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The Bombardier Beetle: Don't Make Him Boiling Mad!

Updated on May 14, 2011

Evolution continues to amaze.

Mankind learned back in feudal times how to defend himself, set in a backdrop of knights, castles, moats; attackers were douched in boiling oil and the cheapest and most effective, a drenching in boiling water.

Castles were often constructed with channels leading from the battlements to the area behind the port-cullis where trapped enemy soldiers could be dissuaded of further advance by being par-cooked in hundreds of gallons of boiling water cascading on them from above.

This must have represented the ultimate in sophisticated defence around the year 1000. But it was nothing new in nature: certain beetles had been employing and developing this technique for damaging and escaping predators, such as ants, for about 500 million years.

These are the Bombardier Beetles, and you absolutely cannot study the defence mechanisms of this tiny Ground Beetle without marvelling at what evolution can achieve when given half a billion years in the development stages.

There are some 500 distinct species of Ground Beetles, or Carabidae, which employ these advanced defence mechanisms. They are found everywhere on the planet except Antarctica, and, curiously, Asia. They are nocturnal, carnivorous hunters and many people picking one up have been surprised, dropping the beetle with a yell, as they experience a blast of noxious, near boiling gas and liquid from the insect's rear end! Ants and other opportunistic predators have been more than surprised; the emission has proven fatal for them.

The Bombardier manufactures and stores Hydroquinone and Hydrogen Peroxide, along with water and certain Catalytic Enzymes in seperate chambers within its body. When menaced, it forces this mixture together in another chamber, whereupon in undergoes a violent chemical reaction, called a Exothermic Chemical Reaction.

The valves leading back into the creature's abdomen slam shut, protecting its internal organs from the hot, corrosive mixture.

Then the foul liquid undergoes Flash Evaporation, changing its composition into both gas and liquid. To a series of loud popping sounds, around 500 times per second (and lasting a fraction of a second) the searing, foul smelling, liquid/gas, at close to boiling temperature, is "fired" from glands in the beetle's rear into the face of its attacker, either killing it outright, or definitely giving it pause about continuing to predate on such a vigorous defender.

Like a miniature tank, the beetle can direct its glands all around, even between its legs firing to the front!

Fatal to its attackers; the chemical mix and high temperature can actually burn the skin of a human hand! In case you felt like catching a few for breakfast.

It is little wonder such creatures have proven so successful in occupying nearly every corner of the planet.

Creationists have used the Bombardier and its sophisticated defences as argument to say it had to have been designed by an intelligent creator. Yet etymologists have shown various stages of the development in fossils through out the Millennia.

Evolution is full of surprises: billions of life forms, each so special in its own way and so carefully adapted to its environment. But few creatures can demonstrate to us, so simply and effectively, the "intelligence" of evolution and the ongoing adaptations of natural selection. Far more wonderful, in my view, than any so-called "miracles" ascribed to some fanciful deity.

The ultimate in evolutionary design.

Finer than a Cartier jewel.  One of the many Bombardier Beetles. Flickr Commons Eka Permana
Finer than a Cartier jewel. One of the many Bombardier Beetles. Flickr Commons Eka Permana

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    • profile image

      diogenes 

      7 years ago

      Gracias! Bob

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 

      7 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Fascinating!

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      What a great story! And so like Darwin. He sure learned a fact about nature that day! Bob

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      7 years ago from Texas

      I remember while in biology class in college, and read about Darwin. When he was a child, he was fascinated with bugs and collected him. One day, his hands were full, so he placed a couple of beetles in his mouth for transport. However, they were bombardier beetles and he soon discovered their defence mechanism and spit them out. Fascinating hub.

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Hanna. Glad they aren't any bigger, make good Hollywood monsters Bob

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      I thoroughly enjoyed learnign about these little darlings. Thank you.

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Heck, no! I would exit HP in a hurry and for good if the format demanded politics only. Bob

    • DDS profile image

      David Sproull 

      7 years ago from Toronto

      "You have obviously missed my earlier hubs which are all about creepies and crawlies"

      Must everyone write about politics? ;-)

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Unless "here" is in Asia or the South Pole, you will have some of the family members in residence, cspublish. As their defence mechanisms are for emegency defense only, they don't always release the boiling fluid just because someone gently picks them up.

      Hi Bobbi You have obviously missed my earlier hubs which are all about creepies and crawlies...Bob

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 

      7 years ago from New York

      Cool hub about bugs. Is nature becoming your new niche? That's pretty neat. I enjoyed learning about this little critter and you did a great job introducing him to us.

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Great article, loved reading it. Don't think one such beetle exists here, but an interesting little 'chappie.'

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Trish. There was a short piece on TV about them so I thought they would have been of interest. Just when you think you have seen it all! Bob

      Thanks DDS...hot might be more appropriate! Bob

      Hi SW...yes: sometimes it's hard to see what's going on unless it burns your fingers! Bob

    • DDS profile image

      David Sproull 

      7 years ago from Toronto

      Very cool Beetle!

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      7 years ago from Isle of Man

      You have written a very interesting article here brining this beautiful creature to life. It is strange how we fail to notice the beauty and complexity of nature all around us as we busy ourselves with thoughts that keep us locked in the prison of our own minds rarely noticing the miracle of life that surrounds us.Thank you for reminding me to notice.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Wow! What an amazing creature!

      Yes, evolution has produced some real marvels!

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