Don Batten from Creation Ministries International interviews termite expert, Dr Victor Meyer
Victor Meyer was born and raised in South Africa in a devoutly Christian family with a Huguenot heritage.1 Taking on his father's love of the outdoors, Victor worked as a game ranger, which kindled an interest in termites and he earned masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Pretoria for his research. Victor also discovered a previously unknown woodlouse that has been named after him.
Victor and his family now live in New Zealand, where he works as a technical writer for an organisation that services health professionals.
The mere thought of termites might evoke images of destruction of houses, and the nearest pest control company! In natural habitats, however, termites are beneficial and an integral part of ecosystems. Termites are very efficient at reducing woody litter to simple organic compounds. They are pivotal in nutrient cycling, as Victor found during his in-depth study of mound-building termites in the Kruger National Park (KNP).
His Masters2 research required more than 400 kms (250 miles) of often uncharted bush-walking. He studied termite mounds in the northern parts of the park, determining that soil types helped determine their density and distribution. This work was awarded cum laude (distinction).
For his Ph.D. in entomology (University of Pretoria),3 Victor studied the most abundant mound-builder in the KNP, Macrotermes natalensis. He excavated small, medium, and large mounds to determine the number of individuals comprising each colony. The tallest mound found by Victor measured 5.3 m (17 ft) high, and was estimated to contain close to a million termites.
He and co-workers found, among other discoveries, that the proportion of termite soldiers tends to decrease as a colony ages and reproductive success peaks.4
Disinvestment in soldiers benefits the colony because more workers means that nutrient cycling is increased; more labour is required for food gathering beyond the scavenged areas around large nests. A continual trade-off between workers and soldiers is thus maintained. The results also provided baseline data against which future population trends could be measured, and as such, were incorporated into the KNP Management Plan.5
A new species found
Dr Meyer discovered a new species of terrestrial isopod (woodlouse) in 1995, and it has recently been named after him—Ctenorillo meyeri.6 This isopod is found only in close association with termites, hence the term 'termitophilous' (liking termites). It benefits from the relationship with the termite colony without harming it (called 'commensalism').
Dr Meyer is now part of a research team to revise the classification of New Zealand's isopods.
Colonies and creation
Colony-forming termites are 'eusocial' insects, meaning that a single female queen produces the offspring, with some males called 'kings'. Then non-breeding workers care for the brood, and soldiers defend the nest. Building nests and regulating the temperature of the brood each require a lot of coordinated cooperation. How could such eusociality have evolved?
As Dr Meyer says, "The 'pin-head' brain of a termite is hardly capable of reasoning that joining forces with other individuals and living in a colony are more beneficial to survival than sticking it out on its own."
And if an individual had a mutation that caused it to not breed (worker or soldier), that mutation needed for eusociality would be lost! The system is a 'package deal' where all the components have to work together for it to work at all. As Dr Meyer says, "Surely this communal lifestyle was set up by the Creator, as alluded to in Proverbs 30:25."
Evolutionists propose the living species Mastotermes darwiniensis (from northern Australia) as a 'primitive' termite, because it has some similarities to cockroaches. However, fossils dated by evolutionary reasoning as 'Cretaceous', supposedly over 100 million years old, closely resemble this species, so it is yet another 'living fossil'. This is not evidence for evolution, but 'stasis', or created kinds reproducing according to their kinds (Genesis 1).
How do termites digest wood?
Animals, including termites, do not have the enzymes needed to digest wood. Termites use microbes to do it. Some have them in their gut (flagellates). Others cultivate fungi in 'gardens' inside their nests and harvest the enzymes from the fungi to digest the wood.
This raises a question for evolutionists: if these insects ultimately evolved from microbes, why did the process lose the ability to digest wood? It would be a very useful trait for natural selection to preserve.
"The intricacies of creation, such as the termite colony, display some of the glory of God as revealed in His creative brilliance," Victor says.
From Victor's conversion to Christ at a young age, he took the Bible at face value.
However, during his university studies he toyed with an 'old earth' view, via the flawed Gap Theory. He also flirted with the idea of a local flood, influenced by Dr Hugh Ross's teachings on origins.
However, Victor's confidence in biblical creation was re-established, mainly through reading the book trilogy by Dr Jonathan Sarfati of CMI.7 Victor remarked that "the logical, coherent, scientific approach with the highest regard for Scripture was both impressive and convincing."
He remains wary of mindsets that stand against the plain reading of Scripture. How can Christians believe (and expect others to believe) in the resurrection of Christ, which forms the basis of their faith and utterly defies the physical laws of science, but not believe in instantaneous creation within the Bible's God-inspired record of the timeframe?•
References and notes
This article first appeared in Creation Magazine. It is used with kind permission.