Montana Public Radio

Bug Bytes: Bombardier Beetle

May 7, 2019

If any beetle was said to have an “explosive personality,” it would have to be the bombardier beetle.

They may appear to be your average, everyday beetle, but they’ve got a surprise up their tiny little sleeves — or more accurately, their rear ends. They’ve got some serious junk in the trunk.

Bombardiers have a unique abdomen. It has two chambers containing special chemical compounds; one containing hydrogen peroxide and the other hydroquinones. Stored separately, these liquids are safe. But when threatened, the beetle will mix these two compounds in a special reaction chamber at the tip of the abdomen. With the addition of a few catalysts, the combination is explosive. Literally.

The result is a boiling (nearly 212 degree), foul smelling liquid that is violently expelled with a loud popping sound. This searing concoction is sprayed through a turret that can rotate so the beetle can accurately aim its defense in just about any direction.

A defense that is so effective, it can repel even the most determined predators, humans included.

Just like a gun that’s been fired, the steam released from this extreme chemical reaction leaves the bombardier beetle with a smoking behind. But potential predators should still be wary, because this amazing beetle can spray its boiling defense about 20 times before it’s out of ammo.

While the African Bombardier Beetle’s defense is king, there are about 40 species of bombardiers in the United States that have the ability to cause chemical burns and irritation to your skin.

So before you pick up the next cute little beetle you find, be sure your identification skills are up to par. Otherwise, you might be in for a sizzling experience thanks to an amazing beetle with some incredible juice in its caboose.

BugBytes 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.