How Mites Know When the Feather Might Fall?

Three flying birds All birds have a tiny arthropod called a feather mite that lives in their feathers. These mites are a symbiotic organism which means that they benefit the bird they live on and are benefitted themselves by the birds. Feather mites eat oil and fungi, thus cleaning the bird and keeping the bird healthy. In return, the mites get both a place to live and a regular supply of food.

The complication in this arrangement is that once a year, the birds molt, shedding their feathers so that new ones can grow. If the mites were to stay on a feather being molted, they would ultimately die from the process. Spanish biologists studying this phenomena discovered that feathers about to be shed were free of mites. Before the feathers are shed, the mites get off and concentrate themselves numerically on feathers that are not shed. The question is "how do the mites know when the feather they are on is about to be shed and it is time to move?"

In a study of 63 songbirds in 13 species, all of them showed this capacity. The mites were able to pick up vibrations generated when the feathers to be shed begin loosening in the bird. This is another case where trial-and-error seems to be an unfortunate proposal. An error would be fatal, and so the mite would fall off when the feathers do and another trial is not available.

When God designed living things, He planned down to the shedding of feathers and for those organisms dependent on the feathers. These behaviors cannot be a product of the organism's reasoning, but they can be the result of an infinite Intelligence that planned all aspects of the organism's existence.

--Reference: Natural History, February 2002, page 18.

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