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GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
There is no other god beside GOD
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And God created every living creature from water. Some of them walk on their bellies, some walk on two legs, and some walk on four. God creates whatever He wills. God is Omnipotent. (24:45)
This verse clearly refers to all of God’s creatures but it specifically covers reptiles. Reptiles are a class of animals, made up of snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodilians and tuatara. The last is a rare, lizardlike reptile that lives only on a few islands near New Zealand. They are called living fossils since all the rest of their order is extinct, having died out millions of years ago. Why they survive, no one knows and little is known about them.
Much, however, is known and written about the other reptiles because we interact with them regularly, and like all of God’s creations there is much that is fascinating. There are more than 2500 species of snakes, about 2500 species of lizards, 250 different kinds of turtles, and about 22 different crocodiles.
Snakes live in most of the warm places in the world, ranging from harmless to deadly, from plain to colorful, from a tiny four inches to over 30 feet in length. Snakes do not have a good reputation. Biblical references to snakes are very negative since it’s a snake which tempted Eve to eat the apple and thus caused the downfall of mankind. And when Moses’ staff is turned into a serpent, he harbors fear. Plus, we have some pretty negative expressions in the English language taken from reptiles and reptile behavior. We call a cheating, conniving person a “snake in the grass;” a cowardly person “crawls on his belly;” a very callous action is “in cold blood,” even the dictionary definition of snake includes: “a treacherous person.” A snake pit is a mental institution or any very dangerous place. But interestingly, for some cultures, the snake represents rebirth and renewal, perhaps because of its ability to shed its skin and thus start over.
With all the amazing variety of other animals, why did God create something that has to walk on its belly? It, of course, has a very important place in the food chain—eating large numbers of rodents, lizards and such, and being eaten by others. But more importantly, like all the other variety, I think it’s for us to study and marvel at. Part of the proof of God’s creation.
Snakes are fascinating in that, as God says, they walk on their bellies, with amazing agility. There are actually four quite different types of locomotion. The most frequently used method is the simple, undulating crawl, which is called the serpentine method. The snake pushes against the ground and flows smoothly forward, using muscles specifically designed for this. Heavier-bodied snakes may use a method called caterpillar where the skin is moved forward and backward by strong muscles, and the broad belly scales grip the ground, moving the snake forward in a straight line. Several desert-dwelling species use sidewinding to move on loose sand. In this method the snake rolls its body sidewise along the ground in a looping motion. The fourth method is known as concertina, because the body is alternately stretched out and pulled together as the snake moves from one anchor point to another. The concertina is used in crossing smooth surfaces and in climbing.
Also fascinating are the adaptations God has provided which allow a snake to eat. You have to wonder how something that long and narrow can eat at all, let alone eat an animal that may be many times wider than the snake’s mouth. Although they have teeth, snakes cannot tear apart an animal and eat it in pieces. It must swallow its food whole, so the snake must actually decide whether or not he can get it down. Snakes eat everything from ants to rabbits, frogs, lizards, mice and eggs. Large snakes like anacondas and pythons may take down deer, antelope, crocodiles and even humans. Most normal sized meals are swallowed easily and quickly, but a truly large meal may require several hours to consume and weeks or months to digest. A python may eat only once a year. God has provided several adaptations to make eating possible for snakes. A special hinge in the jaw allows the mouth to open wide enough and rows of teeth pointed back pull the food in. While swallowing very large animals, the snake would not be able to breath so God provided an additional organ, a tracheal lung, around the windpipe which allows lung function to continue in spite of the pressure, and the windpipe itself can be pushed outward past the animal being swallowed to allow air in.
With over 2500 species there is great variation in color, size and of course, how they interact with humans. One of the more deadly is the black mamba of Africa which grows to 14 feet in length and moves through trees as easily as through the tall grass. It can hold its head up to 20 inches off the ground even as it moves. It’s considered the fastest snake in the world and has a very deadly bite, with 100 % mortality. The victim dies very quickly, within minutes.
Cobras are also virulent with 30,000 deaths reported annually in China alone. They hang around crumbling ruins and lurk in roofs of huts. They’re waiting for rodents and lizards, but if disturbed by a human they will react defensively. They strike swiftly and accurately or they spit venom several feet in front of them. The venom acts as an anesthetic so the victim feels no fear, no anxiety, no pain, almost as if hypnotized.
Rattlesnakes also have a deadly venom. The young are born live, rather than from eggs, and they are born ready to strike with venom sacks full. In fact, the bite of a young rattler may be more potent than an adult’s, plus multiple bites may occur as a litter of as many as 20 emerge. Emulating the rattlesnake is the harmless gopher snake. God has provided them with similar coloration and they mimic the behavior—flattening their heads, hissing, and rattling their tails (even though they don’t have rattles). Most predators don’t take any chances and leave them alone.
Snakes come in so many colors and wonderful patterns of spots, stripes and bands. When we study them, we see that they are one of God’s miraculous creations. They should be respected not reviled.
Lizards too come in a huge variety of shapes and colors. Most lizards walk on all four legs, but there are legless lizards (which are not snakes) and there’s the basilisk lizard which, when running very fast, will get up on two legs. He can even race across the surface of water on his two back legs. There’s also a lizard that “flies”—it opens out flaps of skin along its sides as it leaps off a tree branch and glides from tree to tree.
The largest lizard is the Komodo Dragon which may be ten feet long and weigh over 350 pounds. The Komodo Islands of Indonesia are a dangerous place, with more deadly snakes, scorpions and poisonous spiders than anywhere else on earth. Earthquakes, tidal waves, and monsoon rains occur over half the year, followed by wildfires in the dry grass the other half, and all around are active volcanoes. It’s no surprise, then, that a huge monitor lizard evolved here and was referred to as a dragon. It seemed so fantastic that early accounts were discounted as myth until 1912, and they’re still not a well understood animal.
Komodo dragons live 50 years or more, and they’re considered quite smart. To hunt, they lie in ambush, remembering a place they were successful before and preparing their hiding place hours in advance. When a herd of deer pass by the hide-out, the dragon lunges out with great speed to knock the deer over. If they miss, they can’t run down the prey so they just go back to wait some more. If they’re successful, they will take several weeks to digest the meal, probably eating only about 12 meals a year.
Much smaller but still large for a lizard is the Gila Monster, the only venomous lizard of North America and one of only two in the world. This desert dweller moves slowly, feeding on eggs laid on the ground and small rodents. Since food and water are sometimes scarce in the desert, God has provided by allowing it to store fat in its tail and live off that resource in lean times.
Another desert dweller is the horned lizard or “horny toad.” Their specific adaptations include a dull color and a flat body which makes them difficult to see, and horns and spiny scales which make them difficult to swallow. In addition, a unique defense mechanism allows the horned lizard to squirt blood from its eyes when severely threatened.
The smallest lizard in the world is the British Virgin Island gecko, which is less than half an inch long. Geckos are interesting little creatures, one of few lizards that vocalize—they emit a high squeak. They can climb anything, even walk on ceilings, because they have special toe pads which contain microscopic hooks for hanging on. Their tails detach easily when grabbed by a predator and will continue to wiggle for several minutes, allowing the gecko time to get away. They regenerate a new tail within a few weeks.
And (He created) for you on earth things of various colors. This is a (sufficient) proof for people who take heed. (16:13)
Lizards are colorful indeed. They come in all shades of green and are adorned with yellows, oranges, reds, even blue. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the chameleon that can change colors at will. Chameleons are also the “sharpshooters of the lizard kingdom.” They can move their eyes independently so they can keep one eye on prey as they sneak up on it and use the other eye to watch out for predators. When they get close they focus both eyes on the prey giving them an excellent binocular view. The tongue is as long as the body and tail combined and it sits rolled up in the mouth. When they let it go with a lightning strike, they are incredibly accurate. And the tip is large and sticky so they zap their prey and draw it back into their mouth.
Snakes and lizards both play an important part in preserving the balance of nature. They eat large numbers of insects and rodents, which make them beneficial to man. Their variety and their fascinating characteristics make them another proof of God’s creation.
The heavens and the earth are full of proofs for the
believers. Also in your creation, and the creation of all the animals, there
are proofs for people who are certain. (45:3-4)
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