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Creation 38(4):24–25, October 2016

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Watch out! ‘Bed bugs’ are fighting back … apparently!



Researchers at the University of Sydney have claimed that bed bugs are evolving thicker skin in an effort to ‘fight back’ against insecticides designed to kill them: “Some bedbugs have evolved a thicker layer of cuticle, they found. This is the shell-like outer layer, or exoskeleton, on the bloodsucking little bugs. And it turns out that resistance is cuticle. That extra thick protection gives the bug new and improved armour.”1

Now let’s imagine a population of bed bugs in a home or hotel. In any population of organisms there will always be some degree of variation for certain traits. Some might be a little larger and some a little smaller, and some might have thin, normal or thicker skin. After they are sprayed with an insecticide, those with thicker skin have a better chance of surviving and those with normal or thin skin have a greater chance of dying. Those who survive better will naturally, on average, produce more offspring. After some months the population builds up again and is resprayed. Again, a greater number of bed bugs with thick skin survive. Eventually, we will have a population dominated by thick-skinned bed bugs. The regular and thin-skin traits may not be eliminated, but they are now so rare that nearly all the bedbugs have thick skin and so the insecticide has been rendered useless. This is an example of natural selection. Most people will agree that it makes sense.

Bed bug nymph (Cimex lectularius)

Natural selection is thought by many to be the mechanism behind evolution, but we should keep in mind it is just a man-made term to explain what we’ve described above. And while it is true that we’ve seen a change in the population of bed bugs, it is not the same as molecules-to-man evolution. Here’s why:

  1. The application of pesticide can only ‘select’ from what is already present in the population. The trait existed before the pesticide was applied.
  2. Not only can it not produce anything new, but natural selection ultimately creates a loss of genetic information. If the process goes on long enough, the thin and regular skin thickness traits will be lost from the bedbug population.
  3. The type of change being produced has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution requires multiple encyclopedias’ worth of new or novel information to turn ‘simpler’ organisms into more complex ones. Entire genes have to be invented, new metabolic pathways must arise from scratch, and brand new parts (like arms and eyeballs) must appear out of nowhere. This is a classic example of how natural selection only ‘tinkers around the edge’. It cannot actually do what molecules-to-man evolution requires.

Because nothing new is being invented, the bed bugs are still bed bugs and will always remain bed bugs, even if scientists ultimately decide to give them a ‘new’ species name.

The bait and switch

Evolutionists like to claim these population shifts are evidence for evolution, and because we can actually see this change, many are misled into believing that evolution is real. But creationists too accept the fact that species (another man-made term) change over time. Thus, natural selection cannot be proof of evolution. The bed bug example here is really nothing more than ‘differential reproduction’. Those with the best survival advantage will pass their genes on to the next generation more often than those without the survival advantage. This is all part of the economy of God’s creation. God created different ‘kinds’ (Genesis 1) of creatures. There was/is enough information content in their DNA to allow them to adapt to and survive in differing post-Fall and post-Flood environments throughout the world.

Adaptability is actually a hallmark of design and is a testimony to the creative brilliance of our Creator God. But humans, made in the image of God, have also been given creative abilities. Let’s hope somebody uses that God-given ability to figure out a better way to control bed bug infestations!

Posted on homepage: 25 July 2018

References and notes

  1. Spears, T., Bedbugs are getting harder to kill, and researchers may have figured out why, news.nationalpost.com/, 14 April 2016. Return to text.