Epic Creationist FAIL: Bombardier Beetle Book

Oh My. For years I’ve heard about the kid’s book “Bomby the Bombardier Beetle“, published by the Institute for Creation Research.  You might remember them as the folks that suggested teachers of evolution should be hanged or drowned, rather than let them expose children to evolution.

My sister the librarian happened upon a withdrawn copy of this book in a library sale, and snagged it for me.  I’d never actually gotten to see it before (and was relieved to see that no one checked it out).

And, oh what a mass of WTFery this book is.

I knew it was intended as a children’s book, but I had no idea just how BAD the writing really was.  I have no idea why anyone thought this sort of prose would be accessible to anyone without a class in organic chemistry, much less the K-6 set.

I researched around in preparation for blasting this bomb of a book, and discovered that plenty of others had done my work for me.  A representative review in The Coleopterists Bulletin by Brett Ratcliffe:

“I thought that the style of brainwashing seen in this revisionist book went out with the 1950s Cold War era. However, the Institute for Creation Research demonstrates that brainwashing is alive and well as it continues to wage its own cold war against reason in order to replace it with superstition. In this highly disjointed little book, the target is young children, which makes the authors’ sin of deliberate ignorance even more reprehensible. Educating children about the wonders of nature is a delightful endeavor, but here it is a vehicle for blatantly meshing pseudo-natural history with creationist dogma that has, at no extra charge, a good dose of patriarchal sexism thrown in…”

Preach it, Brett.
Wait.
Maybe that isn’t the best phrase to use here.

You can also read some additional flogging of the book in the Annals of Improbable Research.  The essay comparing Bomby to Harry Potter is a ROTFL must read.   Bomby and Harry share some traits:

  • “Both cause pyrotechnic explosions. 
  • Both exist in worlds in which dragons are real presences.
  • Both are experts in organic chemistry (Bomby with hydroquinones, Harry with thujone and the other components of wormwood).
  • Both are at the mercy of external forces (magic for Harry, the Hand o’ God for Bomby).
  • Both are active athletes (Quidditch for Harry; what appears to be frass-lot baseball for Bomby).”

And yes, you did read that correctly. This book about beetles also includes a chapter on dragons, and how they lived with humans.  What is it I don’t even.

Anyway.

As long ago as 1981, The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) was fighting “the beetle will blow itself up” myth as it was first promoted by Duane Gish (of Gish Gallop fame) in the 1970s.  For some reason, this butt-popping beetle has been a favorite of creationists for decades.

The defensive spray of the bombardier beetle is fascinating, but not unique or hard to explain, if you know much about insects and chemical ecology.  Insect exoskeletons are not initially hard–they have to be “tanned” and made hard by a chemical process called sclerotization.  This is the formation of quinone cross-links that make the initially pale and flexible exoskeletion hard and opaque.

Quinones. Hmm. Where have we heard that word before? Why, it’s part of what Bomby uses to blast his enemies!  (Seriously, how cool would it be to have an ass that is also a flame-thrower? Oh wait–we have covered that ground before.)

Quinones are basically benzine rings of various types, which means they are nasty and stinky.  Quinones are involved in the production of Hydrogen Peroxide, another component of the bombardier beetle defensive spray.  So, the chemical pieces of this defense can occur without anydivine intervention. Or dinosaurs.

Lots of insects use defensive chemicals to protect themselves; it’s a huge field of research.  Many insects have depressions in their exoskeletons where they collect up nasty chemicals that are metabolic side-products, and exude them from their bodies when threatened.  Quite a few Carabid beetles (in the same Family as the Bombardiers) have glands that dump quinones into their anal passages and exude a nasty stink.

All you really need is some additional enzymes and a bit more sclerotization of the beetle butt, and your bug is ready to blow.  It’s not an implausible evolutionary story at all–there is even what appears to be an intermediate stage in the evolution of butt-blasting still around.

If you would like to know more about how insects defend themselves chemically, including these beetles, I highly recommend “Secret Weapons“, a book written by one of the leaders in the chemical ecology field, Thomas Eisner.

(There is a wonderful video that accompanies this book, but unfortunately it seems to be only available in VHS. If anyone finds it online, please let me know!)

ResearchBlogging.orgScholarly works on Bombardier beetles mentioned/linked above:

J M Pasteels, J C Grégoire, and M Rowell-Rahier (1983). The Chemical Ecology of Defense in Arthropods. Annual Review of Entomology, 28 (1), 263-289 DOI: 10.1146/annurev.en.28.010183.001403

Eisner T, Aneshansley DJ, Eisner M, Attygalle AB, Alsop DW, & Meinwald J (2000). Spray mechanism of the most primitive bombardier beetle (Metrius contractus). The Journal of experimental biology, 203 (Pt 8), 1265-75 PMID: 10729276

Brett C. Ratcliffe. (2001). Review: Bomby the Bombardier Beetle The Coleopterists Bulletin, 55 (1), 124-124

10 thoughts on “Epic Creationist FAIL: Bombardier Beetle Book

  1. Someone on reddit posted an album of pictures from a creationist science museum, I was laughing at most of them but totally lost in the dragons part, they use dragons to explain that humans lived with dinosaurs “see, the old drawings of dragons around the world can’t be wrong”

  2. What a frontal lobotomy of educational material anything from the ICR usually happens to be, but this one reeks of dumb-assery. Dragons??? Witches and demons with pitch-forks are also real in their wacked-out Biblio-creduliolatry.

  3. One supposedly “off the wall” book on the Theory of Creation does not make all Creationists off their rocker. I don’t know how God created this universe, but that is why he is God and I am not. Let’s see if you are brave and open enough to allow this comment to be posted even if the view is contrary to yours.

  4. Please show me exactly in which sentence I said that all Creationists are “off their rocker” in this post, Timelesslady. I think you are overly defensive.

  5. EyeonICR–Yes! That video is made from some of the orginal video used in the secret weapons–they cut out a lot of Thomas Eisner’s interviews and re-dubbed some of it. Still pretty good, though!

  6. My “off their rocker” in quotes was me quoting a cliche that I feel sums up what seemed to be implied about anyone who believes in Creation. How do you feel about those who believe in Creation? The statement you made about researching in preparation to blast the book feels like a non-objective attitude. If I seem overly defensive in a nice way…well then good, a staunch defender of The Lord God and Creation is how I meant to come across. Overly defensive…not sure if my one comment adds up to being overly defensive. Perhaps commenting a second time is stepping over that line, but your reply back to me implied you wanted a second reply in turn. God Bless you Bug Girl. <3

  7. I don’t have a problem with people who believe in God, or Gods–but I do have a problem with people who try to deny reality. I feel no obligation to be “objective” when I’m dealing in facts and solid evidence. Evolution is a reality.

    If you want to talk about creation and God, great. Rock on with your bad Creationist self.
    BUT DON’T DO IT IN MY SCIENCE CLASSROOM.

  8. I’d been reading Secret Weapons over the last few months and I am glad that your posting pointed me towards the videos – very nice. I read more about Thomas Eisner on Wikipedia and was sad to learn that he passed away just last year, but it does sound like he was a “cool dude,” beyond his work in entomology. I would suspect he wasn’t a big fan of Hazel May Rue and her dopey book.

Comments are closed.