Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Bombardier Beetle

Boing Boing interviewed Amy Stewart, author of Wicked Plants and Wicked Bugs, and in the video, Stewart mentions some of her favorite bugs, including the bombardier beetle. Wikipedia explains:

A bombardier beetle produces and stores two reactant chemical compounds, hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide, in separate reservoirs in the rear tip of its abdomen. When threatened, the beetle contracts muscles that force the two reactants through valved tubes into a mixing chamber containing water and a mixture of catalytic enzymes. When combined, the reactants undergo a violent exothermic chemical reaction, raising the temperature to near the boiling point of water. The corresponding pressure buildup forces the entrance valves from the reactant storage chambers to close, thus protecting the beetle's internal organs. The boiling, foul-smelling liquid partially becomes a gas (flash evaporation) and is expelled through an outlet valve into the atmosphere with a loud popping sound. The flow of reactants into the reaction chamber and subsequent ejection to the atmosphere occurs cyclically at a rate of about 500 times per second and with the total pulsation period lasting for only a fraction of a second.

The gland openings of some African bombardier beetles can swivel through 270° and thrust between the insect's legs, so it can be discharged in all sorts of directions with considerable accuracy.
You can see the beetle in action in this video:

And you can buy Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects at Amazon.