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Bug Bytes: Insect Farts

Beaded lacewing
Lucinda Gibson, Museum Victoria [CC BY 3.0 au (]
Beaded lacewing.

We’ve all done it. Most of us have joked about it. Even animals do it. Pooting. Tooting. Who ever denied it, supplied it. We all pass gas.

But did you know that insects fart too? And in the case of the beaded lacewing, they lend a whole new meaning to “silent, but deadly.”

Lacewing larvae are ferocious predators to many other insects and are equipped with an impressive pair of sickle-like mouthparts used to capture prey. But beaded lacewing larvae, have a more unique and entertaining method of subduing their victims. They fart on them. Their gaseous emissions are so powerful, they can immobilize up to six termites in one blast. After releasing a ferocious fart, the larva can leisurely approach and consume its stunned prey.

Experiments revealed that the paralyzing effects of these potent poots lasted for 3 hours. Any unconsumed prey stunned by the release of the lacewing’s toxic cloud eventually die. Silent, but deadly indeed.

Even more incredible than this fearsome flatulence, is the fact that it is specifically formulated for termites. Studies subjecting other species of insects to the lacewing’s gas showed no affect.

So how did the flatulence of beaded lacwewing’s become so toxic? To date, the exact chemical composition of these lethal emissions has not been identified.

But a warning to those of you calling an exterminator to handle a future termite infestation: don’t be surprised if some unconventional new methods are deployed. Methods that might make the stereotypical image of “plumbers crack” a pleasantry by comparison.

Bug Bytes is made possible by the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, and Montana Public Radio. This show is also supported by funding from the Greater Montana Foundation: Encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans.

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