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New insight into how bombardier beetles attack

By Tim Sandle     May 10, 2015 in Science
By deploying advanced super-speed X-ray videos, scientists have revealed how bombardier beetles use and fire their toxic sprays.
The new enhanced-video technology has shown how the controlled actions of two chambers located deep in the gland of a certain species of bombardier beetles (Brachinus elongatulus), allows the war-like insects to rapidly spray controlled bursts of toxins.
Bombardier beetles are ground beetles. The beetles are 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 toxin projected resembles a boiling stream. The toxin released is a type of p-benzoquinones. These toxins can be blasted at a rate up to 10 meters per second. These toxins come from a gland located at the back of the beetle. The new research has shown that inside the beetles’ bodies the gland is composed of two chambers, divided by a type of valve.
One of the glands is a chamber that contains the key ingredients needed to make the toxin. The second chamber is a chemical reaction vessel, and one toughened up with materials like chitin, and protected by various wax-like materials. This second chamber holds various enzymes that initiate the chemical reaction needed to create the toxin. The beetle controls all this through a series of muscular reactions, and resultant toxin spray is produced very fast.
To demonstrate this, The Christian Science Monitor reports, researchers put some 500 beetles to sleep by cooling them down and then fitting them with special cameras. When the beetles came out of their cryogenic state, they released their toxin. This process was captured by the cameras.
The new research has been reported to the journal Science. The paper is titled "Mechanistic origins of bombardier beetle (Brachinini) explosion-induced defensive spray pulsation."
More about bombardier beetles, Beetles, Toxins, Sprays
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