World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Bombardier beetle

Article Id: WHEBN0000235634
Reproduction Date:

Title: Bombardier beetle  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Graboid, Beetle, Carabidae, Projectile use by living systems, Astrochicken
Collection: Carabidae
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Bombardier beetle

Bombardier beetle
Brachinus species
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Carabidae


Bombardier beetles are ground beetles (Carabidae) in the tribes Brachinini, Paussini, Ozaenini, or Metriini—more than 500 species altogether—which are most notable for the defense mechanism that gives them their name: when disturbed, they eject a hot noxious chemical spray from the tip of their abdomen with a popping sound.

The spray is produced from a reaction between two chemical compounds, hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide, which are stored in two reservoirs in the beetle's abdomen. When the aqueous solution of hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide reaches the vestibule, catalysts facilitate the decomposition of the hydrogen peroxide and the oxidation of the hydroquinone.[1] Heat from the reaction brings the mixture to near the boiling point of water and produces gas that drives the ejection. The damage caused can be fatal to attacking insects. Some bombardier beetles can direct the spray over a wide range of directions.


  • Habitat 1
  • Behavior 2
  • Anatomy 3
  • Defense mechanism 4
  • Evolution of the defense mechanism 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Australian Bombardier Beetle (Pheropsophus verticalis)

Bombardier beetles inhabit all the continents except Antarctica. They typically live in woodlands or grasslands in the temperate zones but can be found in other environments if there are moist places to lay their eggs.


Most species of bombardier beetles are carnivorous, including the larva.[2] The beetle typically hunts at night for other insects, but will often congregate with others of its species when not actively looking for food.[3]


There are two large glands that open at the tip of the abdomen. Each gland is composed of a thick walled vestibule which contains a mixture of catalases and peroxidases produced by the secretory cells that line the vestibule. Both glands are also made up of a thin-walled and compressible reservoir which contains an aqueous solution of hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide.[1] The hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinones do not react in the reservoir because the environment of the reservoir does not give sufficient energy to fuel the reaction.

Defense mechanism

When the beetle feels threatened it opens a valve which allows the aqueous solution from the reservoir to reach the vestibule. The catalases lining the vestibule wall facilitate the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide into oxygen gas and water. The reaction proceeds as follows:

H_{2}O_{2(aq)} \longrightarrow H_{2}O_{(l)} + \tfrac{1}{2}O_{2(g)}

The peroxidase enzymes facilitate the oxidation of the hydroquinones into p-quinones, as shown in the reaction below:

C_{6}H_{4}(OH)_{2(aq)} \longrightarrow C_{6}H_{4}O_{2(aq)} + H_{2(g)}

The net reaction is:

C_{6}H_{4}(OH)_{2(aq)} + H_{2}O_{2(aq)} \longrightarrow C_{6}H_{4}O_{2(aq)} + 2H_{2}O_{(l)} [1]

This reaction is very flash evaporation and is expelled explosively through an outlet valve, with a loud popping sound. The beetles' glands store enough hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide to allow the beetle to release its chemical spray roughly 20 times. In some cases this is enough to kill a predator.[4] The main component of the beetle spray is 1,4-Benzoquinone, which is particularly irritating to the eyes and the respiratory system.

The flow of reactants into the reaction chamber and subsequent ejection occur in a series of about 70 pulses, at a rate of about 500 pulses per second. The whole sequence of events takes only a fraction of a second. These pulsations are caused by repeated microexplosions which are the results of the continuous pressure on the reservoir and the oscillatroy opening and closing of the valve that controls access to the reaction chamber. This pulsed mechanism is beneficial for the beetles' survival because the system uses pressure instead of muscles to eject the spray at a constant velocity, saving the beetle energy. Also, the reintroduction of new reactants into the vestibule where enzymes are stored, reduces the temperature of the chamber, thereby protecting the peroxidases and catalases from thermal denaturation.[5]

Typically the beetle turns its body so as to direct the jet towards whatever triggered the response. The gland openings of some African bombardier beetles can swivel through 270° and thrust between the insect's legs, discharging the fluid in a wide range of directions with considerable accuracy.[6]

Evolution of the defense mechanism

The full evolutionary history of the beetle's unique defense mechanism is unknown, but biologists have shown that the system could have theoretically evolved from defenses found in other beetles in incremental steps by natural selection.[7][8] Specifically, quinone chemicals are a precursor to sclerotin, a brownish substance produced by beetles and other insects to harden their exoskeleton.[9] Some beetles additionally store excess foul-smelling quinones, including hydroquinone, in small sacs below their skin as a natural deterrent against predators—all carabid beetles have this sort of arrangement. Some beetles additionally mix hydrogen peroxide, a common by-product of the metabolism of cells, in with the hydroquinone, and some of the catalases that exist in most cells makes the process more efficient. The chemical reaction produces heat and pressure, and some beetles exploit the latter to push out the chemicals onto the skin; this is the case in the beetle Metrius contractus, which produces a foamy discharge when attacked.[10] In the bombardier beetle, the muscles that prevent leakage from the reservoir additionally developed a valve permitting more controlled discharge of the poison and an elongated abdomen to permit better control over the direction of discharge.[7][8]

The unique combination of features of the bombardier beetle's defense mechanism—strongly exothermic reactions, boiling-hot fluids, and explosive release—have been claimed by creationists and proponents of intelligent design to be examples of irreducible complexity.[11]


  1. ^ a b c "Aneshansley.; et al. (1969). "Biochemistry at 100 C: Explosive Secretory Discharge of Bombardier Beetles (Brachinus)". Science Magazine.  
  2. ^ "Bombardier Beetle". Animal Facts & Photos. Dallas Zoological Society. 2004. 
  3. ^ Poetker, E. (2003). "Brachinus fumans". Animal Diversity Web. 
  4. ^ "Eisner.; et al. (1999). "Spray aiming in the bombardier beetle: Photographic evidence". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 
  5. ^ "Dean.; et al. (1990). "Defensive Spray of the Bombardier Beetle: A Biological Pulse Jet". Science Magazine. 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b Weber CG (Winter 1981). "The Bombardier Beetle Myth Exploded". Creation/Evolution ( 
  8. ^ a b Isaak, Mark (May 30, 2003). "Bombardier Beetles and the Argument of Design".  
  9. ^ Brunet, P. C. J.; Kent, P. W. (1955). "Mechanism of sclerotin formation: The participation of a beta-glucoside". Nature 175 (4462): 819–820.  
  10. ^ Eisner, T; Aneshansley, D. J.; Eisner, M.; Attygalle, A. B.; Alsop, D. W.; Meinwald, J. (2000). "Spray mechanism of the most primitive bombardier beetle (Metrius contractus)". Journal of Experimental Biology 203 (8): 1265–1275.  
  11. ^ Stanley A. Rice (2007). Encyclopedia of Evolution. Infobase Publishing. p. 214.  

External links

  • Eisner T, Aneshansley DJ; Aneshansley (August 1999). "Spray aiming in the bombardier beetle: Photographic Evidence". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96 (17): 9705–9.  
  • — BugGuide.netBrachinusGenus
  • Hesselberg T (6 November 2007). "Exploding beetles suggest a new pressure relief valve and fluid discharge system". Life of science. 
  • "Claim CB310: Bombardier beetle evolution".  
  • Isaak, Mark (May 30, 2003). "Bombardier Beetles and the Argument of Design".  
  • BBC (1999). )"Stenaptinus insignis"‘Bull's-eye beetle’ (. BBC News. : 3 photos, 1 micrograph, 1 b/w illustration
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.