Friday, October 30, 2015

Rerun Article: Nightmares of the Deep

The end of October is upon us and it is finally getting really cold here in Utah! Unfortunately, no color changes because native trees in this region are rare (most desert plants where I live are small and shrub-like). Most people immediately associate deserts with heat, but deserts aren't always hot. Aside from the one I live in, even places like the Sahara Desert get below freezing at times, especially at night. Where I live, as I might have said before, we even get snow in the winter! So weird.

It is: 
It is: 1 day till Harvest Day
It is: 26 days till The Good Dinosaur's theatrical release
It is: 27 days till Thanksgiving
It is: 56 days till Christmas

In the Spotlight:
I don't have anything to share today, unfortunately.

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Dolphins, whales, sharks, sea lions and gulls – that's what normally comes to mind when you think about the ocean. The ocean covers over 70% of our planet, yet we know more about the surface of the moon! As we all know, the ocean is quite deep (duh, right?), but the ocean wasn't always like this. The ocean originally was relatively shallow when God first created it around 6,000 years ago (that's 4,000 BC). The ocean was formed on the third day of the Creation week when God Himself made dry land appear and gathered it into one place as the Bible says. Many creationists believe that the earth was one continent when originally created, called Rodinia and it was surrounded by shallow oceans. But it didn't stay shallow.

The ocean is the largest body of water on earth!
During Noah's Flood, 4,350 years ago (2,350 BC), the sea floor cracked in many places due to the enormous amount of volcanic activity and made the ocean deeper. When the ocean calmed down, the huge trenches were left that extend downward to the bottom of the sea. In the dark depths of the ocean, many of the unique and bizarre creatures God made on Day 5 of the Creation week thrive to this day. God made them perfectly able to cope with living at such great depths. The deepest part of the ocean is the bottom of Mariana Trench. Located in the western Pacific Ocean, Mariana Trench is one of many trenches, but as I mentioned before, it's the deepest at an astounding 36,000 feet deep! (Many wonder where the water from Noah's Flood ended up; the answer is that it's still here – the ocean is deeper than before the Flood and therefore holds more water). Yet, even at these depths, life not only survives – it thrives! Some major problems that life faces at such great depths in oceanic trenches (including Mariana Trench) include intense water pressure (which increases by about one atmosphere every 30 feet), lack of light, and overwhelming heat and/or chill. God made all deep-sea creatures with the adaptations to live under these tough conditions. Let's look at just a few of the amazing creatures God made that live in the depths of the sea!

The Mariana Trench is the deepest point on the planet. It overshadows Mount Everest in height.
Goblin Shark

This is a model of the goblin shark.
The goblin shark's range.
Found at depths of 890-3,150 feet (sometimes as deep as 4,300 feet), the goblin shark is the shallowest-existing creature we're going to look at today. At first glance, it doesn't look much like a shark at all! Goblin sharks can grow about 10-13 or more feet in length. All sharks have a “sixth sense” to help them locate prey called a Lorenzini, which detects the electrical fields produced by other living things (including humans), but goblin sharks have theirs in their elongated, blade-shaped snouts. A shark's Lorenzini is also helpful in knowing what other living things might be in the water. This is why a shark doesn't have to see or even smell its prey to know it's around. The goblin shark's Lorenzini comes in handy when blue sharks are around because they might prey on goblin sharks. The sense of sight in this shark is quite poor, so it normally uses its Lorenzini and sense of smell instead, not that it could see much anyway due to the darkness of the water it lives in! Goblin sharks are ambush predators since they aren't fast enough to chase down their prey. Its favorite prey consists of dragonfish and rattails, but they've also been known to consume cephalopods, other crustaceans and squid. God also gave this shark another cool feature – an extendable jaw! When it approaches prey, its jaws quickly open-up wide and it sucks its prey in. Not much is known about this shark due to the fact that it doesn't do well in captivity and lives so far in the depths of the ocean. But if you think this creature is weird, check out the next one!
This is the head of a goblin shark (live goblin sharks don't look like this).
Gulper Eel
The gulper eel's large mouth is actually used to eat small prey.
As the first part of its name suggests, this creature has a BIG mouth; but unlike the last part of its name suggests, it's not an eel (go figure!). I hope you're into surprises, because the gulper eel has many other strange features that might surprise you. There are many different species of gulper eels, but we're going to talk about one species, the Eurypharynx pelecanoides. Like all the creatures on this list, it lives deep in the ocean, at around 1,600-9,800 feet, they don't meet goblin sharks too often, or humans for that matter. Most of what we know about this and many deep-sea creatures is from observations made from creatures brought to the surface accidentally by deep-sea fishing nets. Because light doesn't penetrate so well at this depth, the fish doesn't need to see much, so its eyes located at the end of its snout (not near the neck as with most creatures – surprise!). This creature is also one of the largest ones I'm going to talk about – at three feet in length, it's longer than many kids are tall (other species grew up to six feet). Considering its humongous mouth (which is larger than its body, by the way), what do you think it eats? Well, surprisingly, its diet consists mainly of small crustaceans (surprise!). However, the gulper eel also eats small squid, other small invertebrates and  some species even eat plankton. Despite its huge jaws, its teeth are actually quite tiny. After catching its food, the hapless creatures are kept in the fish's pelican-like pouch (hence its other name, the pelican eel).

Giant Tube Worm
Giant tube worms can be found more than 5,000 feet down in the ocean!
No, the tube worm is not a giant worm like the ones you might use for fish-bait. Giant tube worms live in a unique ecosystem with a total absence of light (until scientists started exploring the depths and used flashlights to see). Just about every other form of life is dependent on sunlight, but not where tube worms live! Though they're called worms, they aren't actually worms. Instead, they're more plant-like than most animals and grow eight feet long. Other animals living with tube worms are crabs and shrimp. What sustains this ecosystem at the very bottom of the sea? Instead of energy from the sun, life where tube worms grow comes from volcanic hydrothermal vents. Colonies of tube worms, crabs and shrimp cluster around these hot volcanic vents which make the water around them boil! Yes, tube worms live in boiling water 24/7! No wonder scientists were shocked to find life in these conditions. These vents are more than 5,000 feet below the ocean surface and when water seeps through them, it's full of chemicals and minerals. This type of environment is toxic to most forms of life. But God designed life to thrive even here. Since tube worms are pretty stationary, God created them with bacteria that live inside their bodies to provide them with food. These are obviously not the same bacteria that make us get sick! Instead, they turn the chemicals from the hydrothermal vents into organic material that the tube worms “eat”. Relationships in nature like this are called symbiotic relationships. Crabs and shrimps meanwhile get their food by nibbling on the giant tube worm's red plumes. God really created life to thrive, even here in the hot depths of the sea!
This volcanic vent is found at the bottom of the sea.


Viperfish are as feisty as their name suggests!
The feisty-looking viperfish is another deep-sea monster with a terrifying appearance (don't think it has the name viperfish for nothing!). These fish can be found 250-5,000 feet below sea level and gets its name because it really is one of the most vicious predators in the sea's depths. As with the other animals on our list, there different species of viperfish, but the one we're mainly going to talk about today is called Chauliodus sloani, unless I mention otherwise. This species can grow to be about a foot long and unlike the gulper eel, it uses its big mouth for BIG prey! But before it eats, it has to catch its food. In order to attract its prey, the viperfish uses a light-producing organ located on its dorsal spine that can flash on and off. Smaller prey is attracted to the light and comes within reach of the deadly viperfish's jaws! The sharp teeth of the viperfish are used, as expected, to catch and puncture prey which includes crustaceans and smaller fish. In fact, this animal's teeth are so long, that they don't even fit inside the mouth! Instead, they curve backward toward the creature's eye. These deep-sea animals get creepier and creepier don't they? Just wait till you learn about our last creature!
The gnarly head of a viperfish.
The anglerfish is a real tyrant of the deep to its prey!
The terrifying-looking anglerfish made an appearance in the 2002 movie Finding Nemo. There are several different species of anglerfish, and not all of them live in deep water. Many live in shallow water and are sort of the “frog's of the sea” – they're colorful to camouflage the colorful habitat they live in. The ones we're going to look at are obviously deep-sea anglerfish, or black seadevil (Melanocetus johnsonii) which lives 3,000-9,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. Don't let its small size of seven inches (or three feet in other deep-sea anglerfish species) fool you – angler fish are terrors to other creatures of the deep! Much like the viperfish, anglerfish go after relatively large menu options, mostly other fish. To catch their prey, God made these fish with a special appendage on their heads that produces light through a chemical process called bioluminescence. Many other fish also produce light on their bodies via bioluminescence that is produced by bacteria that entered the fish's body through an external duct (another example of a symbiotic relationship). It waves it little light in the darkness of the deep until unsuspecting fish swim up to investigate and SNAP! The fish's fate is sealed in the anglerfish's jaws. The fish can't even try to escape because the anlgerfish's teeth are pointed inward when the mouth is closed. If the anglerfish finds something to eat that's bigger than its own body, it's still not a problem because it has an expandable stomach and extendable jaws – that way it can eat things twice its own size. Did you know that the anglerfish in Finding Nemo is a female? As a matter of fact, probably all the anglerfish you've seen in pictures are female! How do I know? Well, male anglerfish look extremely different from the females – they're so different in fact, that at first, scientists thought they were a totally different species! While female anglerfish have the gnarly, fang-like teeth, huge jaws and the bioluminescent lure on their heads, males (which are only an inch long) are plain in appearance – they have a no bioluminescent light, no huge jaws, no long teeth and tiny fins. In fact, they look a bit like a mutant tadpole before it grows legs! The differences between male and female animals is called sexual dimorphism. The male anglerfish has only one quest in life once it reaches adulthood: mate with a female. Because of this fish's strange way of reproducing, you wouldn't find a bachelor anglerfish male . . . alive anyway. When they mature, the male anglerfish's digestive system deteriorates, so it can't eat. The only way for the male to survive is by finding a mate. After locating the more menacing female anglerfish, the male bites onto the female and enzymes from his body mushes the skin of his mouth into the female's body and they become one flesh . . . literally! Now he's practically a part of the female's body, getting nourishment from his mate that happens to be much bigger than he is. This may seem like a strange way to reproduce, but God the anglerfish wouldn't meet another anglerfish very often, so by attaching to her body, the female has a mate handy whenever she's ready to spawn. There can be six males attached to the females body at one time; this is how the males spend the rest of their lives – attached to their mate. Talk about a bizarre mating (or lack of mating) ritual!

Each of the bizarre fish I mentioned above are just a few of the many God created to live in the depths of the sea. God provided every one of them with their own special way to feed, avoid predators and reproduce. They don't only survive, they thrive in the dark depths of the sea.

Disclaimer: Unless otherwise indicated, the images you see above are not my own and are from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Rerun Article: Batty for Bats

I don't know if I've said this already, but I have officially started watching Christmas movies. You might think that since it's only October, it's really too early. Not so! If I wait till, say, Thanksgiving to start watching Christmas movies, I wouldn't have enough time to watch them before Christmas gets here. Trust me, the Christmas season is short enough as it is!

Days Till
It is: 8 days till Harvest Day
It is: 33 days till The Good Dinosaur's release
It is: 34 days till Thanksgiving
It is: 63 days till Christmas

In the Spotlight
Unfortunately, I really have nothing interesting to share this week, but I recently got hooked to this YouTube series called Studio C. It's awesome, hilarious and (guess what!) it's clean! (Shocking right?) I get so tired of looking for videos on YouTube, and in the middle of the video, they start uttering f-bombs and other nasty words. Here is just one of the many Studio C videos, it is hilarious!

Funny, right?

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
This time of year, one kind of animal is seen around this time of year quite often. This kind of animal is none other than the bat! Bats are everywhere, they’re in movies, Halloween decorations, scary novels, and spooky video games. Perhaps one of the most famous “bat” of all is Dracula, a vampire that supposedly turns from man to vampire bat and vice versa. But how much do you really know about these little flyers? Is everything you’ve learned about bats really true? Take this pop quiz and after that we’ll delve into the world of the bats.

Where are bats origins?

True or False: Bats are Birds

True or False: All bats fly around by night searching for people to blood-suck

True or False: Bats occasionally get stuck in people’s hair

True or False: Bats are blind

True or False: All bats roost in caves

True or False: Most bats carry rabies

Now, I’ll tell you the answers as we learn about these creatures and face our fears. There are four groups of animals that have been gifted with the power of flight. These animals are birds, the extinct pterosaurs (or flying reptiles), insects and bats. All other “flying” creatures such as the flying squirrel, flying snake and the flying lemurs don’t actually fly – they glide. There is a difference. Bats are mammals but not rodents as commonly believed. Bats are the only mammals that can actually fly. We know this because bats are covered with fur, and only mammals have fur (pterosaurs and insects also have “fur”, but it’s a different type of fur).
Most scientists will tell you that bats evolved from little shrew-like mammals that chased insects by jumping from branch to branch and eventually evolved a wing membrane and were able to fly. But this is incorrect. Bats actually were created around 6,000 years ago when God created all the flying and swimming creatures on Day 5 of the Creation week (notice, this is before shrew-like animals came into existence on Day 6), just as the Bible says.

You may not know this, but there are actually hundreds of species of bats. They range from creatures the size of a mouse, to creatures with six-foot wingspans. Bats live in just about everywhere on the planet, in just about every habitat and continent, except for Antarctica. They can be found in jungles, deserts, mountains . . . just about everywhere. Bats are a very complex group of animals, so we don’t have time to discuss them all today, we will just discuss a few species.

There are two main groups of bats, the megabats and the microbats (the ones we’re going to look at today). The difference between the two is simple: Megabats are the really big, or mega-sized ones, and Microbats are the micro-sized ones. These are the bats we will look at today.
There are a lot of different species of microbats, and they have a wide range of diets. Most eat insects, and some eat . . . or rather drink . . . blood. But that’s not most bats. We’ll talk about the ones that drink blood in a minute though. Anyway, as I said before, bats are just about everywhere, and they are probably living near where you are too, it’s just that they’re nocturnal, so you’d have to go out at night to see them.
Bats wings are very different from bird wings (they aren’t just birds without feathers). Bird wings are consisted of the wing bone with skin and feathers attached. But bat wings are made up of the bat’s fingers that stretch out and have a special wing membrane in between them. Here are a few species:

Big Brown Bat

Long-Eared Bat

Vampire Bat

Horseshoe Bat

Tent-Making Bats
One common bat that lives a lot of places around the United States is called the Big Brown Bat (one of my personal favorite microbats, it can be found above). These bats grow about 4 to 5 inches long and have a wingspan of about 11 to 13 inches wide. Like most other bats, the big brown bat eats insects including mosquitoes, moths, beetles and wasps that they catch while in flight. Now a common belief is that bats are blind. Instead of sight, God gave them echolocation to find prey at night. But wait, before we go into what echolocation is, first we must find out if bats really are blind. And the answer is – they aren’t! So where’d that myth come about? Well, it may have something to do with an experiment with a bat. One time, some people blindfolded a bat to see if it could fly out of its cage (the bars had wide spaces), and it did. So those people probably figured that it was blind since it didn’t need eyesight to find its way out. (That also means the phrase, “Blind as a bat,” is a misnomer) Now, echolocation is a special thing God gave the bat. 

The red lines represent the bat's sounds and the green lines represent the sound bouncing off the insect and to the bat's ears
Echolocation works a lot like the sonar on a submarine. The trick is simple: the bat makes sounds (too high for us to hear with our naked ears – that is without special equipment) and the sounds bounce off objects around the bat and they come back to the bat. This is how bats can find prey in total darkness. Cool, huh? For big brown bats and other bats, this normally works out just great . . . except for some species of moth. Bats love moths, but some species of moths have a special “ear” that helps them hear the echolocation and at the last moment they can swerve out of the way. It drives the bats crazy! So that is why one bat has a special trick for catching those types of moths. It’s called the Long-Eared Bat. The long-eared bat uses echolocation to find where the moth is, but as it closes in for the kill, it turns its sonar off and just uses those big ears to hear exactly where the moth is before bon appetite! By the way, bats don’t get tangled in people’s hair. People probably thought this because sometimes bats will seem to swoop down on people. But in fact, it’s the insects that swoop down near the people and the bat is merely following the insects!

Big brown bats are the bats we often see flying around at night here in North America. They roost in large colonies that can be found in caves or even sometimes in old barns (not all bats roost in caves, some even roost in trees). Other than moths, they also eat mosquitoes, gnats, flies, and can even take spiders out of their webs. Taking a spider off of its web is not as easy as it sounds, as the bats can easily become tangled in the sticky silk. However, they do manage. Don’t think bats are restricted to invertebrates (e.g. spiders and insects), some species also specialize in fishing and “mousing”. You read right, they go “mousing”! I’m not sure that’s a word, but they really do hunt mice!

Bats however are not without predators, owls love to eat bats. This is why bats love going out on the darkest of nights, as owls, which rely on sight, can’t see very well in pitch black. Meanwhile bats use sound, not sight to “see” so they don’t need any light.

It is true that most microbats eat insects, but there are some with a more “horrific” diet. They drink blood and they are called Vampire bats! Vampire bats, contrary to popular belief aren’t outside waiting to suck your blood. First of all, they only live in central and south America! So there’s no way a bat could suck your blood in the United States! And another reason? There are only three species of bats that suck blood. Don’t think that the United States has always been safe from Vampire bats though, fossils show that they used to live in the Southwestern portion of the USA. If you lived back then in the other parts of the USA, France, Canada, Australia, Africa, Asia and etc. you’d always be safe – Vampire bats never lived in any of those places.
You have to admit, this Vampire Bat's face is absolutely cute!
But Vampire bats aren’t really that bad once you get to know them. So what do they do exactly? Well, a Vampire bat will leave its shelter at nighttime to find a large animal, perhaps a cow or a chicken (I know chickens aren’t large too us, but to a little bat they’re huge!), or perhaps a person. Then they land on the ground near the animal and use those sharp teeth to bite into the leg and draw blood. But perhaps the term “blood-sucking” is incorrect. For these bats don’t suck blood, they lap it up. Doesn’t that sound nicer? Special stuff in the bat’s saliva stop the blood from clotting, so the bat can just go on feeding. Then the bat will get up in the air (often making a quick bathroom break so it isn’t too heavy to fly home) and go back to its cave. These bats may seem mean, but they really have a “tender soul”, when arriving at their home cave, some bats didn’t get the chance to fly out and get some blood, maybe they were injured or sick. Then these hungry bats merely lick the side of the blood-stuffed bat’s head and the bat will cough up some drink for the hungry bat to eat, er . . . drink. See, Vampire Bats even make donations to help the poor!

As we just learned, bats are terribly misunderstood. They don’t get tangled in your hair, they aren’t (all) waiting there to suck blood, and they also don’t always carry rabies. It’s true that some bats might have rabies, but they are just as likely to get rabies as a dog or cat. So it would be unfair to call bats “rabies carriers”. Bats have been mistreated for years because of their bad rap. People have killed whole innocent bat colonies (and these weren’t even vampire bats), just because they didn’t understand them. We really should take care of the bats. God provided them to eat harmful and pesky insects and some bats that we didn’t discuss also work as pollinators for many plant species. Sometimes, bats need a little more helping hand though than just not killing them.
Check out the bat in the picture below:
That yucky white stuff on the cute little face of this bat is a fungus.
Notice that white stuff on its nose? Well, that’s a fungus. Bats with fungus growing on their noses have a disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS). It isn’t completely understood, but it is killing millions of bats, and millions of bats dead means billions of more flies, gnats and mosquitoes! So when a 13-year old named Gwynne Domashinski, needed a project for a science fair, she chose to study WNS and look for a solution. Her theory was that perhaps the moistness in the caves was causing the fungus to grow on the bats, since fungus grows extremely well in moist places. Perhaps by lowering the humidity the fungus will stop growing. So Gwynne got in touch with a bat scientist named Deeann Reeder and Gwyanne was invited to the lab to test the ideas about WNS and the humidity. It will take time to unravel the secrets of WNS, but every little thing helps (by the way, Gwynne won third place in the science fair in a statewide competition!).

So there’s a lot more to bats than what meets the eye. Even if we don’t get the opportunity to do something like Gwynne did (who’s was only 13 at the time), there are still ways we can help bats. For instance, we can educate other people about bats and what their job is in nature. And we can also preserve bats habitat and give them places to sleep in the form of bat houses (sort of like a bird house). We should be good stewards of bats, just like God had instructed us in the book of Genesis in the Bible, because bats are really wonderful creatures.
Disclaimer: The images above are not my own unless otherwise indicated. If you own one of the above images and want it removed, please notify me via my email.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Pumpkins and Pompions

As usual, October is moving through mighty quick! Yesterday marked the half-way point toward the end of the month. Here in Utah, the weather is not too cold yet. However, it is still pretty nippy sometimes in the mornings. I can't wait till the hot days are officially over.

Days Till
It is: 15 days till Harvest Day
It is: 40 days till The Good Dinosaur's release
It is: 41 days till Thanksgiving
It is: 70 days till Christmas

In the Spotlight
Unfortunately, I really have nothing interesting to share this week.

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Boy, do we have pumpkins or what? (Wikimedia Commons)
Fall is now upon us and that is a time we commonly shift our thoughts to a plant that produces large orange objects; yes, I'm talking about the pumpkin! Pumpkins are commonly grown, and carved into Jack-o-lantern's in October before being chopped up and made into pumpkin pie by Thanksgiving. We all know that, but if you continue to read, you may come across some things about the pumpkin you never knew before.

What is a pumpkin? If you said a vegetable, you're wrong – the pumpkin is actually a fruit, but more specifically, a berry. Pumpkin we typically associate with the word “pumpkin”, grow and consume derives from the species Cucurbita pepo. As they are in the family cucurbitaceae (which is Latin for “gourd”), they are close cousins of other squashes, gourds, melon (e.g. watermelon) and cucumbers. But these fruits didn't all evolve from a common ancestor (that is, progressively become more advanced through the process of evolution), rather, they all descended from the original member of the “gourd baramin” (or kind) God created on Day 3 of the creation week, in addition to the other plants He made. What sets pumpkins apart from other gourds is their round shape and lightly ribbed skin. Usually pumpkins are orange, but they also come in yellow, red, white or even green. They also come in a wide range of sizes, from the diminutive 6-pound ball and the average-sized 13-pounder, to the massive 2,323.7-pound monster presented by Beni Meier that broke records and claimed the title of world's heaviest pumpkin in Germany last year. Just imagine how much pumpkin pie that would have made!

Pumpkins can grow to be over a ton in weight, making them the world's biggest berry! Yes, pumpkins are berrys. (Wikimedia Commons)

Pumpkins are native to North America and were unknown to the Old World until Columbus. In fact, these orange fruits have been grown in Central America for thousands of years by the Native Americans. Pumpkins gained notice among Europeans starting In 1584 when the French Explorer Jacques Cartier was exploring North America's St. Lawrence region. The word pumpkin was derived from his own description of these large fruits, “gros melons”, which was translated into English as “pompions”. Overtime, “pompions” became pronounced as “pumpkins”.

This picture was made in 1874, but pumpkins have been loved by people for much longer than that! (Wikimedia Commons)
Ever since their discovery, pumpkins have revolutionized the world. As I mentioned before, pumpkins have a myriad of different uses. During the month of October, we like to carve them into jack-o-lantern's. Interestingly, these face-carved fruits get their name from an Irish legend featuring a man by the name of Stingy Jack who's mischief had disallowed him to enter Heaven after he died, but the Devil didn't want him in Hell either and was sent out into the night. So, according to the story, Stingy Jack put a burning coal into a carved out turnip and has forced to wonder the earth ever since. To keep Stingy Jack at bay, people in olde Ireland and Scotland made their own versions of Jack's turnip lantern by carving scary faces into large turnips or sometimes potatoes. Eventually, this tradition was brought to America by the Irish, and pumpkins began to be used for carving instead.

Jack-o-lantern's were originally made out of turnips and potatoes!
Pumpkin pies are another common use for pumpkins nowadays, but this delicious dessert has been consumed for far longer than you might think. The Pilgrims were introduced to pumpkins by the Native Americans when they set sail for the New World in 1620 and it wasn't long before people began to use the fruit to make pies. Through much of the mid-1600's, chefs had many different ways to make pumpkin pie. According to the History Channel,
“A 1653 French cookbook instructed chefs to boil the pumpkin in milk and strain it before putting it in a crust. English writer Hannah Woolley's 1670 'Gentlewoman's Companion' advocated a pie filled with alternating layers of pumpkin and apple, spiced rosemary, sweet marjoram and handful of thyme. Sometimes a crust was unnecessary; an early New England recipe involved filling a hollowed-out pumpkin with spiced, sweetened milk and cooking it directly in a fire” – History Channel's The History of Pumpkin Pie

Who doesn't want a little pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving? (Wikimedia Commons)
Yes, pumpkin can be used in a variety of ways and fashions: in the kitchen, it is baked, roasted, steamed or boiled or even made into soups. Sometimes we chunk them – we throw pumpkins are hoisted onto mechanical devices designed to lunge the pumpkin as far away as possible, usually resulting in a huge splat! Sometimes we have contests to see who can grow the biggest pumpkins. Pumpkins have even made it into our folklore and fiction, from “Jack's Lantern” to the pumpkin Fairy Godmother turned into a carriage for Cinderella and the Great Pumpkin that Peanut's Linus van Pelt insists “rises out of the pumpkin patch and gives toys to all the good little children”.

A world without pumpkins would surely be very different place.

Enjoy your pumpkins this year!
Disclaimer: The images above are not my own unless otherwise indicated. If you own one of the above images and want it removed, please notify me via my email.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Rerun Article: The History of Halloween - a Harvest Day Special

Believe it or not, the middle of October will be here next week! You know what that means? Harvest Day (aka, "Halloween")? Yes, but that's not what I had in mind. Thanksgiving's coming soon? True again, but that's still not it. Christmas? Yes, that's coming soon too, but there's two other things I've been looking forward to. One of which is the NanoWrimo challenge. Essentially, the challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30. Last year, I succeeded at writing a good-sized novel. This year, I plan on doing the challenge again. I'm totally stoked! The other thing I'm excited about is The Good Dinosaur! That movie will be coming out soon too! A brand new trailer was released just a few days ago, so be sure to check it out in the In the Spotlight section of today's post!

Days Till:
It is: 3 days till Columbus Day
It is: 22 days till Harvest Day
It is: 47 days till The Good Dinosaur's release
It is: 48 days till Thanksgiving

In the Spotlight:
As promised, here's the new The Good Dinosaur trailer:

Finally, in this trailer not only do we get gorgeous views of the not-so-prehistoric landscape, but we also get a good look at some new dinosaurs that will be in the film. Most notably, we get to see what appears to be a pack of dromaeosaurs or raptors, perhaps Velociraptors. I was already excited about this film, but when I saw those raptors (my favorite dinosaurs by the way), I was even more excited! We also get a good look at a ceratopsian that will be in the movie named Shamaan. I am not sure what species he is, but he seems to be a hybrid of Triceratops and Styracosaurus, possessing the three horns of the former, and the horns around the frill of the latter. While we're on the subject of what the dinosaurs in this movie look like, you might notice several of the species look different from their fossilized counterparts. This is because The Good Dinosaur takes place not in the past, but the present day in an alternate reality if dinosaurs did not go extinct. Therefore, natural selection and mutation has allowed the dinosaurs to change somewhat over time. That being said, here is a list of the species of dinosaurs we've seen in the movie so far:
  • Apatosaurus
  • Parasaurolophus
  • Tyrannosaurus
  • Nyctosaurus (actually a pterosaur, not a dinosaur)
  • Triceratops/Styracosaurus hybrid
  • Velociraptor
I'm sure others will appear in the movie too, so this list will probably be added onto later on.

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Many are very excited this time of year. Not about Christmas or Thanksgiving, but another “holiday” coming much sooner than that: Halloween! Stores all over the country make millions (if not billions) of dollars every year on Halloween decorations and costumes, the only holiday that makes more money is Christmas. Now only do they make money on costumes and decorations, but they also make money on candy, tons and tons of candy. They also have those creepy tours through those supposedly “haunted houses”. “The gorier the better” seems to be today’s slogan of Halloween. Over the years, costumes and decorations have become creepier and gorier. On my Dad’s way to work, he passes a house with at least . . . say, 20-40 decorations (I’m not exaggerating) ranging from eerie skeletons that appear to be rising out of the ground to a GIANT inflatable black cat, to an inflatable horse and headless rider (the rider is carrying his head under his arm). One of those big inflatable cats can be worth $40 by itself, and they have a bunch of things like that in their yard, so they probably have well over $100 of decorations in their yard.

Here are several people attending a Halloween-themed event.
Now, being a born again Christian, my family and I don’t celebrate Halloween. Some Christians do celebrate Halloween, but I really don’t condone it. When we talk something positive about this day, we call it “Harvest Day”. Should Christians really be celebrating this holiday? What is a Christian to do on October 31st? Well, that is what this post wishes to tackle. So please continue reading to learn more about this holiday you never knew (by the way, Halloween is not an official holiday, contrary to popular belief).

I firmly believe that in order to address and tackle an enemy, we must know something about it. The same applies to evil “holidays”. So let’s take a look at its history and see how not harmless some of those Halloween traditions are.

Now where did Halloween begin? Well, there are many ancient cultures that have days very similar to Halloween. These cultures range from Ireland to Mexico (the Mexican version of Halloween is called, “The Day of the Dead”). Now if there were only a few places around the world that have Halloween-like events, then it would be considered “coincidental”, but with so many different cultures around the world celebrating Halloween-like “holidays”, it’s unlikely that they all just coincidentally are similar, no, it’s way older than you think!

Some tell you that Halloween-cultures started a few thousand years ago, but really, the world’s human population was already spread apart by that time, so it is more likely that its origins are older than that. They probably route back to a time when the world’s human population was in one location. And there’s one and only one time after the Flood when the world population was together – right after Noah’s Flood and before Babel, around 4,300 years ago! That’s old! How can we even assume that? Well, the Flood of Noah killed a whole lot of people. Only eight people survived – Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives. From them, the human population came, including everyone on the planet today. Now considering Noah and his family probably lost a lot of relatives who failed to listen to God’s warning, they must have been a little sad. Perhaps the people living right after the Flood made a special event to remember those souls lost in the waters (of course this is just speculation since the Bible says nothing about this “remembrance day”). Another theory deals with Noah’s wife. Noah’s wife isn’t mentioned in the Bible a little while after the Flood. We don’t know for sure, but perhaps this is because she died soon after the Flood. We know in that portion of the Bible that people lived hundreds of years at a time, so Noah’s generation (which at this time only would have consisted of him and his wife) would have lived to see their children grow up to have children of their own, and have grandchildren and great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren and so forth. So it could be that after having many great, great, great . . . grandchildren, Noah’s wife died and her grandkiddies held a special “remembrance day” for this woman.

We may never know exactly where this “holiday” began, but either way, after leaving the Tower of Babel as described in Genesis, people would have taken the “remembrance day” culture with them as they traveled the globe, but as they did so, they did some tweaking to this day as we’ll see in a minute.
Flashing to the bit more recent time of more than 2,000 years ago, the Druids, or Celtic people of Ireland, Great Britain, France had morphed this “holiday” a lot. These people had elaborate and religious pagan festivals, one of the most important was the Fire Festival called Samhain (it’s pronounced sow-en, nothing at all like it’s spelled, is it?) that was observed in harvest time. Now the Celtic people had a lot of strange beliefs, one of which was that on this particular night, the barrier between natural world and the supernatural world was removed and the spirits of the dead can roam among us in the form of ghosts. This event was nowhere near as “fun and lighthearted” as today’s Halloween, but this is where the “spooky version” of it originated.
These folks have a serious case of "Halloween-gydus"
Halloween wasn’t all paganized though. Actually, early Christians made their own “Halloween” day . . . sort of. The customs of this day were Christianized in 835 A.D. when Pope Gregory IV decided to dedicate a day to the believers who had died. This day was called “Feast of All Saints” and was originally in the spring but was moved to November 1st to replace Samhain. The day before “Feast of All Saints” was called “All Hallow’s Eve” and was a sacred vigil in church. Apparently, “All Hallow’s Eve” was too long for most, so it was shortened to “Hallow’s Eve”, then to “Hallow’en” and today most of us just write (or type in my case) “Halloween”. So we have two “holidays” that are somewhat similar: Samhain, a 100% pagan thing and “All Hallow’s Eve”, a Christian-type remembrance. Which one do you think is the one that stuck around?

If you guessed Samhain, you’re wrong! Today’s Halloween is a mixture of Samhain AND “All Hallow’s Eve”. But there’s more to the story than that. The knocking on door thing was started in the British Isles where people in masks would go from door to door putting on a simple performance to earn (what else?) food and drink! Many times these shows had Christian themes. (Keep in mind I did say, “many times”. Some of these people would simply go up and ask for something and then if they got it they’d bless the house, if they didn’t they’d curse the house) So how did we get from putting on a show to earn food to simply knocking on a door and yelling, “Trick or treat!”?

Well that story started back when Irish and Scottish folks brought Halloween customs to America in the 19th century (Halloweens much more complex than you thought, isn’t it?). On Halloween night, “some” vandals (a lot, actually) started doing “cute” pranks and mischief. These folks did things like soap windows, tipping outhouses and yanking doors off their hinges (doesn’t sound very “cute” to me!). These were said to have been the work of mischievous ghosts, goblins and witches. When we reached the 1920’s though, these jokes weren’t very humorous at all! This is why Halloween is the policeman’s least favorite day of the year, they have to always stay on their toes! The vandalism was getting worse. So community clubs such as Boy Scouts decided to help the situation. They decided it would be a good idea to have children going from door to door and yell, “Trick or Treat!” as soon as the door was opened. This would keep those vandals away. It didn’t take long to catch on, by the 1930’s it was a popular Halloween activity. So this type of Halloween wasn’t bad. It was fun, playful, and entertaining. It wasn’t bad at all . . . yet!

As we all have noticed over the years, costumes get more and more gory and horrific. And the Samhain part of Halloween has started to come out. Ghosts, goblins and witches (along with their witch craft) is creeping out and haunting like they did 2,000 years ago. However, unlike the legend, they don’t really haunt the earth, except in the form of imaginations. Today’s Halloween, a “holiday” initially supposed to be a Christian day, is a day filled with spooky, creepy paganism that deals with the souls of those who’ve died. Now you know exactly how bad Halloween really is and why my family doesn’t celebrate!

Some of you might be asking yourselves, “What’s so bad about witchcraft?” (Supposed ghost encounters is a whole other topic, I’ll talk about that later). Think my talk on this subject is cheap? Well, God’s talk is definitely not cheap! God Himself speaks against paganism and witchcraft in the books of the Law (the first five books of the Bible). Yes, witches are also not new, they were around 3,000 years ago, about the time of Moses. . . . So as you can see, God warned us not to follow paganism, as harmless as it seems, it has a much, much deeper meaning to it. It’s all in Satan’s evil plot to get people away from God. As I’ve expressed in previous posts, Satan is very real indeed! There is a Heaven and Hell.

A lot of people don’t know this, but Satan is really an expelled angel who used to live with God. In the book of Ezekiel, we read that his voice was like that of a beautiful instrument. However, when Satan got prideful, he was banished. Believe me, Satan is no joke, he’s got lots of power. However, being his Creator, God has even MORE power. Satan really wants to lure people away from God and Halloween is just one of those times he uses to do this, in the form of “harmless” witchcraft, fake devils (by the way, Satan doesn’t have horns, a pointy tail and pitchfork either), ghosts, goblins and skeletons. Even things that really aren’t bad are used a lot on this day, such as black cats, bats, spiders and crows. None of these animals are bad at all. So seriously, what’s a Christian to do on this evil “holiday”?

Talk about creepy!
Well, there’s lots to do! First of all, one option is to pray for all those poor lost souls engaged in this paganism. Another thing you can do is along with your candy, give out Bible tracks. Kids will take just about anything if there’s candy involved. If you don’t feel like the whole “trick-or-treaters” thing (or even if you do), you can go to your church and help out with your church’s Halloween, or rather, “Harvest Day” event. If your church doesn’t have this event planned, you should inquire about it (and if it’s too close to the date, simply suggest it for next year). Beware, Satan is out to stop all lost souls from God’s Holy Word. But together, and with God’s help, we can use this pagan “holiday” to reach more lost souls and lead them to God by telling them about Jesus’ message of salvation!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sarcosuchus: Pharaoh of the Crocodiles

Another frigid morning! I can't believe that October is here already. This month year has flown so fast! I've literally started singing Christmas songs already and I'll probably start watching Christmas movies very soon. (I start early because it takes me literally three months to watch all the Christmas movies I have and the ones I get on Netflix.) This week's topic isn't fall-related, but next week's will be. How exciting!

Days Till:
It is: 10 days till Colombus Day
It is: 29 days till Harvest Day
It is: 54 days till The Good Dinosaur's release

In the Spotlight:
I found several cool TV spots for The Good Dinosaur to share this week, so please enjoy!

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Contrary to popular belief, dinosaurs weren't always the rulers of their domain! (Wikimedia Commons)
Dinosaurs are often thought of as being the terrors of the world they inhabited, and indeed, the pre-Flood world's single supercontinent – Rodinia – was infested with them. But dinosaurs weren't the only danger of the antediluvian world – swimming in the lakes, ponds and rivers of this ancient world were crocodilians, many a lot like the ones we have today. But there was one crocodilian that dwarfed them all: Sarcosuchus imperator, also known as SuperCroc! In life, it must have been an impressive beast...a beast so big, it didn't merely coexist with dinosaurs, it ate them!

Why are you just standing there waving, dude? Run! (Wikimedia Commons)
The largest reptile alive today, the saltwater crocodile, grows up to 23 feet long and weighs a maximum of around 2,200 pounds. This is nothing compared to the mighty SuperCroc, which fossils prove could grow over 40 feet long. Its weight? Eight to nine tons*. This was a croc that even the Crocodile Hunter (R.I.P Steve Irwin) and Crocodile Dundee might have done best to avoid! SuperCroc's scientific name, Sarcosuchus imperator even means “flesh crocodile emperor”.

Scientists are as of yet undecided as to what the largest crocodilian was. (Wikimedia Commons)
* There is debate among paleontologists as to what the largest species of crocodile was, as there are several candidates. One is the North American Deinosuchus, an alligator-like crocodilian, another Purrasaurus (not to be confused with the Triassic phytosaur Parasuchus) which was a giant caiman, and of course, Sarcosuchus. Based on fragmentary fossil remains, we can't be sure which was the largest, but evidence suggests that all three species were between 33 and 40 feet in length.

Sarcosuchus shared many similarities to its modern cousins, such as this crocodile. (Wikimedia Commons)

Despite being far larger than any modern crocodile, Sarcosuchus nevertheless shared several survival traits with them; many of these For traits help the animals live semi-aquatic lives. For example, Sarcosuchus and modern crocs have their eyes and nostrils placed at the tops of their heads (actually, Sarcosuchus' eyes are slightly elevated above the rest of the skull). This means that they can remain these predators can remain almost completely submerged in water and still see and smell. We don't know how good Sarcosuchus' senses of sight, hearing and smell were, but in modern crocodiles, these senses are excellent. They even are relatively intelligent creatures. It's more than likely Sarcosuchus possessed these attributes as well. Sarcosuchus' skull alone was over six feet long and every inch of it was lined with sharp teeth. There were over 100 teeth in its mouth. SuperCroc's back was covered in rows of overlapping shield-like armor plating called scutes. These “shields” could be over a foot long and were situated kind of like roofing tiles. One gazing at the skull of Sarcosuchus wouldn't fail to notice the large bulge at the end of its six-foot snout. This bulge is known as a bulla and is similar to the ones seen in modern gharials, except its hollow and bowl-shaped. Scientists are unsure of its use, but many believe it was for making bizarre calls or improving its sense of smell.

Sarcosuchus was the true king of the waterways it inhabited. (Wikimedia Commons)
The fossils of Sarcosuchus have been uncovered in South America and more commonly in Northern Africa. The regions bearing fossils of this beast are deserts now, but the fossils in these rocks represent a long-gone ecosystem that once existed in the pre-Flood world. Fossilized plants and animals of North Africa reveal the land was once a vibrant, tropical swamp-like environment with plentiful plant life for herbivorous dinosaurs to chow on, and lots of large fish in the waters. This was the home of Sarcosuchus.

Pre-Flood Egypt might have looked a lot like the modern day Everglades. (Wikimedia Commons)
This brings us to another important question: what did SuperCroc eat? Well, like its modern counterparts, Sarcosuchus was a carnivore, and there was plenty of prey in pre-Flood North Africa. You might imagine that fish were too small to sustain a nine-ton crocodile, but the fish SuperCroc lived with weren't all minnow-sized. Fossils reveal nine-foot lungfish, giant six-foot coelocanths and 20-foot sawfish swam in the waters the giant crocodile called home. Though many parallells are drawn between Sarcosuchus and the fish-eating gharial, the two have a different tooth design – while the gharial has interlocking teeth (as do most crocodiles) to capture fish, Sarcosuchus' teeth do not interlock. Interestingly, its discoverers compared this crocodile's teeth to railroad spikes. Sarcosuchus was certainly large enough to prey on something other than fish; it was probably a dinosaur killer. What dinosaurs were on this reptile's menu? 30-foot ornithopods like Ouranosaurus and Lurdusaurus and even juvenile long-necked sauropods such as Nigersaurus might have been prey for Sarcosuchus.

Like a modern croc, Sarcosuchus would lunge from the water's edge and grab prey, in this case an Ouranosaurus, with its long jaws. (Wikimedia Commons)
Just like the modern crocodile, Sarcosuchus was an ambush predator. It lied in wait near the water's edge for prey to approach, with only its eyes and nostrils above the water. Then, when prey like an ornithopod got close, it would lunge out of the water and catch the hapless prey in its jaws, holding it in place with its 100+ teeth. Sarcosuchus didn't have a weak bite either. Recently scientists determined that SuperCroc could bite down with the force of nine tons! That's nastier than the bite of Tyrannosaurus, with its 3-ton bite by comparison. Unfortunately for this crocodile, it didn't have the water's edge all to itself, as SuperCroc often had to share the territory with semi-aquatic dinosaurs like the spinosaurs Suchomimus and the 20-ton Spinosaurus itself. Perhaps these animals occasionally fought each other over food or territory.

Who would win in a fight between Suchomimus and Sarcosuchus? (Raul Martin)

A creature like Sarcosuchus was certainly an awe-inspiring reptile. This is why some creation scientists have begun to notice many parallels between it and a creature mentioned in the book of Job in the Bible. In Job 41, God talks about a colossal creature called Leviathan. It's said to have terrified even the mightiest of men. Its jaws were lined with many teeth, its form was quite graceful and spent most of its time in the water. The Bible says its scales are so tough that they repel swords and spears. But what was very unique about this creature is that it could actually breathe fire and smoke. Just another ancient myth?

We may not know what Leviathan looked like, but it certainly didn't look like this monster that doesn't match the creature described in Job 41 at all!
Not in the slightest. Based on the context of the verse, we can see that God was speaking of a real animal. Some have pointed to the crocodile as the prime candidate for Leviathan; however, Leviathan clearly was not a crocodile (a modern one, anyway), because crocs not only are unable to breathe fire, but, with skill and determination, can be killed (Leviathan was described as being a creature that couldn't be killed by human weapons of the time). For years, creationists have scratched their heads, trying to find an extinct creature that fit Leviathan's description, suggesting anything from the aquatic Kronosaurus, which, unlike Leviathan, was unable to clamber onto land, to the terrestrial Tyrannosaurus rex, which wasn't in its element in the water like Leviathan was. However, many creation scientists feel that Sarcosuchus best fits the description of the biblical Leviathan. Remember the foot-long roof tile-like scales on its back? They certainly bring to mind the tough scales Leviathan is described to have. (“Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together;” Job 41:15, NIV.) Sarcosuchus might even possess a fire-creating feature: its bulbous snout. Perhaps Sarcosuchus was capable of mixing chemicals in this bowl-shaped bulge to create streaming flames which it cast from its mouth; a similar ability is seen in the modern bombardier beetle which expels noxious chemicals that explode and burn at over 200 degrees. We may not know for sure whether or not Sarcosuchus was the Leviathan of the Bible, but it sure is the best candidate we have at the time of publishing.

Just imagine a blast of fire coming from this Sarcosuchus' mouth and it perfectly fits the description of Job 41's Leviathan! (SOURCE)

Sarcosuchus, SuperCroc...possibly the legendary Leviathan. This beast was certainly one of the most powerful and dangerous animals God made. The very same words used in Job 41:33-34 could also be used to describe Sarcosuchus: “Nothing on earth is its equal—a creature without fear. It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud.” What more can be said about Sarcosuchus imperator, pharaoh of the crocodiles!

Wouldn't it be awesome to come face to face with a living Sarcosuchus imperator...on the other hand, maybe not! (Planet Dinosaur)

Brooker, P., A New Candidate for Leviathan? Journal of Creation 19(2): 14–16, 2005; <>.

Disclaimer: Many (or in some cases all) of the photographs and images above are not mine. If you own one or more of them and would like them to be removed, politely let me know via my email address.