Nature's thermostat

(from chapter 7: The new generation)

For young reptiles and birds to be born, their parents have to ensure exactly the right temperature for the hatching of the eggs. The East Australian mallee fowl (Leipoa ocellata) employs a "living thermostat" in its reproductive process. It creates a huge, incubator-like nest mound, regularly checks the ground temperature, and immediately corrects it if it deviates by more than 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit from the ideal temperature.

First, mallee fowl parents dig a 15-feet wide, 3-feet deep hole. During wintertime, they gather twigs and leaves from within a radius of 50 yards, and amass them in the hole. When the material thus gathered gets thoroughly soaked in the rain, they cover the whole thing with a 20-inches-thick layer of sandy earth. This is how the crater-like nest towering nearly 5 feet high is built, the volume of which can contain as much as 40 cubic yards.

The mallee fowl lays her eggs on rotting leaves, in the egg chamber within the nest mound. At first, the male checks whether conditions are appropriate and lets the female lay the eggs only afterward. When the female comes out, the male buries the egg chamber. Starting in the spring, for 3–4 months, the hen comes once a week, lays one egg each time and always entrusts the castle to the care of her mate. The incubation period is very long. It is the cock that takes care of the right incubation temperature for nine months of work.

The eggs are actually hatched by the warmth of the hill. The male sticks his bill into the hill from time to time to check the temperature of the soil (he is able to measure the exact temperature most probably with his tongue or oral cavity). Functioning as an incubator, he maintains the temperature of the mound at 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit with incredible precision. He allows a maximum ±1.8 degrees Fahrenheit tolerance, although in that region, daily and yearly temperature varies considerably.

In spring, when rotting vegetable matter generates heat from which the eggs could overheat, he assiduously removes the sand from the top of the hill so as to dissipate the extra heat. In summer the mound has to be protected from excessive sunshine; under such circumstances he scratches more soil onto the mound lest the sunshine overheat the nest. And in fall, when the outside weather turns colder and the inside heat emanating from rotting vegetation also decreases, he removes the upper layers of the hill during the day so that the sun shines right on the middle of the nest and warms the eggs. By night he again covers them to retain the heat. It is interesting that the mallee fowl is able to forecast the weather, for he often makes the necessary changes in the nest mound a few hours beforehand, in anticipation of weather changes.

Hatching chicks dig themselves out of the mound at different times and immediately leave the "family nest." They learn from no one how to build a mound and how to maintain its temperature. Still, when they "come of age," they behave exactly like their parents did.

The example of this bird species alone is capable of countering any theory of evolution; namely, because it is inconceivable that the mallee fowl would have evolved from any other bird, either by gradual changes or as a result of a one-time mutation. Its extraordinary heat sensing is in itself sensational, which is moreover coupled with the thoroughness of the bird's entire nesting behavior. It builds a special nest mound at the right time, gathers vegetable matter and heaps sand on top of it. The male is in possession of the appropriate knowledge and behavioral forms in order to always properly correct the fluctuation of temperature inside the mound, not to mention his weather forecasting abilities.

The possibility of a gradual evolution can be excluded. The birds' whole way of living and method of hatching has a meaning only if each mosaic of its behavior is in its proper place. If any of the elements was missing (e.g., the heat-sensing organ, the science of how to build a mound, or the knowledge of what is to be done in case of fluctuations in temperature) the bird could not hatch the eggs. On the other hand, evolution by a one-time mutation (i.e., for a bird that hatched in a totally different way to suddenly have had a mallee fowl nestling) is impossible, because of the incredible complexity involved.

The mallee fowl is the paragon of fatherly care. But as for the origin of this bird, the most rational explanation is that this species was created by a very innovative and meticulous fatherly intelligence, equipped with the impulses necessary for successful hatching, the heatsensing organ, and its complex abilities of regulating heat.