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The Exploding Bombardier Beetles

Pop Goes the Beetle

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Bombardier beetles startle predators with an explosive defense.

Bombardier beetles startle predators with an explosive defense.

Photo: Patrick Coin (cc-by-sa)

If you're a small bug in a big, scary world, you need to use a little creativity to keep from being squashed or eaten. Bombardier beetles win the prize for the most unusual defensive strategy, hands down.

When threatened, bombardier beetles spray the suspected attacker with a boiling hot mixture of caustic chemicals. The predator hears a loud pop, then finds itself bathed in a cloud of toxins reaching 212° F (100° C). Even more impressive, the bombardier beetle can aim the poisonous eruption in the direction of the harasser.

The beetle itself is not harmed by the fiery chemical reaction. Using two special chambers inside the abdomen, the bombardier beetle mixes potent chemicals and uses an enzymatic trigger to heat and release them.

Though not strong enough to kill or seriously maim larger predators, the foul concoction does burn and stain the skin. Coupled with the sheer surprise of the counterattack, the bombardier beetle's defenses prove effective against everything from hungry spiders to curious humans.

Bombardier beetles belong to the family Carabidae, the ground beetles. Their larvae parasitize the pupae of whirligig beetles. You can find the nocturnal beetles living along muddy edges of lakes and rivers, often hiding in debris.

Bombardier beetles on YouTube:
Bombardier Beetles 1
Bombardier Beetles 2

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