B is for Bombardier Beetle #A-ZChallenge
This great close-up photo of a bombardier beetle is by David Hill on Flikr.
Love them or hate them (I love them!), insects are the largest group of organisms on the planet – 900,000 of which have been described by science, leaving an estimated 30,000,000 still to be documented! At any one time there are an estimated 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 insects alive. (Perhaps it’s best not to think about it if you are at all fidgety round them.)
Of the 10 quintillion, beetles are by far the most numerous group, at about 40% of all known insects.
Beetles have filled every available niche and evolved many types of camouflage and protection. Thus, above, the bombardier beetle – innocent-looking little creature isn’t it?
Looks are deceiving in this case, though. This beetle is in possession of one of the most highly-developed and intricate chemical weapons in the insect world.
This one is found in central and southern Europe and North Africa, and also in the south of England and south Wales. But species of bombardier beetle are found all over the world including the USA and Australia.
Its weapon consists of two glands in the rear tip of its abdomen. One of these glands makes hydroquinone, and the other makes hydrogen peroxide. If the beetle is disturbed or attacked, for instance by ants, the glands eject the chemicals into a ‘mixing chamber’ which also contains enzymes.
Once mixed, the chemicals go through an exothermic reaction, raising their temperature to near boiling point. This liquid is then expelled through a vent with a popping, crackling noise, and by rotating its abdomen the beetle can direct this foul-smelling and noxious spray in pulses to wherever it is needed.
And on that rather scary note, I give you my bombardier beetle poem – at the bottom of which is a video of the beetle using its weaponry by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
The best beetle weapons
are chemicals from
exploding bum bomb.
In any direction
his backside can spray
liquid to boil-blast
It’s best not to battle,
the bravest expire,
should bombardier beetle’s
hot bottom backfire!
© Liz Brownlee
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Poem © Liz Brownlee, no reproducing, please.