... and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the
earth.”23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the
fifth day. Genesis 1:21-23 NIV

We will continue our exploration of God's amazing creations with birds. Why the Spoonbill? Well, it reminded me of a story I heard many years ago.  

This story is about a man, we'll call him Steve, who died and found himself walking down a long white hallway. He wandered for a bit until he came to a room where a table laden with sumptuous foods stood in the center. People were seated in cushioned chairs all around the table, but they were pale and  emaciated. Puzzled by this, Steve stepped into the room and discovered that each person had long spoons strapped to their arms. The spoon handle was too long to allow them to eat. Horrified at his discovery, he backed from the room and stumbled into the room across the hall. 

It too had a food laden table in the center of the room surrounded by people with long spoons attached to their arms. But these people were satiated and happily chatting with one another. While Steve watched, a young man dipped his spoon into a dish filled with potato salad. He raised his spoon to the lips of the elderly woman across from him. After she had her mouthful of potato salad, she dipped her spoon into a bowl of tomato soup and offered it to him.  

With great excitement Steve ran back to the other room and told the man closest to the door there was a solution to their problem. All he had to do was feed his neighbor and his neighbor would return the favor. The man said "I'd rather starve than feed that disgusting man across from me." Steve then understood God's wisdom in choosing who ended up in which room. 

And perhaps this bird is a reminder to us of this story. 

This Spoonbill is the Roseate Spoonbill. They live in the Caribbean, southern Florida, South and Central America, Louisiana and Texas. Like the helpful people from the story above, they are a gregarious bird who feed, breed and travel in flocks. Spoonbills are often seen with herons, ibis and other birds as they forage for food. They are found in both salt and freshwater. 

They used their spoonbills to sweep through the water seeking insects, small amphibians, fish or crustaceans. If anything touches the inside of their bill, it snaps shut and they raise their long neck to swallow. (No, they don’t have to share with their neighbor!)  They do spend many hours each day feeding in both early morning and evening. 

Most spoonbills prefer to build their nests in reed-beds or trees. The males gather the nesting material while the female weaves the nest. She lays between 3-5 eggs that both parents care for. The chicks’ bills are short and straight, and only gain the spoonbill shape when they get older.

Can you think of any birds that remind you of a bible story or a story about living the Christian life?

We end our exploration of God's Fantastical Underwater Creatures with a story. Enjoy!

“Laaadies … and Gentlemen.” The MC adjusted his satin, purple top hat with one of his eight tentacles while simultaneously holding onto the microphone, signing an autograph and perching his other six legs on a ridiculously small mushroom one of the Jellies had brought in. 

"Elysia.” Phestimel slid over to her emerald Sea Slug friend. “What are we doing here?”

“Shhh.” Elysia waggled her short green rhinospores.“The Jellies will hear you.”
Phesti shrugged, causing the bronze cerata covering her back to wiggle. “So? I don’t care what those stuck up Jellies think. They don’t own the water.”

Elysia rolled her eyes. “I just want to watch the show.

“Fine, though why you want to watch a bunch of Jellies float down a runway is beyond me.”

“I told Olindias I would cheer her on.” Elysia nodded toward her Jellyfish friend. “Oooo, look. Here come the Weedies. They’re going to dance.”

"Excuse me, would you care for a drink?” 
Elysia swiveled. The blue ringed Octopus server offered a silver tray with tall glasses of green liquid. “Uhmm, no thank you.”

“A crab cake perhaps?” He extended another silver, crab laden tray and then a third, covered with shells. “Oysters?”

“No.” She waved her oral tentacles. “I’m fine, but thanks all the same.”
The red-orange Sea Dragons opened the Jellyfish Fashion Show two by two, sashaying down the blue-green algae runway, mirroring each other’s movements, dorsal fins fluttering. The crowd on either side murmured, ooo’d and awe’d as the ten pairs passed by. 

With a bow and a puff, he jetted over to a flat rock table where several bright orange Octopi were gathered. They snatched the crab cakes off the platter and began to stuff themselves.

Phesti shuddered. “I can’t stand watching them eat. It’s the beaks I think.”

Elysia shrugged, her mantle edges curling. “I don’t mind. At least they’re neat.”

“Well, you like everyone.” Phesti waved her foot tentacles. “Even after all the nasty things those Jellies said to you and you still come to their show.”

"Just because they’re unkind doesn’t mean I have to be. And Olindias stood up for me.” 

“Maybe she grew a brain.” 

“Phesti.” Elysia flared out her mantle. “That is not nice.”

“They called you slime foot.” Phesti wagged her cerata. “How can you defend them?”

“AND now for the event we have all been waiting for.” The MC’s voice gurgled over the sound system. “Our first contestant is the stunning Pink Jellie. Note the fascinating floral pattern on her fuchsia bell.”

Bubbles of green applause blew all around the runway as the brilliant pink jellyfish floated by. 
“And next we have a fan favorite.” The MC waved three of his  tentacles towards the approaching entrant. “The Orange Sea Nettle.”

Eyes glued to the entryway, Elysia waited for her friend to make an appearance. 

“Our third entry is from Down Under." He tipped his purple top hat. "The Australian Spotted Jellie.” 
Elysia’s attention was captured by the beauty and elegance of the spotted, white creature as she glided past. Just as the Australian reached the end of the runway, Elysia noticed an odd flash of light drawing the contestant toward it. 
“Did you see that?”

Phesti twisted her foot to peer down to the end of the runway. “Too far for me to see anything. What was it?”

“I don’t know.” She slid closer to the algae and then slipped around the Octopi rock table until she was closer to the end of the runway. A black Sea Nettle was reaching the runway end when the light flashed again followed by an ominous slurping noise. 

“What are you doing?”

Elysia’s mantle flew open. “Phesti, you scared me near to pieces.” She slid closer to the odd noise. The light from her mantle grew brighter and her eyes grew wider as the origin of the noise was revealed. Elysia slid backward as fast as she could, shoving into Phesti.  

“Phesti, we’ve got to stop the show.” She pushed her friend forward. “Keep ahead of me. Stop the show.” She raced onto the runway.“Stop the show.”

Olindias was gliding toward her. “Elysia, how could you? This was my moment.”

“You don’t understand. You’ve got to stop. Don’t go to the end.”

Olindias bell puffed as she tried to get past Elysia. “But why? I see a beautiful light down there.” She waved her tentacles at Elysia. “Just because they wouldn’t let you compete is no reason to ruin it for the rest of us.”

Elysia raced alongside her friend, grateful for once that her slime allowed her to keep pace. “You don’t understand, Olindias.” She flared her mantle and using all the solar light she had stored, she lit up the danger.“It’s an Anglerfish!”

The iridescent bubbles of applause turned to pale bubbles of horror as the crowd panicked. Octopus jetted past the Leafy and Weedy Sea Dragons, pulling them along with the current away from the Anglerfish. The MC’s mushroom was trampled by the stampeding Sea Horses and he fell over, all eight legs a tangled mess. 

Olindias managed to jet away from the peril while Elysia and Phesti slid to safety. 

The Anglerfish, its deception now revealed, left in a huff. 
“Oh, Elysia … I’m such an idiot.” Olindias drifted over. “I should have known you’d never have tried to disrupt my big day without good reason.”

“You are an idiot.” Phesti murmured. 
“No problem.” Elysia raised her voice to drown out Phesti. “It’s easy to be fooled by the light of the Angler.”

“Laaadies and gentlemen.” The MC had somehow managed to regain his mushroom stool and contain the audience panic. “Let’s all give a warm round of applause to the bravery of our friend, Elysia, the Sea Slug.” 
Bright pink, purple and gold bubbles erupted from the crowd.

The MC waved his arms until the crowd quieted. “It's true what she said. It is easy to be fooled by the light of the Angler, but we can all be grateful that it's false light doesn’t stand a chance when revealed by the light of the sun.”

Yay for Elysia! So, who was your favorite character? Our heroine of the day, her intrepid and somewhat irascible companion, Phesti or maybe the MC, with his purple top hat?

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you come again. Next time we'll explore the Lord's amazing creatures of the air.
Marching ... er... swimming on. Our final deep sea contestant for the weird and wonderful brought to you by our marvelous Creator is the Anglerfish.

I know, it's really creepy! But if you lived almost a mile below the surface and in total darkness ... well ... you'd probably look a little creepy too!

 Anglerfish have often won the accolade of being the ugliest creature on the planet. Generally dark gray to dark brown in color, they  have large heads with crescent shaped mouths filled with sharp, fang like translucent teeth that are angled inward. They vary in length from 8 inches to 3  feet long and can weigh up to 100 pounds. (And this is NOT something I would ever want to find on the end of my fishing line-if I ever actually did any fishing. :))  Their skin and bones are very flexible though fragile. This flexibility enables them to swallow prey twice their size. This is a handy ability to have when you live where food is scarce. 
The more than 200 species of Anglerfish live up to a mile below the surface in the cold and murky depths of the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans. A lucky few do live in shallow, tropical environments. 
One of the most fascinating things about these fish is the distinctive spine on the females that juts out from the middle of her head and resembles a fishing pole with a light globe at the end. This is what she uses to attract her prey.

The adult males don’t need this fishing line because this species gives a whole new meaning to ‘and the two shall become as one flesh’. The digestive tract of the male Anglerfish stops functioning when he reaches maturity. In order to survive, he hooks onto the female with small teeth and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of her body and his mouth. This allows them to fuse and in fact their blood vessels ultimately join and they become one creature. The females however are quite fickle and not satisfied with just one mate, a female will sometimes have up to six males attached to  her. Weird!

So, do you agree that this is one of the ugliest creatures on the planet? Or is there perhaps something beautiful about their ability to bring even a tiny bit of light to an otherwise dark existence?  

I know. You're thinking "WHAT?" But just look at how pretty that is. Every time I write one of these blogs I learn so much more about the amazing creatures we share this planet with. A friend of mine, Lucy Morgan-Jones, suggested this topic. So here we are. Exploring the world of the Sea Slug. Let me tell you just a few of the fascinating facts about these creatures.

There are over 3000 known species of Nudibranch (naked gill). It is believed there are many more yet to be discovered. They are found all over the world, with the largest population and different types in tropical waters. Many sea slugs are quite small, but the ones found in the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian Coast can grow up to 12 in.  

While they gave up the protection of carrying a shell, (hence the name Nudibranch, which I rather like) many have created different kinds of protection. They can become toxic. These guys absorb, for example, the stinging cells from sea anemones, and store them own defence or they absorb toxins from their food and incorporate that into their own defense systems.

This ability has to absorb cells has led to something I find most fascinating about one particular group of Nudibranch. This slug, Elysia chlorotica, basically eats a plant and becomes photosynthetic, in other words, solar powered. It steals the genes  from the algae that it eats and becomes a plant-animal.  Scientists studying this phenonemon are still attempting to understand just how the slug makes this work.

I bet when you read 'Sea Slug' you had no idea just how pretty they would be. And this is only a very small sample of these fascinating creations. Which one is your favorite?
Otherwise known as ...

Jelly fish

Here is another fascinating creature. Did you know that the jellyfish is one of the oldest living creatures in the world? There are more than 200 species of jellyfish and they live in all the oceans, at different temperatures and depths and even in fresh water.

A jellyfish mouth is underneath their bell-shaped body and they catch their food with their long tentacles which have thousands of venom filled nematocysts on them and are mainly used to sting the prey and paralyze it. These tentacles are also useful to sting a likely predator and protect the jellyfish. So, stay clear if you see them floating by! Yes, they will consider you a predator!

What do they eat, you ask? Depending on the species and their size they may eat small fish, zooplankton and the eggs and larvae of other sea creatures. Larger versions (the largest known jellyfish had a bell that measured seven feet in diameter-Scary!) eat crustaceans and sometimes other jellyfish. :(

Their bells have an outer layer called the epidermis and the nerve receptors in the epidermis detect odor, light, pressure and other stimuli. They pump water in and out of the bell to enable themselves to move up and down but depend on the waves and the wind to move them horizontally.  

One of the things I find most fascinating about the jellyfish is they have no brains or skeletons. You heard me. No brains. I know, there is definitely a joke there somewhere. Who said God doesn’t have a sense of humor? And a certain sense of whimsy, too, I think. :)

The final stage of growth for the jellyfish is called medusa, because of their similarity to the Greek Gorgon, Medusa who had snakes for hair and would turn you to stone if you looked at her eyes. Fortunately, the jellyfish are far more beautiful than Medusa. 

The photos below are only a very small sampling of this gorgeous and rather fantastic creation. 

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Revelations 12:3 NIV

Well, that is certainly a marvelous (and terrifying) description of a dragon but it is not the kind of dragon we will be seeking today! Fortunately, the dragons we're diving for are quite benign.

Leafy Sea Dragon

Today we’re diving into the waters off the south Australian coastline. If we go slowly and take a good look at that seaweed over there, we can see that particular bunch of yellow spotted weeds has a long snout, a slender, bony ringed, spiny body and a thin tail. And … it’s swimming (sort of) away. That, my intrepid companions, is called a Leafy Sea Dragon or ‘Leafies’ for short. (And no, I  didn’t make up that name!)  

Look at how intricate this little guy’s appendages are. They look just like the seaweed he’s been hanging out in. (Funny he’s not called a Weedy but that’s our next discovery) He uses his transparent pectoral fin, on his neck ridge, and a transparent dorsal fin, on his back close to his tail, to propel himself through the water. Personally, I think he looks more like he’s bobbing through the water than swimming. Along with his leafy appearance, this mode of transport is a great camouflage as it imitates the undulating motion of seaweed and helps to keep him hidden.

These guys and gals grow to about 14 inches long and live off plankton and small crustaceans like sea lice. (Yes, that would not be my choice de jour but to each their own.) They suck their food into their long tubesnouts because they don't have any teeth and they eat continuously because they have no stomach. If you swim over to that side of our little friend and I stay just slightly behind him over here, he can still see us because his eyes can act independent of one another so he can actually look in two directions at once! (I think that must be a bit weird, don't you?) 

There’s much to be admired about these little fish, not the least being they mate for life. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, like his seahorse cousin, the male is responsible for childbearing. He has a brood patch on the underside of his tail where the females lay their bright pink eggs. He incubates and carries the eggs for about eight weeks. Then he releases the tiny baby Sea Dragons into the water. 

While they have no ‘natural’ predators they do unfortunately have to deal with humanity and sadly that is causing a decrease in their population. The other problem they have is that their tails, unlike their Seahorse cousins, are not able to grasp onto things and consequently they are often washed onto shore during storms. Because of their decreasing numbers they are on the ‘threatened’ list and under government protection. The ‘Leafies’also have the distinction of being the marine emblem for South Australia. 

Weedy Sea Dragon
Our next discovery is in the same southern Australian waters as the Leafy Sea Dragon. These fish are called Weedy Sea Dragons or… you guessed it, ‘Weedies’. 

Let’s swim over to that patch of kale where we can see that multi-colored Weedie. As you can see, the Weedies are similar to the Leafies but not as ornate. They have fewer weed-like fins and are slightly larger, growing to about 16-18 inches. 

I think the Weedie’s bear a closer resemblance to the dragons of legend. If we’re careful we can get a little closer and see the whitish yellow spots that cover their spiny, red-orange bodies, and tube shaped snout. Notice that one has purple stripes on its body too.  I love how they puff out their chubby cheeks and flutter their long transparent dorsal fin. 

They have a lot in common with their Leafie cousins and yes, the male carries the eggs. These dragons have an intricate dance that they perform as part of their mating ritual. They mirror each other’s movements as they swim amongst the weeds that provide them sanctuary. This dance may go on for hours until the female transfers her fertilized eggs to her mate and then he takes over their care until they hatch.  Then, the little dragons are on their own. 

The Weedies are also on the near threatened list and protected by the Australian government.  

So, what do you think of these little guys? They may not be breathing fire at us ( a good thing!) but I think they certainly provide us with another fine example of God's fantastical creations. 

Next time we'll be searching for another marine creature originally known as Medusa. Can you guess what it is?

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above
the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.    Genesis 1:20 - 23 NIV

I’m often asked “How do you come up with these creatures?” (In my stories)
Well, my inspiration comes from the world around me. Believe me when I tell you, God has created some amazing, quite fantastical creatures. And, since God began with the
oceans, so will we begin our exploration.
Blue Ringed Octopus.

Join me now as we dive down into the blue-green waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. We’ll explore the tide pools and swim around the coral reefs. 

Do you see that tiny, (think 2 to 3 inches) eight legged creature there? The yellowish brown one. Yes, that  one.

Oops, there it goes! Amazing little thing. Able to change shape easily, it’s squeezed its way into a crevice. See? Just there. Careful,  don’t get too close. Notice how the previously dark rings on its legs and mantle are now iridescent blue and pulsating? That means it’s getting stressed and we really don’t want it stressed. 

This little octopus may be small but it’s mighty. Their venom is deadly to  humans and there is no anti-venom. If you get bitten (and yes, it actually has a beak of all things) your muscles will be paralyzed and that, my friend, makes breathing impossible. Unless of course, you have a ventilator handy and someone close by to keep your heart beating. 
Mind you, this is a very shy denizen of the deep and really only wants to eat small crabs, shrimp or possibly fish if they can get them. They even pile up rocks outside the entrance to their lairs to protect themselves. Of course, if a predator does manage to grab an arm, this octopus can regenerate it within six weeks. Which is a good thing
since they only live for about two years. 
Look out, there it goes! Look at how it swims. It's expelling water from its hyponome (funnel) basically  blowing itself through the water.  Now that’s amazing! Better get back to the surface before we run out of air. :)

Next time, we’re going to seek out the Sea Dragon. (Oooo, could be scary!)
Without googling it, (no cheating) what do you imagine it will look like?
I'd love to hear what you come up with and thanks for joining me on this dive.

We had the great blessing of experiencing 'The Living Bethlehem' the other day.
Lots of people in line, everyone being pleasant, only saw one couple cheat and duck under the rope to get in before their turn. There's always someone who does that sort of thing, so we just chuckled.
The Angels rising from the roof of the building were amazing, the Centurions and Census takers were funny, the Shepherds were great. And of course, there was Mary and Joseph and the baby.
Ah, yes, the baby in the manger. What a wonderful, marvelous experience. God with us, Our Savior willing to become human, God's Son come to redeem us. And even more amazing to me is that God was in a manger. A manger! Could have been the Hilton or the Marriot but instead God chose a manger.
Like you, I've heard the sermons about God humbling himself, about the Shepherds and the Kings all in one place. God as the great Equalizer. I love all those sermons and how imminent God is. And...what struck me as I stared at the baby in the manger was the idea that this was God in the midst of His creation. 
Cows, sheep, camels, straw, wood. All the things of God's natural world. No polished marble or stainless steel or stuffed padded beds. No, just God and a bed of straw. With cattle lowing and sheep baaaing and camels doing whatever camels do. Chickens, geese, ducks and whatever else was in that stable.  
I often marvel at the world around me and the amazing things that God has created in our world. I chuckle when a spice is suddenly discovered to be medically beneficial or an herb suddenly has medicinal properties we didn't know about. Even leaches are making a come back. (Don't ask!) 
So, this next year we will explore the amazing things that God has put into our world. The fantastical creations we share this planet with. 
Merry Christmas and in the New Year may God bless you with miracles in your everyday living. May God reveal something amazing and fantastic to surprise you daily. May God give you the opportunity to stand in awe of His creation just as He did on that day so very many years ago when He chose to be born in a manger. 

    I enter the lair of the MRI wizard and slide back onto the table. His assistant assembles the face guard over me and instructs me to lie still. With a low hum the table rolls into the dreaded machine. 
    "This first round is only 30 seconds." The wizard's disembodied voice bounces around the metal cylinder of the machine. 
    I brace myself for the tapping to begin. To my surprise I'm instantly transported to the Writer's Land of Imagination. Twenty five tiny centipedes stand poised on a snare drum, each facing a numbered lane. 
    Behind the snare drum stands a silver Micro Phone, waiting to announce the race.
    "And they're off. Number 14 has rounded the first bend and is heading for the finish line. What an exciting short race that was. Number 14 is the winner, number 22 a close second and number 5 third."
    I blink as a large green elephant comes onto the scene bearing a large bongo drum. It nods and wags its large feathery ears at me. 
    "Three minutes this time." The wizard's voice whispers through the machine.
    The twenty five centipedes shiver with anticipation.
    "Ladies and ...oh just Ladies... Race number two has begun with centi number 25 making a strong start and leading the pack. Number 17 is running well with number 7 keeping pace. Oh..oh look...here comes number 3.. look at that centipede go...catching up to 7, passing 17 and halfway up 25. This race might be won by a whisker...wait for it..YES. Number 3 has done it."
    Silence. I'm back in the machine. Are we done?
    "There will be two three minute segments, followed by a two six minute segments and ending with a seven minute segment." 
    Whoosh. I'm sitting in a cavernous stadium. Long silken banners hang from...clouds? A flat red rock stage is in front of me.   
    The tiny centipedes have been replaced by a dozen tree tappers, twenty large centipedes, a screeching snopsis (it looks suspiciously like Lucy's lavender one) and the green elephant has been joined by a purple pachyderm.
    A rotund rhino steps onto the stage, his red sequined tuxedo wrapped tightly around his middle. He holds his baton high. "We will begin the symphony with a screech in g minor. Take it away gentle folk."
    The snopsis begins a low screech and raising it's lavender snout in the air runs the scale of g minor. The green elephant joins in with a slow, somber womping on the bongos, the purple pachyderm pulls out a blue bass drum (don't ask) and the tree tappers rolled out their log drums. The cacophany of sound is tremedous and I can't help but laugh, quietly of course, at the vision before me. The elephants ears flap in time with the drum beats and the centipedes begin to run circles around the snare drum. Their tiny feet tap out an impossible rythmn while the pachyderm thumps, thumps and thumps on his blue bass drum. 
    And then it's over. The MRI wizard comes into the room,  the table rolls out of the machine and the assistant removes the face guard.
    The Wizard shakes my hand. "Well done. You didn't move a muscle. Most people can't stand the noise."
    I smile. "Well, the company helped."
    He looks puzzled. 
    "Never mind. It's a long story."
Welcome to the Land of Writer's Imagination, an ongoing shared story. This week we've been discussing dragons. 
"Dragons?" You say.
"Well, yes. The fantasy scene we are working on definitely needs a dragon. The one Lucy came up with was, well...read for yourself."

Susan grinned at Lucy. “Dragons. Well, there’s lots of different kinds of dragons. Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, European, to name a few. Let’s just stick with the European, they breath fire and have wings. What colour do you want?”

“Really, there’s different colours? Can we do lavender?”

Susan raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think that sounds very scary. How about a deep purple with a bronze belly and crimson wings?”

Lucy smiled. “How about a deep purple, bronze belly and bright green wings?”

Susan rolled her eyes. “You and the purple-green combination. Okay. Choose that but better make it a big one.”

“There’s different sizes? How complicated is this going to get?”

“You’re the one who wanted to make a movie instead of writing a book. If you’d just stuck with the script you might have got away with a bit of telling but no….you had to make a movie. So, you’ve got to show everything. Size, colour, eye colour, does it have ears? Long tail, medium tail or short…no, never mind that one. Long tail,” Susan raised a hand. “No argument. Long tail but how about emerald eyes and ears with tuffs?”

Lucy scuffed her foot on the floor and sighed. “Right-o. Long tail, emerald eyes, tuffed ears. Anything else? Can it have a tuft on its' tail? Ooo, and lavender nails?”

So, you can see the problem, can't you? I mean, tuffed ears and tail? Lavender nails? I'm afraid the poor thing will hide with embarrassement. What kind of dragon would you create?