Recently, researchers have reported on the world’s “highest-dwelling mammal,” the yellow-rumped leaf-eared mouse, observed upon a dormant volcano 6,739 meters (22,110 feet) above sea level.1 While the discovery of birds at greater altitudes is not surprising, “that mammals can live at these heights is astonishing, considering there’s only about 44 percent of the oxygen available at sea level. . . . The temperature is also rarely above freezing and can drop as low as –60° Celsius.”1
In their study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of wildlife biologists admitted that this likely indicates that endothermic (warm-blooded) mammals are more resilient than they have been given credit for—perhaps because the less-resilient scientists have not been routinely exploring extreme habitats where these hardy mammals habituate.2
At a record-breaking altitude for any wild mammal, the mouse was seen “scurrying across a snowfield at 6,205 m above sea level” in one video-recorded observation.2,3 Yet, this high-elevation rodent is flexible enough to also live at sea level; that’s adaptability in the extreme— fitted to “fill” many habitats! Moving forward, “the team plans to look for genetic changes that might have equipped these animals to survive at high elevations.”1
Once again, scientists are surprised at how well animals—even humble, little mice—are fitted to fill this present world. And it is incredible that some animals, both birds and mammals, can live at dizzying heights without passing out from the thin air. Yet Bible-believing Christians should not be surprised when God enables creatures to do amazing things.
One mammal mentioned in Scripture and known for habituating high elevations is the mountain goat, one variety of which is the Nubian ibex. Another high-altitude creature is the marmot-like “rock badger” (a rock hyrax, also referred to as the “coney”) mentioned in Psalm 104:18, which says, “The high hills are for the wild goats; the cliffs are a refuge for the rock badgers.”4 Since the renewed Genesis Mandate (Genesis 9:1-7) applies to all animals “filling the earth,” which includes great variety in geography and biome habitats, we can find some creatures that He fitted to live at high elevations.
Even though this world is fallen, it is nonetheless “filled” with God’s creatures, from sea level to some of the globe’s highest elevations. This is no accident. The phrase “natural selection” explains neither the biodiversity nor the biome ecology involved because “nature” didn’t “select” anything. Luck (i.e., random natural processes) did not equip yellow-rumped leaf-eared mice to live at such extreme habitats; this is God’s providence on display—for those who have the eyes to see it.
Stage image: Mouse found over 6,000 meters above sea level on a dormant volcano.
Stage image credit: Marcial Quiroga-Carmona. Copyright © 2020. Adapted for use in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holders.
1. Lee, J. J. A South American Mouse is the World’s Highest-Dwelling Mammal. Science News. Posted on Sciencenews.com, July 29, 2020. “The mouse (Phyllotis xanthopygus rupestris) was found . . . on the summit of Volcán Llullaillaco, a dormant volcano on the border of Chile and Argentina.”
2. Jay F. Storz et al., “Discovery of the world’s highest-dwelling mammal,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117, no. 31 (July 16, 2020): 18169-18171, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2005265117. “M.F. [Matthew Farson] and T.B. [Thomas Bowen] filmed a mouse (identified as Phyllotis spp.) scurrying across a snowfield at 6,205 m above sea level (24°43.052′S, 68°33.323′W), an altitude that exceeds existing records for wild mammals. This sighting motivated a subsequent high-altitude trapping expedition in February 2020, led by J.F.S. [Jay F. Storz], M.Q.-C. [Marcial Quiroga-Carmona], and G.D. [Guillermo D’Elia].”
3. Mammals have also been taken into extreme altitudes by aircraft and spacecraft. For one amazing example involving a German Shepherd dog who repeatedly flew on World War II bombing runs over Germany, see Johnson, J. J. S. 2016. High-Altitude Flying Is for the Birds. Acts & Facts. 45 (3): 20-21.
4. Psalm 104:18. Regarding how God has providentially fitted mountain goats for high-elevation living, see Johnson, J. J. S. Balancing High Risks: Learning from Mountain Goats. Creation Science Update. Posted on icr.org April 23, 2020. Regarding rodents, such as alpine-elevation marmots, see Johnson, J. J. S. 2016. Woodchucks, Rockchucks, and a Shadowy Holiday. Nordic Legacy Series. (Norwegian Society of Texas, February 28, 2016): 1-11.
*Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Record-Breaking Mouse, Higher Than Any Mammal