Turtles, Birdwatching, and Living Through Tough Times | The Institute for Creation Research
Turtles, Birdwatching, and Living Through Tough Times
How can learning about turtles and doing some birdwatching be useful during this time? Local disasters are declared, and ordinary life activities are restricted, or even banned, under penalty of monetary fines or jail-time? Can any of this be applied to us appreciating the Lord Jesus as Creator of all life?

In times when travel and other customary activities are restricted, or temporarily banned, it’s good to recognize what opportunities are still available to be enjoyed. In addition, it’s valuable to use your time to honor God, since storing up treasures in Heaven is superior to investing your heart’s treasure in this temporal, changing, and unpredictable world.1

Contrary to what some might think, turtles are actually good role models. And bird-watching might not be for all, but it has value. During unusual times it can be good to reconsider lifestyle options, for now and for the future.

Below follows a quick study of three turtle traits, transferable to birdwatching habits, which might benefit you—or someone you care about. Better yet, all of three of these seemingly disconnected thoughts (turtle traits, birdwatching habits, and your own quality of life) can be blended to glorify God.

Specifically, birdwatching is a worthwhile activity for recreational and economic reasons. It encourages habits of recreational independence, patient resilience, and frugality—and all of these virtues are found in turtles.

Plus, if you appreciate that all birds are specially created by God Himself, for His own pleasure and honor, then you can easily glorify God as you enjoy watching His winged wonders.2,3

Independence

Imagine driving down a country road, where a turtle is slowly crossing. You swerve to avoid squashing the poor reptile. Being a slow pedestrian in traffic contexts is a distinct disadvantage.

However, the turtle’s slowness is often an advantage, because its independent lifestyle is never in a rush to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Instead of allowing the image of a lethargic, indifferent creature to mislead [as you consider the lifestyle of a rural turtle], envision these pedestrians as animals enviably insulated form [most of] the vagaries of their setting. In fact, land tortoises seem more divorced from environmental stresses than any other Appalachian vertebrate.

The turtle’s habitat provides our first hint of its independence. Box turtles live in a variety of terrestrial situations—though permanent water does not seem to be a requirement. High densities of these reptiles commonly occur in woodlots with large trees, canopy gaps, and a diversified ground cover. The turtles bask in openings in the canopy and munch on a variety of short plants. The close ground cover of woody shrubs and leaf litter provide shelter. To feed and bask, box turtles also frequently enter open areas adjacent to the woods….4

Patience

Another one of the box turtle’s built-in advantages is patient resilience. It can survive tough times, climatologically speaking. Patience, of course, is a benefit for any bird-watcher.

One environmental condition [that] turtles do respond to is a cold snap in autumn. Box turtles enter hibernation with the first killing frost. A wet fall [i.e., a rainy autumn] without a sudden freeze provides good conditions for entering hibernation. Dry weather, which makes digging difficult, and a sudden freeze may trap some individuals above ground. Surprisingly, box turtles do not hibernate below the frost line, but remain dormant at depths of up to five inches below the leaf litter….

Members of the genus Terrapene, which includes the eastern box turtle, hibernate in shallow terrestrial burrows that feature a vertical extension to the surface. In cold spells, turtles turn their heads farthest from the opening. In Ohio, the average turtle spends 142 days in a burrow under three inches of leaf litter with its plastron [i.e., the ventral (“belly”) surface of the turtle’s shell] recessed two inches into the soil. In such shallow retreats, box turtles are exposed to freezing temperatures, yet they usually survive. Able to supercool to only -1.1 C [i.e., just below freezing] this strategy cannot be its entire secret [of winter weather survival]….

In an astounding adaptation [i.e., an amazing design-feature that fits the turtle for filling that habitat], the box turtle is able to survive the freezing of 58 percent of its body water for seventy-three hours, making the box turtle the largest animal known to exhibit freeze-tolerance….4

In other words, turtles wait during tough times, and their patience is routinely rewarded. How does this relate to birdwatching? Birdwatchers who are patient, and avoid fast or jerky movements, are more likely to enjoy seeing birds, especially if binoculars are handy—as opposed to scaring birds off (by movements that startle them) due to spectator impatience.

Frugality

A third advantageous trait of the box turtle is its metabolic frugality. Turtles are slow to spend their biochemical energy, so that means they don’t need to eat a lot to replenish energy!

A box turtle’s daily behavior seems to be divorced from the caprice of its immediate environment. The condition of a turtle at any particular time appears more an integration of its past experiences than a reflection of its present stresses [due to three of the turtle’s anatomical/physiological design-features]….

Most obviously, a box turtle’s shell takes the edge off environmental extremes by buffering its body from environmental stresses such as heat and drought. During severe drought, the tortoises do not concentrate around creeks—they merely seek moist sites within their home ranges, make a form [i.e., a depression in surface vegetation, descending into only about 1” of topsoil] under a pile of leaves, and rest peacefully.

Second, their forms and hinged plastrons protect and conceal them from what few predators they do have, such as raccoons. And third, box turtles have a low metabolism. Coupling that with omnivorous food habits, they enjoy a high supply—low demand economy and do not need to hustle. They eat insects, earthworms, strawberries, [other] fruits, mushrooms, and many other foods, yet they burn these calories slowly. In these ways, box turtles enjoy a tremendous hedge against environmental stresses.4

In other words, the box turtle is frugal about metabolically spending its food energy. If it doesn’t spend a lot, then it doesn’t need a lot. As the old saying goes, which surely applies to animal metabolism: “If your output exceeds your input, your upkeep is your downfall.”

So how does this apply to birdwatching?

First, just as turtles are relatively independent, birdwatching is a pastime for those who are independent. There is no need for popular approval for birdwatching. Birdwatching can be done as a group, yet it also can be done individually. Independent-minded people are often birdwatchers, because birding is a wonderful hobby, regardless of whether others appreciate it or not.

Second, just as turtles are patient and calm, birdwatching requires patience for the best results.

Third, just as turtles are economically frugal in their metabolic spending habits, birdwatching is a pastime that is perfect for people of modest means, as well as for people of surplus means who are frugal with their resources. Many hobbies are expensive—but not birdwatching!

Although it is certainly possible to spend a lot of money birdwatching, such as taking a birding vacation to Costa Rica, a lot of birdwatching opportunities can be enjoyed with just a bird-book, binoculars, notepad, and pen. Having an inexpensive hobby provides economic freedom. No need to worry about the cost of birdwatching!

So, enjoy your birdwatching opportunities. It’s good for practicing independence, plus it develops your patience and economic responsibility!

And all of those three habits are good virtues for improving your own quality of life. Moreover, if you are consciously honoring God5 as you go birdwatching (which ICR has promoted previously3), then you are storing up treasures in heaven,1 instead of just spending your time on earth for no reward.

References
1. Matthew 6:19-21.
2. Revelation 4:11, 1 Corinthians 10:31.
3. Johnson, J.J. S. 2015. Attracted to Genesis by Magnets and a Bird Book. Acts & Facts. 44(8):19.
4. Constanz, G. 2004. Box Turtle’s Independence. In Hollows, Peepers, and Highlanders: An Appalachian Mountain Ecology, 2nd edition. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 127-129, 131.
5. 1 Corinthians 10:31.

*Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.
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