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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Thermal Warriors by Bernd Heinrich

Heinrich is a noted scientist-writer, who has written several books. His Bumblebee Economics was a National Book Award nominee. His biography is interesting. He was born in Europe. He has been an exceptionally good long-distance runner. He observes animal behavior in the wild.

In The Thermal Warriors: Strategies of Insect Survival, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), he writes about the ways in which insects cope with being cold-blooded, or unable to internally regulate their temperatures. There are biological functions that don't work when the body is too cold, or too hot. The act of flying, which many insects do, requires a certain temperature to be possible. On the other hand, flying causes the release of heat, which can be just as deadly, or more so, than being too cold. Much of the behavior of insects is directly related to being cold-blooded, says Heinrich.

There are an abundance of mechanisms found in insects for such coping, and, no doubt, Heinrich (who has done much of this research himself) and others have only begun to find these mechanisms. The ones we have found are marvelous, indeed.

Although it's not at all the theme of the book, I guess that, for the sake of some readers, I need to discuss this marvelousness a little. It seems to me that there are three possibilities:
Marvelous mechanisms in biology are solely the result of chance.
Marvelous mechanisms in biology were created specially in each species, or in organisms that gave rise to families or genera of species that mostly have these mechanisms.
The capacity to change over time so as to develop marvelous mechanisms was part of the way the universe was created.

The first possibility is called naturalism. The second and third require some supernatural action. I don't think it is possible to prove, or disprove, any of these three (see Hebrews 11:3), but a person who believes that there is no such thing as an important supernatural entity is going to go with the first, and one who does so believe is going to go with either the second or third. This is not the place for a lengthy discussion of origins. (See here for a longer discussion.)

Although it's a good book, I wouldn't recommend The Thermal Warriors as much as several of Heinrich's other works, and the main reason is that he spends quite a bit of time discussing many different mechanisms of coping with being cold-blooded. Some of his other works would probably more interesting to most people.

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