Blessed are the beasts and beetles
With all the problems on this Earth, at a time when people seem their most cynical and world-weary, it lifts the heart to learn of the recent discovery of ants that swim underwater, a new furry crustacean dubbed "the Yeti crab," a prehistoric rodent in Laos and a Chinese frog that communicates by ultrasound.
Maybe it's just me, but there's something enchanting and encouraging about finding new, weird species of life on our planet when so many people are locked in their own philosophical bunkers, convinced beyond all certainty that their particular flavor of God exists, or no God exists and that life can only be lived one way or another.
How can anyone be so certain they understand life, death and everything when they didn't even know the furry lobster and swimming ants have been living right under our noses for eons?
A theologian once asked a biologist what he could tell about God from his analysis of the natural world.
"He has an inordinate fondness for beetles," the biologist said.
What other explanation could there be for a creator who created more than 10,000 species of beetles, more than any other group of animals?
Harold J. Morowitz, one of my favorite writers and scientists, and whom I have been lucky enough to correspond with over the years, relates this beetle tale in his strangely named yet enthralling collection of essays, "Mayonnaise and the Origin of Life."
He points out that beetles and flies combined "have more recognized species than the entire remainder of the animal kingdom." Consider that some 600,000 species of animal are between one-tenth of an inch and 1 inch in size, while only 1,500 species (including us speci-centric humans) are between 10 inches and 100 inches in size. (Only 10 species are greater than 100 inches in size, and I bet most kids in Kindergarten could name them if they had to.)
It seems kind of arrogant, considering how outnumbered we are, for humans to claim to know just about everything there is to know about the earth, space and God.
Not only does God have a fondness for beetles, I think he's got a sense of humor. How else do you explain the platypus?
And that's why I found the discovery of the swimming ants and furry lobster so amazing. It immediately puts us in our place.
The "Yeti crab," or Kiwa hirsuta lobster, found near Easter Island, has claws covered with fine, hairlike strands, according to a BBC report. It lives undisturbed, or at least undisturbed until now, in deep Pacific thermal vents. It is named Kiwa, after the goddess of crustaceans in Polynesian mythology. (I suspect the "goddess of crustaceans" wasn't the prize most goddesses where hoping for when the celestial appointments were being handed out: "You be the Goddess of Love, you be the Goddess of Enlightenment and, Mildred, you be the Goddess of Crustaceans.")
It was in North Queensland, Australia, that scientists found ants that live underwater. A film crew was photographing insects in some mangroves when they suddenly noticed ants acting like miniature Jacques Cousteaus, diving underwater and hiding under rocks, living on trapped bubbles of air. You've got to admire that ant who first stepped out of line, put his leaf down and said, "You know what -- I'm going swimming."
It was in mountainous east-central China, according to news reports, where the ultrasonic frog was discovered. We know that bats, whales and dolphins communicate by ultrasonic sound, but who knew frogs could do it, or even wanted to? It would be nice if the tiny coqui frogs that have invaded Hawaii, which emit an ungodly piercing chirp, could learn to communicate a little more quietly.
The prehistoric squirrel-like rodent discovered in Laos does not have much going for it other than it is still around after 11 million years. It's sort of the Strom Thurmond of rodents.
But each discovery of a bizarre and previously unknown animal should remind us that we humans are getting a little too big for our existential britches. The world would be better off (and a lot more peaceful) if people would live with less moral and religious certainty and a greater sense of awe and amazement at life in general.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org