Did God Make Fire Ant Parasites?

Most residents of the southern states of America are uncomfortably familiar with fire ants. People who have experienced the bites and stings that give these insects their name are often willing to try almost anything to get rid of them. Many of them might hesitate, however, to use the particularly gruesome method favored by one tiny predator.

Fire ants were introduced to the shores of Texas in the 1930s by cargo ships that accidentally transported them from tropical Brazil. In the South American jungles, there are a number of unlikely creatures that keep the feisty ant populations in check. But in North America, about the only things that oppose them are cool weather and man-made chemicals.

Not only do fire ant bites cause sharp pain, but the insects have displaced native creatures like the “horned frog” (a kind of lizard) from North Texas. Fire ants also cause millions of dollars in property damage, especially when they infest electrical boxes.

They present a real problem, and solving it with chemicals is neither cost-effective nor species-specific, often harming neighboring beneficial insects. These are some reasons why Mike Warriner, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department entomologist, told Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, “A more long term solution…is needed.”1

Entomologists are currently looking into eco-friendly biological control of fire ants, and University of Texas biologists have been experimenting with importing one of the fire ant’s natural predators. These parasitic creatures, a kind of phorid fly, are known as “ant-decapitating flies.” The fruit fly-size female lays her eggs inside the ant’s body, accessing it through the neck. As the larva grows, it feeds off the ant’s body fluids. At the right moment, it knows just how much of the ant’s brain to consume in order to hijack the ant’s nervous system.

The ant will then just march away from its colony―sometimes walking for two weeks straight. The parasite eventually secretes an enzyme that dissolves the ant’s exoskeleton, causing the ant’s head to fall off. The fly then uses the emptied head capsule “as a pupal case” until it metamorphoses into an adult.2

There are many similar parasites that have been specially outfitted to infect just one host, whether that host is a particular insect, mammal, snail, or other organism.3 They balance populations, and this appears to be ecologically beneficial. But the methods by which this balance is achieved—consumption from within or dismemberment—sometimes seem horrific.

How could such creatures have been part of the “very good” creation depicted in Genesis?4 Darwin himself raised a similar objection after studying how parasitic wasps treat certain caterpillars. The apparent presence of evil in biological systems has frequently been used as an argument against a creation-based interpretation of scientific data.

However, it is exceedingly unlikely that this phorid fly evolved through chance and random mutations. Fire ants are its primary diet, and the instincts and enzymes that it uses are too precisely specified to its mode of living for it not to have been a product of purpose, either directly or indirectly.

The fly has so many specifications―the ability to see, fly, run, and reproduce, all contained in a remarkably small package―that it must have originated outside of nature. The clever recycling of the ant’s decapitated head also infers design. These very complicated and effective specifications are not “natural”―they represent the opposite of what nature produces, which is decay. Plus, the Genesis account states that God made “every thing that creepeth upon the earth,”5 and this clearly included insects.

One possibility for the origin of this fly’s life cycle is that its current host-specific habits resulted from a narrowing-down of options from a wider array of instincts and abilities possessed by an originating phorid fly. This narrowing process would have occurred after the fall of man, when death, decay, and other evils entered the world.6

It is apparent that God instantly reworked some biological systems at that time, such as when He made “thorns also and thistles.”7 Therefore, it is possible that decapitating flies and similar parasites were a direct result of God’s intervention at the curse, which in turn was a result of the sin of mankind.

At present, gruesome parasites—along with carnivores and violent competition in the living world—serve as persistent reminders that the world is not all good, and not as it should be. But this is just what the Bible describes, along with the promise that all creation will someday be transformed and restored to an entirely good condition, like it was immediately after its original creation.8

References

  1. Dodd. C. Dawn of the Living Dead Ants. Texas Parks and Wildlife. February 2010: 10-11.
  2. Porter, S. D. 1998. Biology and Behavior of Pseudacteon Decapitating Flies (Diptera: Phoridae) That Parasitize Solenopsis Fire Ants (Hymenopter: Formicidae). Florida Entomologist. 81 (3): 292-309. 
  3. For example, see Sherwin, F. 2005. All-Out War in the Cornfield. Acts & Facts. 34(8).
  4. Genesis 1:31.
  5. Genesis 1:25.
  6. Genesis 3:17-19.
  7. Genesis 3:18.
  8. Revelation 21:1.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on February 5, 2010.


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