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Crayfish Chimney

Northern Shoveler, San Antonio NM, February 10, 2011

... intelligence has entered the development of man, and because of it, his arms and fingers can be used to play a violin, paint a picture, remove a damaged fragment from a human brain, and fondle a woman. These things the claws of the crayfish cannot do.

Late one afternoon I sat upon my camera case beside the path where it wound through the darkest part of the woods, down near the pond, and watched a crayfish building his "chimney," the land entrance to his underwater tunnel. He had just started to work above the ground when I first arrived. He came up through the moist black earth, carrying a ball of it between his two enormous fighting claws. Using the claws as hands, he spread the soil around the hole to form the base of the chimney. He then backed down the hole and after several minutes came up with another armful.

The claws he was using were designed for fighting and not for spreading mud, and they were very clumsy tools with which to work. They had been developed in a dim, ferocious past to protect him against his enemies. They reminded me of the mechanical arms now being used by man for handling objects in atomic furnaces, arms developed in the sophisticated present to protect man from a power that he, through knowledge, has released and which, uncontrolled, could annihilate him.

The claws of the crayfish and the natural arms of man are manipulated in the same manner, by nerves and muscles coordinated in the brain. Both species are capable of waging war. But intelligence has entered the development of man, and because of it, his arms and fingers can be used to play a violin, paint a picture, remove a damaged fragment from a human brain, and fondle a woman. These things the claws of the crayfish cannot do. It is doubtful that the newly developed robot arms of man, sophisticated though they are, will ever be able to do all of them either, nor fondle a woman ever.

It is easier to comprehend the life processes in the soft-bodied creatures, caterpillars, birds, fish, mammals, than in those, such as the crayfish, covered with hard outer shells. They appear more like machines with joints that need lubrication.

The crayfish is an amazing creature which has survived from a far distant past. It thrives on a variety of foods - vegetable, carrion, living creatures - and can make a meal out of its own discarded shell. It replaces the shell when it gets too small, and can replace claws that are broken off. It has an ingenious way of communicating with other members of its kind. Through ball-and-socket joints at the base of its long feelers, it can transmit signals, audible in the larger species to man, that tell of locating food, as well as warn of danger.

All of this is "standard equipment" and arrives with the young crayfish from the "egg factory." How wonderful it would be if human engineers could design an automobile capable of using such a wide variety of fuel, of replacing parts when they are damaged, and at regular intervals of producing a whole new outer covering. And yet it is not so. Indeed, while a modern automobile has over twenty thousand separate parts, a vastly greater number are needed to produce a crayfish. It is a sobering thought to realize how limited some of man's achievements are.

As I watched the crayfish in his prehistoric armor back down into the dark tunnel, I thought of the air-raid shelters now being built by human beings.

I left the crayfish still working at his chimney-building. By the following morning the chimney was nearly a foot in height, and several others had been built in the marsh area during the night.

From The Lure of the Pond by Wallace Kirkland, Henry Regnery Co,1969, pages 30-32

clipped March 24, 2007

Collection: Natural Science