Saturday, 3 November 2012

Intelligently Designed With Love?

Look at this beautiful little jewel of a wasp (Ampulex compressa). Any Creationist 'scientist' worth his/her salt would point at this and assert that it must have been designed, and hope you'll just gaze in wonder at the exquisite skill of such a marvellous designer who could intelligently design such a thing, and then hopefully you'll buy his books, visit his museum and give him lots of money to help spread the good news.

What you won't be told however, is what this lovely little insect actually does; and there is a very good reason for this. Appearances can be deceptive, and the Creationist 'scientist' will understandably be sensitive in this respect. Like him, the deceptive little thing is a parasite, and a particularly nasty one at that.

This little wasp hunts down cockroaches.

"And what's wrong with that?", you might ask. "Who wants cockroaches around?"

Well, cockroaches do for a start, and, if you believe in an intelligent designer, or even a designer who is not particularly bright, you surely must believe it intended cockroaches to be around too.

But it's what the wasp does to cockroaches which should at least make you wince, if not question the entire basis of your 'faith'.

As early as the 1940s it was reported that female wasps of this species sting a roach (specifically a Periplaneta americana,Periplaneta australasiae or Nauphoeta rhombifolia)[1] twice, delivering venom. A 2003 study[2] using radioactive labeling demonstrated that the wasp stings precisely into specific ganglia of the roach. It delivers an initial sting to a thoracic ganglion and injects venom to mildly and reversibly paralyze the front legs of its victim. The biochemical basis of this transient paralysis is discussed in a 2006 paper.[3] Temporary loss of mobility in the roach facilitates the second venomous sting at a precise spot in the victim's head ganglia (brain), in the section that controls the escape reflex. As a result of this sting, the roach will first groom extensively, and then become sluggish and fail to show normal escape responses.[4] In 2007 it was reported that the venom of the wasp blocks receptors for the neurotransmitter octopamine.[5]

The wasp proceeds to chew off half of each of the roach's antennae.[1] Researchers believe that the wasp chews off the antenna to replenish fluids or possibly to regulate the amount of venom because too much could kill and too little would let the victim recover before the larva has grown. The wasp, which is too small to carry the roach, then leads the victim to the wasp's burrow, by pulling one of the roach's antennae in a manner similar to a leash. Once they reach the burrow, the wasp lays a white egg, about 2 mm long, on the roach's abdomen. It then exits and proceeds to fill in the burrow entrance with pebbles, more to keep other predators out than to keep the roach in.

With its escape reflex disabled, the stung roach will simply rest in the burrow as the wasp's egg hatches after about three days. The hatched larva lives and feeds for 4–5 days on the roach, then chews its way into its abdomen and proceeds to live as an endoparasitoid. Over a period of eight days, the wasp larva consumes the roach's internal organs in an order which maximizes the likelihood that the roach will stay alive, at least until the larva enters the pupal stage and forms a cocoon inside the roach's body. Eventually the fully grown wasp emerges from the roach's body to begin its adult life. Development is faster in the warm season.

Adults live for several months. Mating takes about one minute, and only one mating is necessary for a female wasp to successfully parasitize several dozen roaches.

While a number of venomous animals paralyze prey as live food for their young, Ampulex compressa is different in that it initially leaves the roach mobile and modifies its behavior in a unique way. Several other species of the genus Ampulex show a similar behavior of preying on cockroaches.[1] The wasp's predation appears only to affect the cockroach's escape responses. Research has shown that while a stung roach exhibits drastically reduced survival instincts (such as swimming, or avoiding pain) for approximately 72 hours, motor abilities like flight or flipping over are unimpaired.[6][7]

Which is all very well, if you're an emerald cockroach wasp; not so good if you're a cockroach.

What gruesome intelligence could come up with such a plan? Why on earth would an intelligent designer design cockroaches and equip them with all the paraphernalia needed to be a cockroach, then think up something so malignantly horrific as our exquisite little wasp, which seems to have no other purpose in life but to make cockroaches die slowly and helplessly by having their internal organs eaten?

Of course, as intelligent design, and especially intelligent design by an omni-benevolent designer, emerald cockroach wasps make no sense at all. Neither do cockroaches in a world intelligently designed for humans, for that matter.

As the products of a thoughtless, unemotional, undirected process, where the only thing that matters is what gives more living, breeding descendants, they make perfect sense. The emerald cockroach wasp does what it does because evolution has pushed it in that direction by naturally selecting for whatever produces most reproducing emerald cockroach wasps. There is no need for an explanation more complicated than that.

And of course, a similar process is currently pushing parasitic Creationista pseudo-scientificus in the direction of evolving more and more ways to exploit the susceptibility to mind-control that religion has produced in their victims - those who have been stung into senselessness by religion and now allow themselves to be led by the nose and to be fed on and used by self-seeking Creationist pseudo-scientists, preachers and right-wing politicians, having been stripped of their ability to think for themselves.

And these sad little mind-controlled zombies actually think it gives their lives meaning to try to produce even more potential victims for these nasty little parasites - and I'm not talking about wasps. Wasps have a nobility and elegance which cannot be granted to human 'religious' parasites. Unlike these humans, they can be forgiven, for they know not what they do.

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  1. Nice post. Although I find a certain beauty in the cycle of the wasp's life, maybe because it shows how simple natural selection can accomplish such complex successful behavior patterns.
    BTW I recently came across your blog and I love it.

  2. Such a devastating argument; it's a shame that few, if any, religious people will read it, and even fewer stop to think about what it means.

  3. An intelligent-design explanation seems unthinkable unless one assumes the deity is a sadist. Natural selection, as you say, explains it perfectly.

    There are several species of wasps whose larval forms are parasites within the living bodies of other insects, killing them only when they emerge. This was the inspiration for the monster in the Alien films -- a species able to exploit humans to reproduce in a similar way.

    Of course there are plenty of species which naturally live as parasites on or in humans in less spectacular and lethal fashion -- think tapeworms or body lice. We don't think of them much since secular technology has mostly gotten rid of them, but they pose a similar problem for the intelligent-design delusion.

    And that wasp is a horrible-looking thing, despite the beautiful color.


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