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There are a lot of weird and curious insects in the world. Here at Western Exterminator, we make sure that we are the experts in all types of insects, specializing in the ones that can become real pests for your home. However, not all of them are pests. Sometimes you just run across one that is both weird and amazing, showing how diverse and unique nature can be.
There are insects out there with all kinds of interesting defense mechanisms to ward off potential predators. Some have fangs, others have claws, some have stingers or give off a strong and offensive odor. Well, let me introduce you to one that basically has its own explosive weapon built right in: the bombardier beetle, the insect that shoots boiling hot chemicals at potential threats and predators.
The thing that sets the bombardier beetle apart from all of those other insects is the unique developments their bodies have made as a defense. They have developed two chambers within their abdomen. One of them contains the substance known as hydroquinone and the other hydrogen peroxide. The strange thing is that if you were to mix those two substances together in a glass right now – nothing would happen.
The bombardier beetle, however, has evolved a catalyst that is stored within the chamber where the two chemicals mix. Thus, three different things come together to create a reaction. When a threat is detected, such as a predatory insect touching the insect’s body or legs, or you’re a spider, bird, scorpion or another predator, those two chemicals are instantly released into the chamber where the catalyst chemicals then start the reaction.
What happens then? The two chemicals reach a boiling point via chemical reaction and gas is produced that allows the beetle to “fire” this boiling hot substance into the potential predator. The boiling chemicals can even be directed from the hind end of the beetle-like a small turret and the insect can hit its intended target with amazing accuracy.
If you happen to be an insect much smaller than the beetle, the intensely hot spray can be fatal. If you happen to be human, you might just say “ouch” and let go of the beetle’s leg.
These types of beetles are found all over the planet except for arctic regions like Antarctica. They like to live in grassy and woodland areas, preferring mild or temperate zones over areas that get cold during the fall and winter.
Bombardier beetles are omnivorous. They will eat other, small, insects and will do so even in the larval stage. They like to hunt at night and even have some social tendencies, hanging out with others of its species, when not actively looking for food.
No one is sure how the bombardier beetle evolved this particular defense, but other beetles are known to carry chemicals that can be released to help defend against predators. For example, the beetle known as Metrius contractus mixes chemicals and releases a foamy substance onto the skin of potential predators.
The catalysts that trigger the explosive reaction line the walls of the final chamber. The reactions happen in an instant, often accompanies by a soft popping sound.
The chemicals mix with the catalyst and the reaction is what is known as exothermic, which means it gets very hot. The temperature can reach over 200 degrees Fahrenheit! The pressure of the reaction builds up so fast that it must be released and it comes out as a mixture of liquid and gas. The beetle can usually get about 20 sprays before it runs out, which is usually enough to kill predatory insects. The chemicals involved are also irritating to the eyes and respiratory system of anything in its path.
Generally, the bombardier beetle is harmless to people. It would be advisable not to handle them if you have sensitive skin or sensitivity to things like hydrogen peroxide or quinones. The beetle is not known to bite, using the firepower it packs to defend instead.
So, the next time you are in your garden, if you see a small colorful beetle and feel tempted to reach down and pick it up, be careful. You might just get a painful surprise.
If you have real insect problems, make sure you contact the experts at Western Exterminator for a free inspection and discussion of your pest-related problems. Call today!