by The Old Scot
The heterostegina is as close to genuine insignificance as a person is apt to find. It does not even have a common name of its own, but must get along with only its scientific name. Yet it may be able to teach us a great lesson about life.
The heterostegina is a tiny sea animal which lives in its coiled shell on the ocean floor, wherever the depth is not too great. It would take a hundred or more, placed side-by-side, to equal one inch. However, though it is such a small bite individually, in its millions it is an important part of the ocean's food chain, which ultimately helps feed man also.
Even in death the heterostegina makes a contribution to the world, for the shells are composed of calcium carbonate, the stuff of limestone. It has been estimated that heterostegina shells accumulating on the floor of the Persian Gulf add about one-half inch per century to the limestone formation on the seabed.
One of the ways in which this tiny creature is noteworthy is its self-sufficiency. It needs only seawater and sunlight to live. Since it is alive, it obviously must consume nutrients, but it does not take nutrients into its sealed home. Neither does it ever leave its shell to feed.
Instead, it cultivates its own "kitchen garden." Inside heterostegina's semi-transparent shell, marine biologists have observed greenish patches. These were found to be colonies of microscopic algae. Heterostegina lives in a comfortable balance with the algae, offering shelter to their colonies while eating their increase.
But it is heterostegina's method of reproducing itself that may make us pause to consider our own ways.
A German scientist witnessed the event when a specimen of heterostegina gave birth to its babies in his laboratory. The only warning that the time was at hand, he said, was a slight leakage of protoplasm-the cell's life-fluid-from the shell. Within two hours, he related, the parent had expelled into the surrounding water several hundred miniature copies of itself. And when the process was completed, all that remained of the parent was the empty shell.
It had resolutely portioned out its own protoplasm to give life to each of its offspring. It had literally given its all to its children. Nor had it failed to give each a portion of its algae culture, so that each new heterostegina would be equipped with all it needed to make its own way in the world.
Contrast this with the ways of mankind, highest of God's creations on the earth. While in the main, human parents consider it a joy and a privilege to nurture their children, the exceptions are tragic and plentiful.
China is but one country in which, even in recent times, unwanted female babies have been thrown out to die of exposure. (This terrible custom is reported to have even increased in recent years, due to government restrictions on the number of children couples are allowed to raise.)
Mankind has often waged war on its children. In the historic past, this was most often seen when the victors in battle would either destroy the conquered population entirely or put to death all males, including babies. But today, the warfare has taken a grim turn, being directed against each nation's own children, as mothers choose to slay their unborn young rather than go to the trouble of raising them. They call it "abortion," and quench their consciences as best they can.
How modern man needs to learn from the humble heterostegina!-and from the Bible, which declares that children are a sacred heritage from God. God said to the prophet Jeremiah: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee" (Jer. 1:5). And the Psalmist, King David, rejoiced of his Maker that "Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them" (Ps. 139:16).
It was not merely these two individuals whom God foresaw! He foresaw the conception of every child in every age. He foresaw YOU, dear reader.
The Restless Earth, Nigel Calder, Viking, NY, 1972, p. 112.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition, article on "Foraminiferida."