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Beetle’s toxic, explosive vapor explained

bombardier beetle

ROARING RUMP From a two-chambered gland in their rears, bombardier beetles unleash a toxic, blazing hot vapor to defend themselves.

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With a hot, mighty blast from the rear, bombardier beetles ward off predators with a harmful spray. And now scientists understand how the insects fire off the harmful fog.

Using X-ray imaging, scientists monitored a two-chambered gland in the beetle’s rump. There, a chemical cocktail trickles from a reservoir chamber into a reaction chamber through a valve. In the reaction chamber, the cocktail causes a chemical explosion and forms toxic compounds, called p-benzoquinones. The force of the blast closes off the valve, ensuring a controlled eruption, and propels the noxious spray out of the beetles’ behind in pulses, scientists report in the May 1 Science.

The bursts of fiery mist which can get up to 100° Celsius, are a defense mechanism unique to bombardier beetles.

Planetary Science

MESSENGER mission ends with crash landing on Mercury

By Christopher Crockett 3:44pm, April 30, 2015
The MESSENGER mission to Mercury came to a spectacular end as the probe crashed into the planet’s surface.
Animals,, Conservation

Climate change revs up extinction risks

By Beth Mole 2:00pm, April 30, 2015
One in six species on the planet may face extinction if the global temperatures continue to rise.

Rock-wielding monkeys make adjustments when cracking nuts

By Bruce Bower 12:00pm, April 30, 2015
Videos show that monkeys carefully pound open nuts to avoid smashing kernels inside.
Planetary Science

Pluto’s landscapes come into view as New Horizons closes in

By Christopher Crockett 6:28pm, April 29, 2015
The New Horizons spacecraft sees surface markings and a possible polar cap on Pluto as it closes in for a July encounter.
Animals,, Paleontology,, Evolution

Rare fossils expand evolutionary history of sperm whales

By Helen Thompson 4:14pm, April 29, 2015
A pygmy fossil unearthed in Panama reveals that the organ the whales use to produce sound and echolocate shrunk over time.
Animals,, Genetics

Woolly mammoth DNA shows toll of low diversity

By Helen Thompson 1:39pm, April 27, 2015
A new sequencing analysis of two woolly mammoth genomes reveals evidence of genetic decline due to isolation and inbreeding just prior to extinction.

City- and country-dwelling microbes aren’t so different

By Bethany Brookshire 3:29pm, April 24, 2015
A new study reveals the microbial communities in our nation’s dust.

To reduce stress and anxiety, make yourself invisible

By Helen Thompson 10:56am, April 24, 2015
We may not be able to make people invisible, but researchers have discerned its effect on the human mind in a new study.
Genetics,, Science & Society

Gene in human embryos altered by Chinese researchers

By Tina Hesman Saey 3:29pm, April 23, 2015
Chinese researchers have genetically altered human embryos.
Genetics,, Animals,, Health

Mosquito bites might be foretold in genes

By Helen Thompson 2:20pm, April 22, 2015
Attractiveness to mosquitoes could be inherited, twin study suggests.
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