I have a Google alert set up for the phrase “chemical explosion.” It’s how I keep track of happenings within the chemical industry so I can pass along the news and best practices to readers. Sometimes I get alerts that are way off base. And sometimes I get gems like this one: "Stomach burn: toads vomit bombardier beetles which trigger explosions in the gut" from ZME Science.
Of course, I had to read more but I was pretty doubtful that there’d be any reason to pass along the information. Turns out researchers at MIT are closely following the beetle and hope their work might lead to better blast protection systems or even the creation of new types of propulsion systems.
According to the ZME Science article, bombardier beetles — tribes Brachinini, Paussini, Ozaenini, and Metriini, comprising more than 500 species altogether — are some of the most successful insects out there. Inside the bombardier’s abdomen lies a blast chamber where two chemicals, hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinones, react to form a superheated spray called benzoquinone. These two chemicals sit idly most of the time, but when the bug feels threatened it releases a catalyst that sets off the benzoquinone reaction.
It’s a pretty interesting and gross thing to watch. Nicknamed the farting bug (which it comes by honestly), these tough guys survive being swallowed and stuck in the stomachs of toads for up to an hour. And happily, the toads survive, too. Although they do throw up the beetle after it blasts its noxious catalyst.
Traci Purdum is Chemical Processing's senior digital editor. Bugs and toads fascinate her. Farts gross her out. You can email her your bug and toad tales at firstname.lastname@example.org.