Last week, we discussed the closest thing to mythical dragons that we have on this planet. However, the gliding lizard lacked one of the most iconic aspects of a typical dragon: the ability to breathe fire. Unfortunately, no documented animal has the ability to breathe fire, but there is one group of animals that is widely accepted as those that come closest to doing so: bombardier beetles. Bombardier beetle is neither a species nor a genus, but rather a general classification of a couple of beetles in different genus’s with this fire-breathing-like ability. I will be discussing the Asian bombardier beetle (Pheropsophus jessoensis), because that is the one with the most online information regarding it.

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Although the image above doesn’t quite look like the bombardier beetle is breathing fire (one, because it comes out of its butt instead of its mouth and two, because it is a strange white powder liquid instead of a red source of energy) it has a similar effect. The bombardier beetle almost entirely utilizes this ability for defensive measures. If a larger animal is hit by this spray, it will become blinded as well as temporarily lose its ability to properly function its respiratory system. A group of ants, on the other hand, would be killed instantly by this adaptation. To put it in a way we understand, his spray is capable of burning a human hand, and leaving it yellowish-brown for up to three weeks. This is partly due to the highly irritating chemicals released and partly due to the fact that the spray reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit (the boiling point of water). The animal gets its name as bombardier beetle because the chemicals come out as an explosion rather than a stream. They can have up to twenty bursts of chemicals in one short period of time if they feel threatened.

The bombardier beetle is a living example of the use of chemistry. The two chambers within the abdomen of the beetle contain different chemicals, one with hydrogen peroxide and one with hydroquinone. Both of these are harmless chemicals and, even more interestingly, both of these chemicals are relatively unreactive with one-another. In order for them to produce the explosive result that the animal needs, the bombardier beetle also introduces a catalyst into the mixing chamber. The mixing chamber will decompose the hydrogen peroxide into boiling water and the hydroquinone utilizes the oxygen to oxidize into benzoquinone, which is a very irritating chemical. The bombardier beetle has surprisingly good aim, with the ability to aim at predators and bothersome ants on top of it, directly below it, behind it, and even directly in front of them.

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Creationists have argued about the bombardier beetle, claiming that it is evidence that natural selection is flawed. This is a reasonable argument, because the bombardier beetle contains a complicated infrastructure not shared by any other type of animal. Also, there are three necessary ingredients for this animal to thrive, and they must be incorporated in a very particular way, otherwise: best case-scenario and the animal lacks the ability to utilize the ability at all, and worst case-scenario, the animal holds an explosion inside of itself. However, nowadays this counter-example has been proven rather invalid, as shown by a number of other animals with similar adaptations of utilizing the same chemicals for defense, but in a less sophisticated way.

Works Consulted:

Alaspa, Bryan. “Amazing Insects: the Bombardier Beetle.” Western Exterminator Company, Ask Mr. Little, 27 June 2016, www.westernexterminator.com/blog/amazing-insects-introducing-bombardier-beetle/.

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Simon, Matt. “Absurd Creature of the Week: This Beetle Fires Boiling Chemicals Out of Its Bum.” Wired, Conde Nast, 19 July 2018, www.wired.com/2014/05/absurd-creature-of-the-week-bombardier-beetle/.