Fossillized 'Blood' is causing a buzz again

So, it is not every day that I get to start a topic about one of my great loves on BioLogos… that’s right, insects! :nerd_face: (Security, lock the doors).

I came across this article on Naturalis Historia showing media buzz around the discovery of a fossilized mosquito which contains the remnant products of a blood meal in its abdomen.

Here is a summary from Naturalis Historia about the discovery for those who don’t want to read the whole article:

What scientists found was a high abundance of iron and iron containing compounds in the fossilized abdomen of a female mosquito and a lack of similar iron compounds in the male fossil abdomens. Did they find blood cells? Absolutely not!

They found evidence of porphyrin molecules which they reasonably deduced are the degraded remnants of former hemoglobin molecules which are found in red blood cells of vertebrates. Using some very precise instruments that allow them to examine tiny portions of the fossil they were able to show that these iron-beading organic molecules were found in the abdomens but not in the surrounding rock matrix. So not only are the scientists involved NOT claiming to have found red blood cells in the fossil they aren’t even saying they have found hemoglobin but rather only the incredibly stable biomolecular remains (porphyrin) of a small portion of the hemoglobin molecule found in blood cells.

And here is a link to the published research for anyone who wants to go down the rabbit hole.

Unsurprisingly, said media buzz includes our best buds over at AiG. The first half of the AIG article by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, MD, is a mixed bag. On the one hand, she writes in the introduction that:

the Kishenehn Paleobiology Collection’s most unique specimen to date is a fossilized female mosquito confirmed to have a bulging abdomen full of blood.

That all sounds very Jurrasic Park come Creation Museum, but as you can see from the NH quote above that “confirmed to have a bulging abdomen full of blood” is patently inaccurate. Granted, later on she does clarify saying:

How do scientists know the tiny fossilized mosquito’s abdomen contains blood? Comparing her to a male mosquito fossil from the same location, they found the two components of vertebrate hemoglobin preserved in the female. Hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying substance in blood, contains iron bound to organic molecules called porphyrins. Both iron and porphyrins are localized in the female’s distended abdomen.

Nevertheless, what is far more concerning to me is the conclusion of the article. Here, Dr. Mitchell, MD, writes:

The sudden catastrophic burial of this mosquito and countless other creatures beneath tons of water-borne sediment associated with the global Flood explains the findings far more believably and is supported by the biblical historical record. Much of the fossil record is a record of the order of burial of organisms as their habitats were destroyed.

Ok, indulge me a moment, I wonder when you last took a good look at a mosquito? Preferably, one that you haven’t smushed? Well, next time you do you’ll notice that other than being incredibly intracate, they also look incredibly fragile. And for good reason, because they are fragile. A mosquito is essential a hypodermic needle attached to a balloon with wings, eyes, and legs. The more the mosquito feeds, the more distended the abdomen becomes, and the so the more fragile it becomes. Strangely, Dr. Mitchell’s article even acknowledges this fact when she quotes Dale Greenwalt and Ralph Harbach as saying:

“The insect had to take a blood meal, be blown to the water’s surface, and sink to the bottom of a pond or similar structure to be quickly embedded in fine anaerobic sediment, all without disruption of its fragile distended blood-filled abdomen.Emphases added.

So you will have to forgive me for my, frankly, beggars belief that Dr. Mitchell, MD, would conclude that “The sudden catastrophic burial of this mosquito… beneath tons of water-borne sediment associated with the global Flood explains the findings far more believably”. That kind of force and mass bearing down on an overfilled blood-balloon with wings would vaporise the mosquito rather than fossilise it.

For comparison, imagine filling a water bomb from the kitchen tap, the more the balloon fills with water the thinner the rubber becomes until eventually, it tears. It is the same principle. Now imagine you fill that water balloon to bursting point, place it at the bottom of the Hoover Dam, and then explode the dam. All that concrete and water comes crashing down on your little balloon… would you look at that scene at expect to find your balloon preserved under all the sediment and rubble when the water subsides?

Look, cards on the table, I’m not a professional palaeontologist or entomologist, but I do believe that one does not need to be either of those to see that something is very wrong with the conclusion being drawn in this article and how the evidence is being utilised. Especially, if someone thinks that a global catastrophic flood is a plausible explanation for the origins of a mosquito fossil.

I was recently reminded of this AIG cartoon from back in the day:

WIthout being cute, it strikes me that if you have to do all kinds of gymnastics to makes sense of mosquito fossilisation in your creation account in Genesis, you’re doing it wrong.

Wrapping up this brain dump, I would love to hear the thoughts of…

  • some of our resident ologists on how a “sudden catastrophic burial of… creatures beneath tons of water-borne sediment associated with the global Flood” would impact the chance of fossilisation occurring for another organism?

  • Some of our resident YECs, which explanation of the mosquito fossilisation do you find most convincing and why?

  • Anyone else who fancies wading in on this one.


NB: I really wanted to call this thread ‘Bl***dy Mosquitos are causing a buzz for palaeontologists!’ but thought better of it.

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A little more humor seems in order [ETA : it’s only 0:31 long], the ending exemplifying the quality of the argument XD:

(Hey, and it’s Super Bowl Sunday, reminiscent of when that was first aired, I guess.)

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(That’s not considered vulgarity over here, you probably knew. ; - )

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I am just incredibly amazed that anyone could find a fossil mosquito, much less identify micro-parasites and iron. It is a fascinating article, and I note the mosquito was found in oil shale, derived from silt. I suppose only such fine material could preserve such detail.

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Another point to note is that shale cannot form quickly.

It is made up of very fine-grained particles that can only settle out in still, calm waters. The rate at which they settle cannot be accelerated by decreasing the viscosity of water as even if that had been physically possible, it would have introduced turbulence which would have prevented the particles from settling and forming shale in the first place.

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And it’s a bit of a mystery why it became a vulgarity over there.

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The exact same argument applied to things like pteropods, Atlanta, Spisula, Cooperella, Gari, eulimids, or practically any other mollusks that won’t only break if I step on them or throw them (I’ve tried with some already broken ones).

Shells like those are strong enough to survive significant pressure when they are filled with sediment, and/or because they are so small that the forces exerted on them are tiny. However, if the deposition was violent, how does a clam shell that is about as strong as an eggshell, but 170 mm x 100 mm, survive? Or something 1 mm across, that would shatter if I tried to pick it up with anything more forceful than surface tension from a wet paintbrush survive, and get deposited next to a 150 mm Mercenaria shell that weighs a few hundred grams?

There is one Yorktown Formation Deposit I know of that got smothered in mud by a storm. Most deposits do not look like that one.

Another problem: the standard layer sequence near the coast in the Carolinas is the following (generalized somewhat, and with a more complete section than most places have):

Topsoil

Coarse sand, some beach or river-deposited fossils, all recent species. (late Pleistocene)

Layer going from coarse sand to finer sand and shell hash back to coarse sand, mostly recent species. (mid-Pleistocene

Several more layers going from coarse sand to finer sand and shell hash back to coarse sand, with some patches of mud mixed in, decreasing proportions of recent species as you go down. (late Pliocene and early Pleistocene)

Sandy leached limestones, sandy unleached limestones, or more sandy shell layers, decreasing proportions of recent species as you go down, hitting zero by the mid-lower part of this. (early Miocene to mid-Pliocene)

Mostly biogenic leached limestones. (Paleocene to Oligocene)

Clay and clayy limestones. (Cretaceous)

Igneous and Metamorphic Bedrock. (Paleozoic or Precambrian)

How does that happen with rapid movement?

Great share, @Paraleptopecten!

Well, the AIG answer to that question is that this ordered nature of the geological column reflects the order (as in sequence) that habitats were subsumed and then buried by the global floodwaters. Personally, I find this confusing… AIG likes to emphasise the dramatic and catastrophic nature of the flood, but at the same time wants to assert that it produced neat geological layers. That strikes me as having one’s cake and eating it.

I’ve also heard the argument that more complex life was able to make it to higher ground and thus were buried last. However, one would expect slower complex lifeforms would be consumed by the flood before faster ones. Thus, I would expect to see sloths buried alongside brachiosaurs and diplodocus on a lower level to cheetahs and velociraptors. How fast is the average antediluvian human when trying to escape a global tsunami?

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Neither of those arguments is good, unsurprisingly.

That does not fit with those strata I cited either, as the faunas in them reflect the following sequence (with transitions between each state), going down:
Land
~2 m depth
Land
~15 m depth
Land
~15 m depth
Land
~50 m depth
Land
~70 m depth
Land
~40 m depth
Land
[repeat last step about 6 times]
~100 m depth
Land
[repeat several times]
~250 m depth
etc.

Those same layers refute that claim as well, given their contents:

shark’s teeth, some sturdy mollusks
mollusks, some marine fish, echinoderms, barnacles, foraminifera, etc.
[repeat last set a bunch of times]
mollusks, mosasaur teeth, dinosaurs
bedrock

How are corals or oysters better at escaping floodwaters than dinosaurs are?

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Awww… Groan!

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Geolex — Kishenehn publications gives a little more background. (Wikipedia doesn’t - their info on the formation is lifted from the original publication about the mosquitoes). Note that it is Eocene, which many young-earth sources claim is post-flood. The fact that it is an extremely calm, freshwater lake deposit also is incompatible with claims that it formed during the Flood. The complete disregard for whether the Flood is supposed to be very calm or very violent, depending on the geological feature that it is supposed to be explaining, seems to me a particularly obvious point where YEC models need some work.

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One rather wonderful thing about evolution is that nature does not waste stuff. Things that can extract food from the most extreme niches get eaten by other things, either scavenged when dead or eaten when alive. Animals eating other animals is a part of the wonderful balance of creation, and can therefure surely be described as ‘good’, as the Bible does. Anyway, it follows that smaller members of the animal kingdom hardly ever got fossilised, and the more delicate and smaller they are, makes it an almost vanishly rare event.

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Good points. Though to avoid anyone claiming that small fossils therefore prove the young-earth flood, two caveats may be useful:

Small is not the same as delicate - there are larger but more delicate and small but solid organisms. Ostracods are probably among the most abundant animal fossils. Delicacy also is not simple to assess - under different conditions, different things hold up better or less well. Mosquitoes are easy to squish, but insect exoskeletons are chemically quite resistant.

Size and abundance tend to be inversely related. The chance of a particular individual mosquito getting into the fossil record is rather poor. But the chance of one mosquito out of all those buzzing around right now happening to end up somewhere where it can get preserved and buried is not so low.

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Well, there are trace fossils from worms, and insects preserved in amber.

Yes and no. Crinoids (aka sea lilies) are animals.

When they die they break apart into their individual carbonate plates. If crinoids live in an area for a very long time they can produce deposits that are almost entirely made up of crinoid fossils. There are deposits in the US that are 2,000 feet thick in places. It’s rather difficult to explain the sheer volume of crinoids in geologic record with a single depositional event.

Glenn Morton estimated that there were enough crinoids plates in that one deposit to cover the entire globe 1/4 inch deep. Obviously, this can’t be explained by a flood. A much better explanation is long term deposition in a shallow sea.

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Bivalve examples that come to mind to me are Plicatula and Spisula. Plicatula is incredibly common, and relatively difficult to break (~2/3 complete). Most specimens are 2-10 mm, adults are 20+ mm. Spisula gets far larger (to 200 mm), but their shells are about as sturdy as an eggshell, and they are far less common. There are probably 200 complete Plicatulas for every complete Spisula. Ignoring completeness, more like 10:1.

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