The original question was: I was wondering if the symbiotic relationship between rhinos and birds that eat ticks off their back existed before the fall. If it did, does that mean there was insect death before the fall? If not, was this a symbiotic relationship that just developed on its own instead of being created by God from the beginning?
Answer by Diane Eager
First of all let’s look at the relationship between rhinos and birds. The birds referred to are oxpeckers, and they do eat ticks on the skin of rhinos. They also do the same for other large mammals, including domestic cattle. This appears to be a useful symbiotic relationship. The birds find food, and the rhinos are relieved from tick infestations. However, the relationship is not quite as mutually beneficial as it seems when you see rhinos and other animals with a row of oxpeckers sitting on their backs and heads. The birds seem to prefer ticks that are already engorged with blood, i.e. ticks that have already bitten the animal, and the birds have a liking for blood, and will peck at any unhealed wounds on the rhino’s skin. This makes the wounds slower to heal.
Now let’s put this into the context of Biblical history. In the beginning God made all animals and birds to be vegetarian. (Genesis 1:30) God then declared this arrangement to be very good. (Genesis 1:31) Therefore, the answer to the first part of the question is: No, birds would not have eaten ticks off rhinos’ backs before the Fall.
In a very good world there would have been plenty of good nutritious plant food for them to eat. In fact, it was probably only after Noah’s flood that birds started eating insects, because the degeneration of both weather and soil quality led to shortages of plant food. A transition from vegetarian to meat eating has been observed in birds, e.g. the New Zealand Kea parrot, which used to eat native fruits, now also attack sheep and lambs in places where the fruit trees no longer grow. Recently a property owner in Australia observed rainbow lorikeets, eating minced meat that he had put out to feed magpies, butcher birds and kookaburras – all well-known meat eaters. However, lorikeet normally only eat nectar and pollen.
It has also been observed that oxpeckers will eat other food besides ticks, if it is available. Birds in a zoo enclosure with rhinos were observed to also eat ‘zoo food’ provided as well ticks and blood from the rhinos. The zoo food was a mixture of cereals, vegetables, minced meat, and mealworms. (Ref. Zoo Biology 23:347–354 (2004) DOI 10.1002/zoo.20013)
Furthermore, in the beginning even the ticks had been made as vegetarians. Therefore they would not have bitten rhinos or any other animals. Any ticks on found on rhinos’ backs would have been hitchhikers taking a free ride to another bush, where they could feed on plant juices. Therefore, animals did not need birds to eat any ticks that might be sitting on their backs.
Therefore, the answer to the second question is that God did not create the current relationship between rhinos and birds. Birds and rhinos existed in their fully formed state before the partly symbiotic relationship came about as the result of the degrading environment forcing living things to survive as best they can, using whatever structure and function they already had.
Blood sucking ticks and tick eating birds are part of the overall degeneration of the world that occurred following first the Fall and more particularly Noah’s Flood, where ticks desperate for food because distance between bushes was increasing started biting their hosts, then birds desperate for food starting eating the ticks, and then later also biting their hosts. There is no evolution at all. None of these behaviours are very good, and the alleged ‘symbiosis’ is more apparent than beneficial, and God would not have created them this way.
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