Talking with Ants

Myrmica wheeleriFor the Friday DpSU Jeffrey Tomkins tells us that ‘Talking’ Ants Are Evidence for Creation. The subject is a paper in Current Biology called Ant Pupae Employ Acoustics to Communicate Social Status in Their Colony’s Hierarchy, about nearly-matured ant pupae communicating this fact to other ants via sound.

Some ants have been previously discovered to use sound in communication, but it was thought that pupae (the last stage before emergence as an adult) were mute. This research claims that pupae develop the ability to produce sound at some point, and that they use this to signal to other ants that they are nearly mature in order to gain more attention – becoming a higher priority. When pupae were artificially rendered mute they failed to receive this attention, while when the sound was played back to other ants it would produce “benevolent behaviors” similar to when noises from adult ants were played.

Tomkins’ argument is extremely predictable and typical of his writings. First, the discovery of this behaviour adds “complexity” to the ants, which to Tomkins is evidence in and of itself for creation. Then there’s the irreducible complexity argument:

When an ant nest is disturbed and threatened, the worker ants immediately go about rescuing the nest. First, they grab and remove the mature larvae and then the immature larvae and pupae. As it turns out, the mature larvae use acoustic communication via their early maturing acoustic appendage, which the younger larvae and pupae lack, to signal their social status to the worker ants, enabling them to be extricated first (see image below). In the event of settling a new colony, the mature larvae would hatch first and thus be more valuable assets than the younger larvae, which require more resources.


The combination of various sensory communication and processing systems are a clear example of an all-or-nothing suite of features referred to as irreducible complexity. All the ants would die in one generation if you remove any one of these features: 1) early maturing abdominal acoustic appendage, 2) instinct to “strum”it, 3) sensors in adults to detect it, 4) ant brains to interpret the sounds, and 5) the instinct to protect the mature larvae.

Poorly justified claims of irreducible complexity would be Tomkins signature move if other creationists didn’t also do the same thing. It is not clear that the ants would die in one generation (however you measure that with an ant colony) if this behaviour did not exist. It is not unreasonable to suppose that ants without it would do worse than those with it, but saying that they would be guaranteed to die is unjustified. In addition, many of Tomkins’ enumerated conditions would already exist prior to the evolution of this trait – most obviously the brains.

Tomkins can’t say that ants without this pupal communication ability would die out, and so cannot honestly claim that it is somehow irreducibly complex. This makes for shoddy “evidence” of creation.

Time then to get back to Thomas’ article from Wednesday, which I haven’t completed a post for. That one was much more interesting.

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2 thoughts on “Talking with Ants

    • Still not as bad-ass as Exploding Bombardier Beetles though.

      ICR better step it up a notch if they want to keep us interested,

      Just sayin’.


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