A Much Maligned Beetle

Back in June I shared a link to a blogpost about a “kids book” the Institute for Creation Research published in 1991, called Bomby the Bombardier Beetle. That book attempts to teach kids that the system that bombardier beetles use to defend themselves is irreducibly complex, based on a flawed description of how it actually works. In the 21 years since the publication of that book the ICR has at least learnt that their mechanism is incorrect, but as the latest That’s a Fact video, Beetle Battle shows, they haven’t let that persuade them that their anti-evolutionary conclusion is false.

We seem to be stuck with screenshots for the forseeable future: click to view

We’ve all seen pictures of animals doing battle, or predators stalking their unsuspecting prey. Many of these creatures use brute strength, deadly venom, unstoppable speed, or ferocious teeth and claws to survive these deadly encounters.

This video begins by going over the same topic as the earlier video Sharp Teeth. And by ‘going over’ I mean ‘contradicting,’ as the thesis for that video was that these weapons originally had another purpose that has been corrupted. Claiming here that they’re actually irreducibly complex and divinely designed goes against that, and blurring the line between predator-prey relationships and intraspecific competition doesn’t help them all that much.

But the bombardier beetle is equipped with what scientists have described as a chemical cannon.

…there are other kinds?

When predators, like lizards for instance, attempt to strike the bombardier beetle with a snap of their tongues, superheated chemicals explode from special glands to drive predators away.

See here and here for videos of what this actually looks like – you’ll not see that in the ICR one.

Researchers have discovered that within the bombardier beetle is an armoury of toxic chemicals and biological catalysts. Stored in separate reservoirs, these chemicals, when combined by the right catalysts, create a noxious gas as hot as boiling water, pulses through a complex valve and tube system at a rate of five hundred times per second with an audible popping sound.

I said that they had learnt, but not completely. The two chemicals – Quinones and hydrogen peroxide – are not, in fact, stored separately. I don’t know how complex the “valve and tube system” really needs to be, but I doubt it’s very much especially given the existence of a variety that just uses a froth, rather than a ‘cannon.’

And faced with danger the beetles internal systems activate the toxic chemical mix and send the explosive gasses through its cannon equipped with muscles and nerves that help control and aim the blast.

You could say the same about a well-aimed kick – there’s nothing too special or amazing here.

The bombardier beetle is no accident of nature, it is an example of complex design and irreducible complexity. Which means that the beetle must have all of these components in place in order to activate its defences and survive. And like the rest of creation, only the creator could have engineered so perfect a design from the beginning.

Yeah, no. Quinones, for example, are already present in the bodies of insects, and we also use the chemical ourselves to make hydrogen peroxide. That in and of itself invalidates the ‘irreducibly complex’ claim, as there is a less-complex yet functional process that uses only some of those ingredients. The only remaining piece of the puzzle is the enzyme catalyst, and all that involves is selecting for increasingly effective enzymes.


I’m not sure why this isn’t on the usual show page. Their new site is probably causing changes. The next video is due in a fortnight and is enigmatically called “Land Ho!” My bet is something to do with the end of the flood, including the dove bit but more importantly what the animals would do to survive.

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8 thoughts on “A Much Maligned Beetle

  1. Noxious material coming out of the mouth – an inspiration for creationists like the ICR staff and Andy McIntosh. 🙂

  2. “these weapons originally had another purpose that has been corrupted. Claiming here that they’re actually irreducibly complex and divinely designed goes against that”

    That is a damn good point

    • One thing they bring up is communication, though this ignores why a dog baring its teeth is ‘communication.’ In the earlier video they mention bears using their “sharp teeth” to eat vegetable matter, which also has things backwards.

    • I just didn’t get how you thought the ‘other purpose’ thing was their thesis…and your reply seemed pretty irrelevant to that question, haha. For creationists, it seems the fall, which lead to corruption, changed the original goodie-two-shoes design drastically. It could easily be theorized that some animals were practically re-created and teeth double-purposed. All cosmogeny debates are pure speculation either way, it seems, as we would need a time machine to take actually accurate measurements of information. But watching you guys duke it out is better than the circus it’s all pointless when you don’t really know and just can’t admit it. Fun, though, very fun.

    • They don’t talk about that in this video, that’s not what I meant. But the video mentioned above, along with this article and others, do seem to suggest that the ICR strongly runs with the idea of re-purposing. Indeed, this article says:

      It is a common fallacy that carnivores evolved from a change in form and function. No physical evolution was required to change herbivores to predators–it was merely a change in behavior.

      I think I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying, though. What do you think their ‘thesis’ is?

    • Their thesis is simple. They say this bug is complicated and it required more than happenstance to get that way. No matter how many years of trial and error you suppose it had, it took design to develop that crazy little feature and design denotes intelligence, etc. You don’t like their use of the word ‘cannon’ for a description of the ejaculation (that’s what I would call it, haha) and not being specific with the chemicals (but it’s a kiddie vid, dude). Their diagram of the storage tanks didn’t jive with another video, but it still seems like they are stored separately anyway, so big deal. You didn’t seem to invalidate anything, you just said they didn’t mention Quinones was found in other organisms. I don’t get how that matters. Organisms can share chemicals and still be special in their own way. Like I said, pretty pointless to me, but your replies have been very sweet even though I am basically critiquing your critique. You’ve been aces, thanks!

    • It is a big thing to claim that something is irreducibly complex, and the usual argument that “it looks complicated and I don’t know how it could have evolved” doesn’t cut it – consider the story of the bacterial flagellum, for example.

      In this video the ICR has selectively reported information about the beetle to make it sound like the system is an example of I.C., and little details like the containers – both chemicals are in both reservoirs, to clarify – and calling it a ‘cannon’ are important here. The fact that Quinones are already present and don’t need to be brought into being, along with the existence of other beetles that use similar systems that don’t have all of the same features, show that the situation isn’t so simple and that there is not such a wide impassible gulf between bombardier beetles and other beetles.

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