Look at the Queen

The bee in the photo is the titanic. Two other bumble bees of the same species would not equal the size of this one.DSC_0039ed

This bee is a queen. If no one else is watching you could bow. She is a queen two spotted bumble bee.  There are some reasons why at least a fast salute to this sizeable queen would be appropriate.

First, she is a seasonal marker. When the queen comes out bumble bee work is nearly finished. Flowers blossoms are fewer. Freezing temperatures are near. The queen marks the change of season.

Next, she is a survivor. In the next days she will dig a hole in the ground her size. Her nest cavity will not be deep usually less than 6 inches. In this nest she will hibernate. She will survive winter temperatures of -25 F or -31 C often colder.

Have you saluted yet? There’s one more thing worthy of mention. The male bumble bee who mated with her will die likely before frost come. So will all of the worker bumble bees of her colony; and the old queen who began the colony last spring. All will die. She will live. She holds the future spring 2019 colony in her abdomen. One bee carries the next year’s colony.DSC_0059ed

You don’t need to salute. Know this, a queen bumble bee is an extraordinary creature.

Yesterday we called what happens with bumble bees a superior life plan. It is certainly efficient-and effective. God has made all of His creation this way.

God has a Superior Life Plan for humans. This plan includes the forgiveness of all your sin, and mine…all the sins of every human. This plan includes the infinite grace and mercy of God. He favors us with forgiveness we do not deserve because He is merciful. This Superior Life Plan is free. Jesus bought it for us when died on the cross. It is perfectly effective, and completely effective. The Superior Life Plan of God has no ending. This plan provides life forever-eternally.

It seems logical doesn’t it? God could create the bumble bee to mark season change. He could create the physical body of all queen bumble bees to survive subzero temperatures for months. He could design her body to preserve the next generation. Could God devise a way to give all humans a Superior Plan for eternal Life?

Look at the queen…and see the King of Kings.

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Every Heartbeat

Every Heartbeat
 
This is about the heart. Break it down to a purely physical description, and describe it as “a hollow muscular organ that pumps blood through the circulatory system by rhythmic contraction and dilation.” This is a start. There is significantly more to a heart. More physical detail helps. In humans there are 4 chambers, two atria, and two ventricles. A normal sized heart is comparable to a human fist and weighs about 10.5 ounces.
The average human heart rate is 60-80 beats per minute(bpm). DSC_0027ed
 
To understand the significance of the human heart rate let’s compare them with animal heart rates. A hibernating groundhog rate is 5 bpm. The Blue Whale 8-10 bpm. Horses have a bpm of 28-40. A mouse has a bpm of 450-750.
 
Invertebrate hearts are very different physically from humans. Insects are known to have an open circulatory system. Their internal organs “float” in blood. Insect blood is called “hemolymph.” Insects hearts are found in their abdomens. Usually there is a tube at the top of the insect’s back which has holes to take in the “hemolymph” and pump it towards the head.
 
Large insects like the bumble bee use the muscles of their wings to increase heart rate and blood flow and warm their bodies on cold mornings. This makes bumble bees important pollinators. They begin pollinating earlier in the day and continue longer as evening temperatures ground other pollinators. We do not know the heart rate of insects. Yet a honey bee flies at a rate of 15 mph and will travel up to 3 miles to collect plant nectar. Its heart rate must be elevated after such exertion.DSC_0023ed
 
What causes human hearts to beat rhythmically, steadily night and day for an average of 79 years? Do you ever need to tell your heart to beat? Medical science identifies the sinoatrial node as the “heart’s natural pacemaker.” This tiny cluster of specialized heart cells send electrical impulses which produce a heart-beat. It works for a lifetime.
 
Now the question behind what causes the heart to beat. What causes the sinoatrial node to send electrical impulses? DSC_0018ed
 
Have you ever taken your pulse, or placed your hand over your heart and felt your pulse? Yes, diet, stress and exercise impact heart health. But our hearts function a lifetime, and we have little to do with it. It’s really a miracle. My favorite shepherd who also was a king, David said of God, “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) God knows your heart. He made your heart and knew how many times it would beat-before you were born. That’s how powerful, how wonderful God is.
 
There is great comfort in this. Your heart beats free at no charge for you-all of life. God does that for you. God directs the sinoatrial node to function.
 
This is also about the heart that lives beyond death, your soul. He knows the number of your days. He knows the sin in your heart for each of those days. He did something for us about that. He sent His Son Jesus to clean our soul-heart, the eternal heart, from sin which separates us from God.
 
Consider the words of the shepherd/king once more, “From his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth— he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.” (Psalm 33:14-16) God is in the heart business, yours and mine. He’s the ultimate expert in hearts.DSC_0045ed

Life Food

A walk outside is worthwhile. It is time spent wisely, and a slow walk in a wild place often yields surprises.
 
Two dear grandchildren needed something to do. In my naturalist voice, I said, “Let’s use our eyes, ears, noses, tongues and fingers and explore what’s happening in the backyard.”  It worked.
 
Ants, weren’t surprising. The rough bark of an ash tree-ordinary. Waiting for an Oriole to come to the grape jelly feeder-too long. We needed something exciting.
 
We went to our 16-year-old prairie garden. The Northern bedstraw is blooming. Monarda caught my eye first. We rolled leaves between our fingers and nibbled on the tips to taste. Then we saw it. It takes time to really see nature.
 
We found exciting. A green caterpillar with yellow and black polka dots below two long black strips down its back amazed us. My naturalist partners were mesmerized with me.
 
A search today disclosed the name of this nearly three-inch caterpillar. We were admiring a Bedstraw Hawk moth caterpillar. (Hyles gallii) At this size, the caterpillar is nearly ready to pupate. It will burrow beneath the prairie garden and spend the remainder of summer and all of next winter in the safety of the earth beneath the prairie. Next growing season it will emerge as an adult Bedstraw Hawk moth. Like the caterpillar, it will be large.  Its wingspan could be over 3 inches.
 
The Bedstraw Hawk moth lives on the nectar of monarda and other flowers. It is one of the 11,000 species of moths in the United States. It is true to its name. The female Bedstraw Hawk moth lays her eggs on the stems of Northern Bedstraw. Hatching caterpillars feed on Northern bedstraw. They live and grow eating this plant. While the adult Bedstraw Hawk moth pollinates Northern Bedstraw, its caterpillar dines on it and lives. Beautiful bedstraw is life food for Bedstraw Hawk moth caterpillars.
 
The Creator of both bedstraw and the Bedstraw Hawk moth ordered this relationship between plant and insect. Both organisms benefit, though the plant is partially eaten.
 
The same Creator has provided everlasting life food for humans. Jesus explained it this way.  He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)
 
Eating earthly bread will provide temporary nourishment. Jesus, the bread of life, provides each one of us with forever life. Life for eternity. As He created the beautifully designed Bedstraw Hawk moth caterpillar, His design for us is life-beautiful eternal life. Only He has the power to give it.

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Proven Evidence

“In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence,” Sir Isaac Newton once said. Why would Newton choose a digit on the human hand as a proof God exists? There is good reason. The thumb possesses a wide range of motion the other digits on the hand do not have. The tip of the thumb can touch the other fingertips. This range of motion makes grasping objects much easier. The muscle which moves the thumb, the flexor pollicis longus, is strong, making the thumb powerful to pinch and grip. The thumb is the only digit which can be swung from side-to-side, most frequently it is moved to touch a fingertip. There is one more remarkable characteristic about the thumb, it is the angle at which it is arranged from the other 4 digits on the hand. It is not difficult to find agreement with Newton’s statement. Move your thumb around, watch it move. One reason we may disagree with Newton is we take the remarkable ability of our thumbs for granted.
There is an insect which convinces me that God exists. My simple assumption is Sir Isaac Newton never saw a dragon-fly. Why would I choose the dragon fly as proof God exists? Dragon flies (family of odonates) have a three-stage life cycle. In biological terms the dragonfly life cycle is a simple or incomplete one. The stages are egg, larva, and adult. It may be called simple, but complex things occur in the life of a dragon fly. Most dragonflies live in water for the egg and larval stage of life. Female dragonflies have two expert methods of getting their eggs in water. Petal-tail and Darner dragonflies have ovipositors that actually cut a slit in an aquatic plant-below the water line. Damselflies deposit their eggs the same way. Club tails, skimmers, emeralds and spike tails all deposit their eggs on the surface of the water where they sink to the bottom. These types of dragonflies lay thousands of eggs increasing the chance that by using the scatter method some will read adulthood. Once hatched, dragonfly larva or naiads are major wetland and lake aquatic predators. The gills of dragonfly larva are in their rectum. When they exhale they propel themselves forward, they do. Sources about the number of dragonfly species in the world contradict each other. However, these same sources estimate there are between 3,000 and 5,000 species in the world. If you have ever been near water when the dragonflies leave the nymph stage to live as adults you’ve witnessed their beauty and grace. The power of God is in the dragonfly life cycle. God’s divine nature is seen in their wings.
What value is there in looking at your thumb, or for that matter a dragonfly in flight? Both provide us with visual evidence that God exists. You may wonder, why it is necessary to know that God exists? Let’s use probability to provide an answer. There are two possibilities regarding God. He exists. He does not exist. Sir Isaac Newton examined his thumbs and concluded they were conclusive evidence of God’s existence. The dragonfly is a second evidence. Their remarkable life cycle, the thousands of adults gathered near water, the gossamer of their wings and the design on them are all indicators that God exists. Both the thumb and dragonflies are evidence. Evidence leads to faith that He exists. The words from the author of Hebrews provide us with reason why God made dragonflies, thumbs and the thousands of other life forms on earth-that we would believe in God.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

 

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Look at your thumbs. Go outside near water in early summer, watch the dragonflies. God has put them here for us to know Him. Believe, He gives you faith

Yellow Jacket…Mini-sized Power

This is about power. This is about persistence. Tenacity describes our topic. Doggedness works too. This is about power in an insect. A persistent, tenacious, single-minded insect. It is an insect with a bite you will not forget. We fear spiders. This insect can bite repeatedly. The life goal of this insect is to reproduce more of its kind. In recent days, my personal experience with this insect allows me to speak with authority. This is one strong, never give up, never go away insect. Meet the Yellow Jacket.DSC_0027_639_ed_edited

Yellow Jackets do not have favorable memories for me. They have given me numerous painful bites. Most were my fault. Lately, a large number of them have made a nest in a very unfavorable location-in our hollow cement front step. Imagine, hundreds of highly aggressive insects living where guests to our home stand before being welcomed into our home. Painful bites are a very real possibility. This is not a great way to welcome our guests.

It has been necessary to remove them. To do so the nest must be destroyed. You may be shocked to read that my recent activities have included killing wildlife. But this is essential. There is a chance they will actually find a way into our house. Therefore, the skirmish with Yellow Jackets has been joined. My weapon of choice is Dawn dish soap. It removes the yellow jackets but is not as toxic to the environment.

While I have fought them on a daily basis in an attempt to eliminate them, these black and yellow striped one-half inch armored insect tanks have held their own. The Yellow Jacket or Vespula vulgaris is a social insect. The yellow jacket queen is larger than her progeny. By fall, a colony of yellow jackets may be as large as 2,000 to 4,000 winged and infertile females who do the job of nest-building (inside our front steps!). These female workers also bring food to the nest. Yellow Jackets are omnivorous, primarily eating other insects. However, they quickly find sugar filled sources of food. Flowers, fruits, and even soft drinks they can find outside become yellow jacket attractors.DSC_0045_643_edited

Since they are highly aggressive in protecting their nest, we are familiar with their throbbing, painful sting. Bad news, since their stingers are smooth-they can sting repeatedly. In the state of Colorado, 90% of alleged “bee stings” were caused by the yellow jacket.

Before we completely vilify the yellow jacket, know this: Yellow Jacket wasps are beneficial. They consume vast quantities of insects that are harmful to gardens, flowers even crops. They are carrion eaters as well, a part of “nature’s clean-up crew”.

There is another amazing thing about yellow jackets-they manufacture their own nest material by chewing wood fibers to create a gray, weather proof paper like material that protects the eggs and larva of the nest. Some nests can become very large. One nest is reported to have filled the inside of an abandoned car.

Power has been a subject we have thought about as we began this discusssion. How can such tenacity, such power be found in a tiny 6-legged insect? They have chewed through weatherizing caulk. They have pushed their way through the steel wool I have used to block their path to the nest. They do not give up. Get stung by one and you feel power in a memorable way!DSC_0065_644_edited

I will answer my own question. Yellow Jacket power comes from God. In Romans 1:20 we read these words of Paul, For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. What does the eternal power of God look like? Is it even possible to grasp the power of God? Look at the little yellow jacket.DSC_0074_645_edited

*Great news, the write/photographer was never stung when taking these photos!

No Tears, No Sickness or Pain, No Death

DSC_0011_543sigI spent 30 minutes in another world today. The world was in my backyard. Since it was in my backyard, this world contained earth residents. Once in this world, my feet never moved. Here my eyes found the Cup Plant ( Silphium perfoliatum) Most were over 10 feet tall with deep green leaves and brilliant yellow composite flowers. They made a world of their own. Their nectar and pollen drew other earth residents too. Just watching and listening, I saw a Two Spotted Bumblebee, a Long-Eared Bee, A large Yellow-jacket Wasp, Syrphid Flies and multiple Painted Lady Butterflies. A small white insect landed on my camera lens. In this miniature prairie planted by my own hands were multiple other life forms I never saw. Most were invertebrate. All were present because the little backyard prairie met their habitat needs. The bees and butterflies were there for food: nectar and pollen.

DSC_0017_544sigThis world was quiet. It was peaceful. Bees shared the same flowers with other bees and the butterflies. There was enough for all. I witnessed the same flowers visited over and over. The nectar continued to flow. There was no fighting, rather a visible harmony existed.

My heart was calmed. Peace settled on my own mind and soul. This happened steps from my backdoor.DSC_0056_548sig

This quiet place reminds me of another real place: heaven. There is peace and harmony there. No sickness or death ever occur in heaven. There will never be mourning, tears or pain. The peace of God is always there.  God’s peace passes understanding. We can spend eternity there-not just 30 minutes. Jesus paid the price of admission.DSC_0070_551sig

Painted Lady Irruption

Suddenly there were thousands of them. It was, in biologists’ terms, an irruption, a sudden sharp increase in the relative numbers of a population. My grandpa’s eyes had never witnessed such a dramatic increase. Unusual things like these a naturalist remembers and records. My experience has recorded nothing of this magnitude before. It may be a lepidopterist’s dream come true.

You ask what “irrupted”? You may be questioning the use of the word. The word irruption is not a mistake, the term is not “erupted”. An eruption is for volcanoes, and rashes. Our subject is an irruption of butterflies. The sudden appearance of thousands and thousands of Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) to be specific.

As this holiday weekend began we had the privilege of traveling with 4 grandchildren across half the state of North Dakota to connect them with their cousins for a time with family. It is nearly 200 land miles, or 3 hours of driving time. On the outbound trip, there were thousands of painted ladies crossing the road headed south, likewise on the return trip. Even more astonishing, the return trip was 3 days later. How many butterflies flew southward during the time we were with family? When we returned there were still thousands flying. All were southbound. Arriving home last evening, we found dozens on the flowers of our postage stamp sized prairie. Today my 11 AM estimate was 40 butterflies. Most years there are 3 or 4. The large number is highly unusual, but within normal for the painted lady butterfly. From season to season, this butterfly has noticeable population increases and declines. The current irruption is massive and impressive, the largest in memory!DSC_0086 (2)sig

During these times of irruption, thousands to millions of individuals can be seen. Since they migrate close to the ground, just 6-12 feet above the surface, they are easily noticed. Most of the world’s population has had opportunity to see painted Lady butterflies since they are found on every continent in the world except Australia and Antarctica. Many painted ladies migrate from the south in spring before the more well-known migrator, the monarch butterfly arrives. Perhaps one reason painted ladies are found in almost all parts of the world is their ability to feed on many different types of plants. Few other butterflies will forage on such a wide range of flowering plants. Over 100 have been recorded. The painted lady butterflies in the photos were feeding on Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) flowers. Possibly a second reason there are so many painted ladies in our prairie garden is the great abundance of cup plants growing there. Painted Lady butterflies prefer composite flowers that are tall. Cup plant grows tall. The plants in the prairie garden tower more than 10 feet in height. Go ahead try to imagine dozens of painted ladies on tall yellow flowers. They too are pollinators, while they seek food for life, the plants they feed on are able to develop seed from the mix of pollen moved by butterfly feet, proboscis, and even wings.DSC_0029 (2)sig

From egg to prickly caterpillar, to chrysalis and on to adult, the painted lady really lives a life of mystery. There have been thousands of words written, hundreds of websites produced and thousands of school children studying the painted lady. Yet, it lives its life largely away from human attention. Most humans are unaware of the wildlife that lives just outside their homes. The coming change of season will move the painted lady butterflies to their winter places. It is why they are moving now. In spring the mystery is continued. It is reversed, painted lady butterflies will move northward.DSC_0024 (2)sig

The greatest naturalist the world has ever known was King Solomon. He spoke about plant and animal life to the kings of the world at the time. Solomon also reminded us that there is a God directed time for everything. He said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…”

This is the season of the painted lady.DSC_0114 (2)sigDSC_0023 (2)sig