Classifying by Kind: Otters

Classifying by Kind: Otters

One of my readers commented on my recent article on otters and raised a couple of interesting points. In passing, he mentioned that I had said that otters were just as God made them but had previously stated otters were related to badgers and weasels. This prompted me to do some research into otters and whether they should be classed in the same kind as wolverines, weasels, and badgers. This article is the results of that research.

Creationists use the term baraminology to refer to the study of God’s originally created kinds.  In the book of Genesis, God repeatedly refers to created creatures as reproducing after their kind.   The phrase is used twelve times in the first seven chapters of Genesis. Its pretty evident that God views animals in a slightly different way than human scientists do since kind does not appear in the Linnean classification system. However, most baraminology studies have settled on the family level of Linnean classification as the kind level, at least for mammals. However, because kinds are based on the ability to reproduce, the family level is not absolute. It would be better defined as the ability between animals to hybridize and create fertile offspring.  This is not always easily testable, as observing wild animals of different species or genera mating may be difficult or impossible due to distance or ecological factors. Often, the only testable data comes from zoos or other such captive environments.

Otters, like many other organisms, suffer from a lack of real rigorous testing regarding their kind. This is unsurprising, given that the evolutionary model has no reason to look for kinds since they assume that the Bible is false and thus kinds do not exist. However, there have been some hybridization studies done on otters. Some of these results are incredibly far-fetched and are based on very old studies that have not been repeated.  One study claims that otters were crossbreeding with domesticated sheep.  This is most likely completely spurious.  Another, more accurate study claims that male sea otters occasionally mate with female harbor seals that have recently been weaned.  However, no offspring have been reported from these encounters.  However, there are successful hybrids reported from the breeding of numerous otter species, even ones not in the same genus.  The important point, however, is that there are no reports I was able to locate citing successful hybridization between otters and any other creatures in their taxonomic family.

This is unsurprising if some digging is done into the chromosomal numbers.  Otters have thirty-six chromosomes in addition to their sex-linked chromosomes, giving them a total of thirty-eight chromosomes in an adult.  Wolverines have forty-two. The additional four chromosomes make viable embryos very hard to come by. Recall that the embryo gets half its DNA from each parent.  This would effectively add two, unmatched chromosomes to otters or remove two unmatched chromosomes from wolverines. Bear in mind that the chromosomes carry a minimum of four hundred seventy-five genes in bacteria and over a thousand in mammals.  Losing two chromosomes amounts to the loss of several thousand genes.  Some weasels, which are also members of the family  Mustelidae, have forty-four chromosomes, exasperating the problem even more. Even Badgers are no help, as they have forty chromosomes. The hybrid problem remains a problem.

This lack of hybrids raises a fascinating taxonomic question. If otters cannot hybridize with other members of their taxonomic family, then are they the same kind as those other members? Baraminology would seem to imply that they are not. This raises several interesting taxonomic questions.   If they are not the same kind, that raises the second question. The question raised is, should otters be classified in the family Mustelidae with the badgers, wolverines, and minks? Yes, they do have their own subfamily Lutrinae but should they be split off into their own family?

Otters have a very unique physiology and adaptation to their environment.  Being that they also appear to be unable to interbreed with other members of the same family, at least as classified currently, there seem to be grounds to reclassify the otters. This new classification would not require any major shift to the current taxonomy.  It would simply entail pulling subfamily Lutrinae out of family Mustelidae and placing it alongside family Mustelidae in order Carnivora.  Evolutionists will never do this, simply because doing so would acknowledge the possibility of the Biblical kind being true, and would damage their claim of descent with modification. By their logic, badgers, otters, wolverines, and minks descended from a common mammalian ancestor.  Yet somehow otters, which were supposed to have gone back into the water, have fewer chromosomes than creatures that they supposedly share ancestry with.  This is a significant problem for evolutionists. It makes far better sense to class otters as their own kind, independent of the family Mustelidae. 

 

4 thoughts on “Classifying by Kind: Otters

  1. I appreciate that you did some more research here. I think you have highlighted just how difficult it can be to define the limits of “kinds” just like it is very difficult to define what a species is. No single piece of data is likely to provide a resolution that works among all groups. Unfortunately even chromosome number isn’t likely to be much help. It does explain why some hybrids don’t work today but it doesn’t tell us that two organisms don’t have a common ancestor. I don’t know about the wolverine chromosomes and otters. They differ by four but this doesn’t necessarily represent a loss of genes. Different numbers of chromosomes can be due simply to breakage of one chromosome into two resulting in two chromosome that have the same information as the single one before. Alternatively, two chromosomes may fuse to make a single chromosome, again having the same information.
    I know that many YECs reflexively recoil from the idea of chromosome fusion because they are so used to arguing that the chromosome difference between humans and chimps can’t be due to a chromosome fusion but a quick look at some “kinds” shows that YEC must believe that chromosome fusions and breakages are common and may cause speciation and result in some species being unable to hybridize. For example, just look at canines. Red foxes have 34 to 40 chromosomes (yes, some populations of the same species have a different number of chromosomes) and domestic dogs have 78. Bush dogs have 76 but Grey foxes have 66. In fact foxes range from 34 to 72 chromosomes. However, canines mostly have the same amount of total DNA because the chromosome differences are due to breaks and fusions. Likewise equids all have different chromosome numbers. Each of the varieties of zebras have different chromosome numbers. Sometimes this causes hybridization to be impossible but different chromosome numbers doesn’t always prevent hybridization. Nearly all YECs accept that zebras donkey and horses are the same “kind” and that coyotes, manes dogs and African wild dogs – and probably all foxes- are the same kind. If this is the case chromosome number differences can’t be easily used as a way of distinguishing kinds or some species would have be separated into different kinds themselves. It might be part of the story but as I said up top, it’s a multifaceted problem that requires a holistic approach. Todd Wood has written some good stuff about baraminology on this matter.

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    1. You’ve raised a good point. I brought up chromosome numbers in my article but they certainly aren’t an end all to be all and I may need to go back and clarify my point a trifle. Classifying kinds is not an easy thing to do. Generally, it is based on the ability to interbreed but the interbreeding data is sketchy to non-existent. We can hope that at baraminology becomes more prevalent in creation studies that we will be able to nail down the kinds much more firmly than we are able to at present.

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  2. Thanks for your obvious diligence and hard work. I have not read everything you have put up so far but, along with my other reading, I intend to do so.

    I have one question and one suggestion.
    It seems as if you suggest kinds are more or less genetically static since the flood and do not take into account degradation or loss of, for example, breeding ability. I may have missed that.

    The suggestion is that a summary would be helpful at the end of your articles or an abstract at the beginning.

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    1. First of all, thank you for the feedback. The point of this article was to illustrate that Otters are a distinct kind, which obviously has speciated since the flood. I’ll review this article and make sure I addressed things clearly.

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