Epic Creationist FAIL: Bombardier Beetle Book

Bomby the beetle

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My sister the librarian happened upon a withdrawn copy of this book in a library sale, and snagged it for me.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 (55(1):241–242. 2001) 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 any divine 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!)

Avatar of bug_girl
Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

27 Comments

  1. Avatar of tracylords

    Surely, the pun potential alone would make this a fun read for kids (and don’t call me Shirley). IE, we pulled this stuff out of our ass, just like these beetles. Tell Darwinists to blow it out their ass, like the cute beetle does. There is a foul wind blowing…out your ass! Who’s your favorite Beatle? John, George, Ringo…BOMBARDIER! Throw caution to the wind (giggle). Harry Potter books feature the Blast Ended Screwts with similar sphincter powers, but give me a pot of beans (enzymes) and schlerwhatever, and I bet I could give them a run for their money (giggle snort stop stop!!). Creationists could have had a best seller if they only had a sense of humor.

  2. Avatar of brenda

    Where’s my pet dragon? Where is Daenerys Targaryen when you need her?

  3. Avatar of criticaldragon1177

    bug_girl,

    They’re just keep using the same old tired debunked arguments over and over again, won’t they?

  4. Avatar of JJR93

    Luckily according to OCLC WorldCat, only 55 libraries worldwide report holding this book. In Texas only 2. Baylor University (a private Baptist Univ) and Dallas Baptist Univ….both religious institutions.

  5. Avatar of Buzz Parsec

    There certainly is a Mighty Wind ablowin’ from these Beatles.

  6. Avatar of athorist

    “(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!)”

    Is it these? (although it looks like it’s missing 10 minutes, and about 10 years older) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nK-szDAMU3A http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CaoEVVJa2k http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNYibx–_nc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnRdRL4FvyQ

    • Avatar of bug_girl

      Yes, that’s sort of the videos! They re-dubbed it and cut a lot of the Eisner interviews out, but it’s still pretty good.

      Thanks for tracking that down!

  7. Avatar of brenda

    It is a waste of time and energy to try to counter creationism with scientific facts and rational argument. They don’t believe in their myths because they think they are rational. They believe in them because they offer people a narrative that is appealing to them. It is what they were raised to believe and they’re highly resistant to change.

    We need to offer a counter narrative and of course to make sure children are taught the truth in school. Overall that is going well. Legal victories pretty much assure us that creationism cannot be taught in public schools. I don’t foresee those being overturned.

    This kind of junk isn’t much of a threat and there will always exist small groups that believe crazy things. It’s actually healthy for a society to be diverse. But we do need to promote a vision of evolution and the sciences that attracts people. Repelling people is remarkably ineffective at convincing them to join you.

    • Avatar of Vene

      I heartedly disagree. By not challenging their “science” it leaves the impression that creationism has scientific merit and it increases its credibility. The diehard believers may not care about the science, but there are many people who believe in creationism who are not diehard believers but instead think there are real scientific flaws with evolution. These are the people who can be swayed and these are the people who we are speaking to when we talk about science.

      Now, when you said,
      “This kind of junk isn’t much of a threat and there will always exist small groups that believe crazy things. It’s actually healthy for a society to be diverse. But we do need to promote a vision of evolution and the sciences that attracts people. Repelling people is remarkably ineffective at convincing them to join you.”

      that pretty much convinced me you’re a troll. Creationists are not some small fringe group, they have numbers and they have power. Pretending they’re not a threat doesn’t mean they’re not one. Not to mention your bullshit about stigmatizing mental illness and falsely labeling this as a diversity issue. Bugger off.

      • Avatar of brenda

        “By not challenging their “science” it leaves the impression that creationism has scientific merit”

        I *did* say that evolution should be taught in schools so I think I covered that base. No one really believes that creationism is science and it cannot legally be taught in schools. Even those who say they believe in creationism do not really believe in it. It’s just how they answer polls, how the questions are worded and how the results are interpreted.

        Conservatives pull the same kind of nonsense when they try to say they represent a greater percentage than they actually do. They get their 40% number by lumping together everyone on the right but separating out liberals from the left.

        I’ve seen the results of Gallup poll on creationism in question and read the the questions. I think people are lumping in two different groups and getting the larger number because it is in their political interest and confirms their preconceived bias. The era of religious fundamentalism is over. Their numbers and political influence are declining.

        People who can be persuaded are most likely to be influenced by a grand narrative like say a new Cosmos and then if they are interested they can always find the science if they want. It’s hardly a secret.

        “Pretending they’re not a threat doesn’t mean they’re not one”

        Pretending they are doesn’t either. I have great faith in the resilience of social institutions. People vastly over estimate the ability of any group to truly change basic social relationships. Forty years ago the air was filled with the same sturm und drang you feel today. Many of the same players were around then too. The world did not end. It is quite unlikely to end in the future. And in another forty years people will still be wringing their hands over the threats from the religious right they feel are looming.

        All healthy societies have a great amount of diversity. There will always be fascists, racists, communists, conspiracy theorists, moderates, pragmatists, anarchists and so on. But the dominate culture will pretty much be the same as it is now. Secular, materialistic and shallow and self absorbed.

        I have no idea what you about me stigmatizing mental illness. That is absolutely absurd and I said NOTHING about it. Please retract your slur.

        • Avatar of marilove

          This kind of junk isn’t much of a threat and there will always exist small groups that believe crazy things.

          That is probably what they were talking about. I imagine you didn’t quite mean it that way, but — hey, look! It doesn’t feel all that great for someone to take your words in a way in which you didn’t really mean, and which should be obvious huh?

        • Avatar of mikerattlesnake

          As a guy who got extreme pushback and very little support when mentioning evolution in a physical science class in a fairly progressive state, I think you’re living in a detached fantasy world, brenda. It’s not just about teaching creationism, it’s about neutering evolution, which should be central to the teaching of biology but is rarely covered in any great detail before college.

    • Avatar of marilove

      Well, Brenda. Since you seem to know what is best for us, what SHOULD we talk about? So far, you’ve criticized nearly every post here in some way.

      This kind of junk isn’t much of a threat and there will always exist small groups that believe crazy things. It’s actually healthy for a society to be diverse. But we do need to promote a vision of evolution and the sciences that attracts people. Repelling people is remarkably ineffective at convincing them to join you.

      SMALL GROUPS?

      Oh.

      I guess you’ve never heard of Creationists lobbying to get Creationist text placed in SCIENCE BOOKS, have you?

      This happens especially in Texas, which is the highest manufacturer and seller of school textbooks in the entire nation.

      Thankfully, this happened:
      http://ncse.com/news/2011/07/victory-evolution-texas-006802

      But that’s not the only case of this, and if it weren’t for guys like Josh Rosenau, who speak out against this (in this case, he testified at the hearing), then it’s very, very possible that the results could have been very different.

      Can you just stop for a second? And think? For one moment?

      This is a blog. We talk about a variety of things. If you don’t like a subject, scroll on. Stop lecturing us about what is and isn’t appropriate.

      Or start your own damn blog.

      • Avatar of brenda

        “I guess you’ve never heard of Creationists lobbying to get Creationist text placed in SCIENCE BOOKS, have you?”

        They won’t succeed.

        “Thankfully, this happened:”

        See?

        And I’m pretty sure that the subject of creationism is on topic so I’m not seeing a problem there either.

        • Avatar of marilove

          Right. That happened once. But there are plenty of other schools where this is not the case and in which Creationism is indeed taught.

          You know that, right?

        • Avatar of Luna

          @Brenda sadly not only is Creationism taught in some schools, the Theory of Evolution is also severely edited and censored in almost all textbooks. There are quite a few science teachers who believe in Creationism and if they can’t mention God in school, they will present Evolution as an unstable idea instead of a theory.

          The theory of evolution is vital for the advancement of biomedical studies, keeping one step ahead of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, how crops will respond to climate change, genetics, and many other things that affect the planet and our daily lives.

          • Avatar of Luna

            I should clarify that years ago I found a list of COLLEGES that are said to teach Creationism, and I also heard that some Bible studies classes in public schools were getting away with teaching Creationism. I haven’t verified this to date.

            http://www.icr.org/article/creationist-colleges/

          • Avatar of brenda

            Are there any public K-12 schools or public universities where creationism is taught as science? I don’t believe there are. I don’t care about home schoolers or Regent University. Regent graduates are stigmatized. People laugh at them.

          • Avatar of secondhandmoon

            @Brenda: “Are there any public K-12 schools or public universities where creationism is taught as science? I don’t believe there are.”

            Yes, there are. I went to one such high school, and my husband’s elementary school also taught this BS. Our high school biology teacher flat-out told our class he refused to teach evolution but that the school required him to, so he basically told us to read the chapter on it in the textbook but didn’t make us do it, and most everyone goofed off instead because almost the entire class agreed with him that Creationism was the actual truth. In that case, no, he wasn’t actually teaching creationism, but he was certainly teaching the class to reject evolution by his treatment of the subject. I’m from a state where this kind of thing is very real and actually, currently happening, so I have to disagree completely with your assertion that it isn’t a problem.

        • Avatar of Luna

          You “don’t care about homeschoolers”? Why? They are brainwashed and then test into regular schools, and get the same high school diplomas that you and I get. Don’t you think that’s a scam?

          And yes, teachers are caught slipping in Creationist teachings, along with censoring the theory of Evolution. Worse, they never get to the updated versions so it sounds like a “controversey” because they leave out the 150 years of genetic evidence that’s happened since.

          Sorry you feel so blase about this, it’s something most informed people are outraged over.

          • Avatar of Luna

            That was in reply to Brenda. Sorry, Kitty L.

  8. Avatar of banyan

    This guy is a great example of how you can use debunking pseudoscience to teach people some really awesome real science that’s way cooler than anything the supernaturalists have come up with.

  9. Avatar of Luna

    Their obsession with butt defenses (and the giggles I got from it) aside, it’s kind of creepy how saavy these nutjobs can be. Kids love stuff that blows up, farts, explodes, and bugs. They’re using this to get kid’s attention while they can still brainwash them.

    The family that lives right next door to us taught their 7 kids the “controversey”. This is in Massachusetts, for cripes sake. But a LOT of homeschoolers are getting away with it.

    Fortunately one of the daughters confided in me that she thought that Evolution was the correct one. What was said after that is between her and I.

  10. Avatar of marilove

    @Brenda: “Are there any public K-12 schools or public universities where creationism is taught as science? I don’t believe there are.”

    Yes there are.

    I can’t believe you’re trying to tell us how to respond to something when you don’t even understand what is going on!

    Tip: Before you try to lecture people, at least do some research on the subject matter first. It helps. I promise.

  11. Avatar of plugger

    Who was the entomologist who studied the Bombardier Beetle by popping one into his mouth? I recall he reported the sensation was pronounced. (Are all bug people weird?)

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