Raiders of the Ark

To the builders of Ark Encounter, a state-sponsored theme park in Kentucky espousing that the flood in Genesis was a historical event: While carpenters you must have many, and animal handlers at least a few, I imagine you don’t have a proper biologist on your crew. Before you build a replica of the famous Ark, let me give you a few pointers that may help you with construction:

  • There are between 3 and 30 million species of animal on Earth. Perhaps more.
  • 40,000 of these are spiders, and perhaps 1 million of those species are beetles. Happy hunting.
  • The Ark was supposedly 300 x 50 x 30 cubits — a “cubit” being about 18 inches — which means the boat was roughly 450 x 75 x 45 feet, or roughly the same carrying capacity as 569 railroad freight cars. No doubt your carpenters and engineers already know this. What your engineers may not have accounted for is that 569 train cars filled with 1,600 tons of animals do not float.
  • Especially not when you include the aquarium. You may have thought that Noah at least got to ignore the aquatic animals, but unfortunately, when you flood the Earth with freshwater until it covers the mountains, neither most freshwater nor most saltwater animals can survive. The ocean’s salinity level would have been merely “brackish,” a mix of salty water and fresh which most aquatic animals cannot tolerate. So you’ll want to account for several trillion gallons of water in several wooden aquariums, including potable freshwater for yourself and the terrestrial animals.
  • Might want to reconsider the size of a “cubit,” huh?
  • The ark is typically pictured with a single pair of giraffes, their heads sticking out like a couple loaves of french bread in a grocery bag. There are at least five subspecies of giraffe. Please do not forget all your giraffe-holes.
  • There was undoubtedly a separate room for the Tasmanian devils and the honey badgers. Probably a dungeon, with restraints.
  • A giant panda consumes between 20 and 40 lbs of bamboo daily. Account for storage capacity for 6,300 lbs of bamboo for your pandas alone. The elephants will need 60 tons of food for themselves.
  • In Genesis 7:2-3, it says:

    Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

    Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.

    This means that only the “unclean” animals were taken in single pairs, while “clean” animals were taken 14 at a time. Given that there are roughly 10,000 birds on Earth, for example, that means your Ark has to account for 140,000 individual birds. Even squeezed tight, there is not enough floor space on your current Ark model for the 100,000 square feet of newspaper Noah needs to change every day.

  • Here’s a trickier question: Where did Noah keep the termites? As an “unclean” animal, perhaps there were only two of each species aboard, a queen and a male. But the paradox here is that a giant anteater, which primarily eats termites, will eat 30,000 in a single day. And as it lacks teeth of any kind, or hydrochloric acid in its stomach as most mammals have (the formic acid from its ant and termite prey works just as well), you have to feed the anteater termites. So, ignoring the pangolins, the tuandaras, the aardwolves, the numbats, and all other anteaters and ant-eaters, a single pair of giant anteaters would need 12.6 million termites to survive the 7-month journey. Seeing how the Ark is built entirely of wood, you can see how this might present a problem.

    The Giant Anteater of South America may not have teeth, but it does have hard growths in its mouth for chewing up its thousands of daily termites, and the grit its tongue picks up when licking the termitary (the termite mound) aids in digestion as well. A solitary creature, it ambles from one termitary to the next on the lonely and level pampas, always walking on its knuckles, ripping open the termitary walls with its tremendous claws and extending its sticky, two-foot long tongue into the chambers at a rate of 150 times a minute, essentially drinking termites at the rate of dozens per second. It is careful never to consume the larger part of any one mound, as to allow the termite population to rebound before its next harvest. When threatened, it will stand on its hind legs and strike with its claws like a knifefighter. There’s been at least one story of a giant anteater crouched with bloody claws over the carcass of a jaguar. There’s at least one case of a giant anteater mauling a zookeeper to death.

    Like the giant panda, eating only one kind of food has given the anteater some remarkable adaptations. For one, its metabolism is slow, and its body temperature is a mere 90.8 F, the lowest of any land mammal. Also unlike most mammals, its incredible tongue is not connected to the hyoid bone in its throat, but instead is attached to the sternum, so that it pulls termites directly into its esophagus. Specialists pay for their specialties: It has poor vision and hearing, is largely inactive for most of the day, and like the koala, another picky eater, the anteater is incredibly stupid.

    Not on the first date, Gene Simmons.

  • But its voracious appetite means the Ark must be built with several termite colonies. Wood is an incredibly rich food source if you can digest it — witness the amount of energy cellulose gives off when you light firewood. Though many termites produce their own cellulose-dissolving enzymes, they mainly rely on protozoans in their guts to break down the tough cellulose, and the protozoans in turn rely on bacterial microbes to help them. This chain of organisms turn termites and termitaries into incredible power plants, producing hydrogen as a byproduct of cellulose; termites can produce two liters of hydrogen by eating a single piece of paper. For this reason, they are being researched as a source of alternative energy; while termite farming would never be carbon-neutral, studying their symbiotic microbes may help us better understand how to produce hydrogen with available materials. In any case, dear Ark builders, be sure to build a chimney above your termite room; Noah must have, or else the Ark would have blown up like the Hindenburg. Though termites don’t need to eat very much wood, because of its richness of energy, it adds up. By my spitball calculations, 12.6 million termites would devour about 3,000 board feet of boat over the course of the journey. Of course, the anteaters would be rapidly decimating their population. But even if it was only 1,500 board feet, that’s still a sizable leak, and 12.6 million termites only accounts for the number needed for the giant anteaters, not the tamanduas and numbats, et al. If you want to take the Bible literally, your Ark must have anteaters, and if it has anteaters, it must have termites, and if it has termites, your whole ridiculous idea is literally sunk.
  • And that doesn’t even account for the beavers.
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    About quantumbiologist

    Christian Drake, AKA The Quantum Biologist, is a naturalist and poet formerly of Albuquerque, NM and currently living deep in the backwoods of the Connecticut Berkshires. He has worked in aquariums and planetariums, national parks and urban forests. When not birding or turning over rocks to find weird bugs, he enjoys rockabilly music, gourmet cooking, playing harmonica and writing dirty haiku. View all posts by quantumbiologist

    9 responses to “Raiders of the Ark

    • karen g

      Oh, please do go on about the beavers! 😀

    • Copernicus

      You forgot that Noah had to carry all the dinosaurs, too. Dinosaurs existed at the same time as Noah. It’s all laid out here:

      • quantumbiologist

        Nonsense. You know it was the flood that killed the dinosaurs! And the trilobites, and anything in the Burgess Shale. Apparently, the Creationist Museum made by the same Ark people is built on Ordovician-era rocks containing untold numbers of fossils that died 450 million years ago. Or, according to their timeline, just before Socrates.

        • quantumbiologist

          Though, if Noah DID have to transport the dinosaurs, that means he had to transport everything that came since the dinosaurs, such as mammoths and sabretooths and giant ground sloths. In fact, every iteration of every land-living or freshwater animal ever, including the Neanderthals, Java Man, Australopithecus, the Hobbit people, Homo Erectus… man, that’s not only crowded, it’s awkward at the dinner table.

    • lapsed_biologist

      Great post. Funny stuff. This idea begs many questions. Just a few that come to mind:

      How did the animals from South America get to the Mideast?

      If Yahweh magically transported them there, why couldn’t he just magically re-create all the animals over again?

      Where did all the extra water come from, and where did it go again?

    • Derek E

      From one writer to another: I love your voice. It’s rare nowadays that faceless words on a screen have their own personality to them. I was never into animals or biology until I found this webpage. And it’s all due to the (often hilarious) writing style. Keep it up!

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