Mystery of the Bombardier Beetle's Hot Toxic Spray

By Andy Dong

Recently, Athula Attygalle and his colleagues figured out how the bombardier beetle shoots out chemicals and when they are used. 

There are a lot of species of life on earth. One of the most interesting is the bombardier beetle. This beetle shoots out hot toxic chemicals by its rear end. A lot of animals use chemicals to defend themselves but bombardier beetles are the only ones that “heat it up and spray it,” Attygalle says. Attygalle wanted to find out how the bombardier beetles do this without burning or killing themselves. He teamed up with other scientists to help him do this. One of them was Kipling Will. Will collected 18 of these creatures and injected them with chemicals that were similar to the ones that the beetles shoot out of their rear end. The chemicals did not bother the beetles at all! Attygalle and his team were able to trace the chemicals through the beetles’ bodies. They found out that the chemicals are stored in a part of the beetle's body until needed. When needed, the chemicals go to another body part and are mixed with enzymes. There, the chemicals heat up to 212 degrees fahrenheit (100 degrees celsius). When all of it is mixed and finished it makes the final chemical form. When the beetle attacks it sprays it out. “Nearly all insects are chemistry-controlled,” which is “why they have been so successful at surviving evolutionary pressures,” says Attygalle.


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