When attacked, this beetle sets off a rapid chemical reaction inside its body, sending predators scrambling. This amazing chemical defense has some people scratching their heads: How could such a complex system evolve gradually—without killing the beetle too?
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The bombardier beetle, named for soldiers who once operated artillery cannons, has a surprising secret to use against potential predators.
When attacked, the beetle mixes a cocktail of compounds inside its body that produces a fast-moving chemical reaction. The reaction heats the mix to the boiling point, then propels it through a narrow abdominal opening with powerful force. By turning the end of its abdomen on an assailant, the beetle can even aim the spray.
The formidable liquid, composed of three main ingredients, both burns and stings the attacker. It can kill a small adversary, such as an ant, and send larger foes, like spiders, frogs, and birds, fleeing in confusion.
How do bombardier beetles defend themselves?
They manufacture and combine three reactive substances inside their bodies. The chemical reaction is exothermic, meaning it heats the combination to the boiling point, producing a hot, stinging spray, which the beetle can point at an enemy.
What does a bombardier beetle spray?
It’s a combination of hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide (like what you can buy in the store). The reaction between these two is catalyzed by an enzyme, produced by glands in the beetle, which is the spark that makes the reaction so explosive.
Why is it called a bombardier beetle?
“Bombardier” is an old French word for a solider who operates artillery.
Read the entire article on KQED Science:
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