and feathers,

3) and injects the carcass with preservatives.

(hmmmm, a tiny human-like undertaker?)

When all of that is done, the female excavates a nearly nursery in which she lays 10 to 30 eggs. Both adult parents tend the larvae, which rear up and beg for food, stroking their parent's jaws, which prompts them to regurgitate the food to the waiting larvae.

So there you have it, the American burying beetle working all around us every day to do its part in keeping our environment spick and span. But now, we have to wonder, is it happening by accident or by design?

 

A disposal system at work within your own body

Inside our own bodies are several waste disposal systems. Source (4) describes the marvelous system that heals a wound. The process includes waste disposal. The author writes, "Moving through the porous walls, the white blood cells (called "phagocytes" or eating cells) go to the diseased spot and gobble up dead cells, bacteria, dirt, and other debris. They actually digest this debris and then return through the porous walls into the blood vessels. It is a remarkably efficient, microscopic garbage and collection service."

 

Another system waiting to go to work

We all have another waste system waiting for the signal to go to work. What signal is that? In my digestive system, and in yours, at this very moment, are bacteria ready to start the disposal system the minute our death occurs.

 

The book (9) gives us more detail. "The body automatically becomes acidic upon death. Once a body stops breathing, oxygen levels of course decrease, creating the anaerobic ("without oxygen") environment microforms thrive in (in addition to the acid they love).

 

"Then the little buggers get down to work. Their one big job -one reason they are part of the normal human body - it that they are the principal "undertakers" when we die. These mycotoxins are designed to decompose our dead bodies.... Biologists call it the carbon cycle."

 

By the way, did you note the word "designed" used by the author? In addition to those internal ones, within working distance are various flies and insects ready to respond to scents that emanate from a new corpse, thus signaling them to do their job of disposal. This part of the system is so exact, so well programmed, that detective story fans, such as this writer, are well aware scientists use disposal creatures' habits to make surprisingly accurate calculations regarding the time of human death.

 

This is possible because disposal insects follow an exact and pre-determined order.

 

An article in the Indianapolis Star of April 12, 2003, quotes Purdue University professor Ralph Williams, "Anytime a body is found that has insects or maggots on it, we can be precise in determining the time of death... It's done through determining what species they are, what life cycles they have, the time of year and the temperatures."

 

In the book source (5), veteran Forensic Entomologist Dr. Zakaria Erzingclioglu explains the exact process in more detail. He notes that as time passes, decomposition progresses into certain stages.

1) First to arrive are bluebottles and green bottles who lay their eggs on the carcass.

2) The eggs hatch into maggots that feed on the dead tissues.

3) Next to arrive are beetles, that feed on dead tissues, but also on the maggots.

4) Minute wasps arrive next to live as parasites on the maggots.

5) Tiny flies will similarly arrive at various stages of decay and will leave tell-tale signs of their visits.

 

"Myriads of other creatures will arrive at various times, each to leave its mark for future interpretation by those who look into such things."

 

"On the basis of the fact that anything that changes with time can be used as a clock, the succession of insects occurring on a dead body can, in principle, be exploited as a measure of time since death."

 

At this point, let's confront some questions of logic:

1) If all creatures are in a race for the survival of the fittest, why don't all of these flies, beetles, and insects rush to a new corpse at the same time?

2) What is holding them back?

3)What makes them go only in their allotted turn?

4) And await their turn with such regularity and patience?

5) So regular and so consistent are their operations that man can devote a whole science to the study of them, and the conclusions that can be drawn from their very consistency!

6) So regular and so consistent that one researcher even calls them a "clock"!

 

What is going on here? Was there a designer/programmer who put together the arrangement of body temperature, odors, and the like and then programmed and matched those signals to the particular insect needed for each part of the job? Or, is it all by pointless, mindless, accident?

 

This writer has mentioned before the advantage our generations has over previous ones. Because we use computers, we should be able to "see" something a creator has "made" by recognizing programming when it has been done in nature, Programming is something previous generations of humans could not even begin to imagine. (For more, see my article on computers and programming in nature.)

 

How important are planet-wide waste disposal systems?

How important to us anyway is an earth that has constant waste disposal systems? Sure, it's nice to see our surroundings kept clean, but is it only a matter of appearance?

 

Source (7) answers, "There is the dung beetle, whose cleanup efforts save the planet from becoming a pigsty."

 

Source (2), agrees, "Without insects, we would be inundated with dead plant and animal material."

 

Another statement adds this, "They [insects] process more flesh than all the large carnivores - crocodiles and alligators, lions, tigers, and wolves - put together."

 

In source (6), the author says that without germs [and insects] "Before thousands of years had passed there wouldn't be an inch of ground left for plants to grow on or for other organisms to live on. The very oceans would be thick with corpses."

 

 

 

 

."

 

"Without germs [and insects], all of the Earth would soon be one great garbage dump and graveyard spinning lifelessly in space."

 

Clearly planet-wide waste disposal systems that operate continually are vitally important - even to the extent that without them we would die.

 

In summary

We have studied the following:

1) A 75-pound pile of elephant dung was disposed of within 30 minutes.

2) 16,000 beetles were observed on one pile of dung.

3) There is in place a method that brings about the helpful scattering of that dung.

4) We learned the work of dung beetles is so important they had to be imported into Australia.

5) We considered the naked heads needed by vultures as they do their scavenger job.

6) Learned in detail how small corpses, like mice, have a disposal system that goes into action.

7) Considered the bearded vulture that drops bones from great heights to break them up for eating.

8) Learned how their tongues precisely parallels in shape the narrow scoops humans used to extract marrow from bones.

9) Learned about "undertaker" bees.

10) Looked at American burying beetles that sense decaying flesh from a mile away, and are constantly at work all around us.

11) Considered a waste disposal system that operates at wound sites in our own bodies.

12) Considered the various insects that operate on an exact time schedule to aid the breakdown of a human corpse.

13) Been told by scientists that efficient waste disposal is vital to our very continued life on this planet.

 

We have just scratched the surface on this subject. It is hoped sufficient examples have been presented so readers can agree there are in fact quiet and highly efficient waste disposal systems in place all around us. So efficient and so smoothly operating we take little notice of them. But if they would cease to operate for just a few days, we would soon notice it very much indeed!

 

A final question

We have to ask ourselves, are all of these waste disposal systems the result of evolution which admittedly is:

mindless,

purposeless,

accidental chance?

Or, are they more logically the result of:

planning,

design,

programming,

an intelligent Creator?

 

Which alternative makes more sense to you?

C. Frazier Spencer

References and footnotes:

(1) Dandy Designs, Vol. I 1984 and Vol. II 1991 published by John N. Clayton, S. Bend, IN, now Niles, MI 49120.

(2) Chris O'Toole, author, published 1995 by BBC Books, London, England.

(3) Authors Rod and Ken Preston-Mafham, published 1996 by Crowood Press, Ramsbury, England.

(4) "A World Waiting to be Born" published 1993 by Bantam Books.

(5) Published 2000 by St. Martin's Press, New York, NY 10010

(6) Philip M. Tierno, Jr., Ph.D. author, 2001 published by Pocketbooks, New York, N.Y. 10020.

(7) Published 1998 by the New York Times.

(8) "Birdlife" by Jim Flegg, published 1986 by Pelham Books Ltd, London, England,

(9) "The Baking Deserts" video, 1984 by the MacArthur Foundation Video Classics.

(10) "Wild Moments" by Ted Williams.

If you want to know God, look at what he has created.

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