According to the online Medieval Bestiary, “In the Christian west, it was commonly believed that the natural world, the so-called "book of nature", had been arranged as it was by God to provide a source of instruction to humanity. This idea was based, at least in part, on biblical verses such as this one from the book of Job: "But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you." (Job 12:7-10). Animals were said to have the characteristics they do not merely by accident; God created them with those characteristics to serve as examples for proper conduct and to reinforce the teachings of the Bible.”
More recently, humans seem more inclined to follow the verse in Genesis about having dominion over all creatures. But as I discovered in a recent visit to the
some creatures offer examples that humans are so far unable to follow. For
example, in the wrasse and some other species of fish who congregate in harems,
if the only male dies, the largest female undergoes a spontaneous hormonal
change and becomes male. This adaptation would be very useful for any
retirement community, especially Maui
Ocean Center singles’
organizations like Cheers and the Sixty Plus Club, to redress current gender
imbalance which is so marked that CoEd Singles has refused to admit new women
members until someone leaves or dies to try to even the numbers. In this case,
humans seem to be unable to learn from the beasts. Sun
Gender imbalance is only a temporary problem for the reef octopus. The male dies after mating, and the female dies after incubation is complete—often serving as food for her offspring. This may seem a cruel trick of nature, but at least this species does not have to deal with PTA, Little League, and, worst of all, teenagers.
The Goldring Surgeonfish offers magical results rather than direct lessons, but pre-Christian Hawaiians found a spiritual and eminently practical use for it. They buried one of these fish with the house-posts on the east side of a house. If a priest entered the house and predicted trouble for the family, he would die. Should this actually work, one could make a fortune raising these fish—but only if their salutary effect could be extended beyond priests to include conservative talk-show hosts, talking heads on Sunday morning television, and televangelists who apparently have answered yes to the question posed by the song “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?” And maybe everyone who appears in People Magazine. What a wonderful world this would be!