Natural Selection Is For The Birds
Wednesday - August 04, 2010
Charles Darwin is credited with the theory of natural selection. This theory is based on the premise that character and physical traits advantageous to survival are passed from one generation to the next. Those with physical attributes or innate behaviors that do not favor survival will inevitably become extinct.
It’s survival of the fittest. Though this may make logical sense, I believe there are other powers at work in the animal kingdom.
Characteristics that should be extinct somehow survive given the right set of circumstances. This became apparent to me when a Good Samaritan entered our hospital.
It was a hot summer’s day, one that made me appreciate being indoors swathed in air-conditioned bliss. Mrs. Chun arrived carrying a small birdcage with a towel draped over it. By the size of the cage, I knew the inhabitant couldn’t be that big. What surprised me was the lack of whistles and chirps that frequently came from the common pet store variety of birds.
“Dr. Kaya,” started Mrs. Chun, “I have a little friend here that needs your help. I found him in my yard baking in the hot sun. I usually don’t pick up stray animals and I was a bit worried, but this bird just allowed me to scoop him up. I think he’s really sick.”
Peering into the cage, I saw a weakened common gray dove slumped in one corner.
“Mrs. Chun, I need to weigh and examine the little critter, but he doesn’t look very good. Even with gentle manipulation, he may die,” I warned gently.
Mrs. Chun asked me to proceed, but I could tell she was worried. First we obtained a weight with our gram scale and the reading confirmed what I suspected. The dove was severely mal-nourished. The physical exam revealed a pronounced keel (breast bone) with very little muscle mass to either side, which further supported the nutritional status of our patient. But what caused the emaciation?
As I continued with the physical, I noticed the bird’s neck bulging outward. Upon palpation, I could feel a “whole lot of something” lodged in the crop (throat) of Mr. Dove. Being that he was so small, I was limited in the instruments I could use to get the foreign bodies out. In fact, using any device may cause trauma to the dove’s delicate anatomy.
I attached a blunt metal instrument to a syringe filled with sterile water. Gently entering the beak, I flushed the fluid into the bird’s throat. I then held our little friend upside down and gently “milked” the objects from his neck. After 10 minutes of flushing and massaging, I was able to get everything out.
What was the culprit? It was a collection of approximately 20 small garden snails. My guess is that mama bird did not teach our little friend to avoid snails too large to pass into his stomach. Either that, or maybe he inherited a recessive gene that impaired his superb intelligence.
Mrs. Chun was very grateful and planned on nursing her newfound friend to health, after which she then hoped to release him back into the great outdoors.
My hope was that the dove learned his lesson and would avoid snails in the future. Next time he may not be lucky enough to have a Mrs. Chun help him with his eating disorder.
So was Charles Darwin correct? Do animals evolve and successfully adapt to their environment over time? If so, then why did Mr. Dove eat all those snails and nearly die from starvation?
Darwinians need to chew on that one and hope that they don’t choke on the answer. I believe that sometimes the “crazy” gene just gets passed on. Take a good long look in the mirror. I think you’ll find that there is a little bit of The Wild Side in all of us.
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