Bombardier beetle (Brachinus crepitans)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderColeoptera
FamilyCarabidae
GenusBrachinus (1)
SizeLength: 6.5-9.5 mm (2)

Classified as Nationally Scarce (3).

The bombardier beetle is famous for its remarkable explosive defence system, in which a volatile liquid is ejected from the anus with an audible popping sound (3). Indeed, the specific part of the Latin name for this species, crepitans, derives from the Latin for 'crackle', and refers to this noise (4). The head, thorax and legs are reddish-yellow, and the hard wing-cases, or 'elytra' are bluish-green (2).

This beetle occurs in central and southern Europe and North Africa, reaching as far north as central Sweden (2). In the UK it is found mainly in southern England and south Wales, mainly in coastal areas, although a few inland records are known (3).

Found mainly in dry, sunny areas, typically under stones (2). It inhabits calcareous grasslands, arable field margins and chalk quarries (3).

This beetle is usually seen in May and June; the details of the life-cycle of this species are not fully understood, but it is thought that the larvae are external parasites on the pupae of other species of beetle, particularly those of the ground beetle Amara convexiuscula and a staphylinid beetle, Ocypus ater (3).

The pulses of volatile liquid that are expelled from this beetle when it is threatened are released from the anus and aimed at potential predators. The liquid is produced explosively when the contents of two glands mix in a chamber known as 'the firing chamber'. One gland contains hydrogen peroxide, the other contains hydroquinone; enzymes are then added. The resulting liquid contains irritant chemicals known as p-benzoquinones, and is released at 100°C (3); it causes a sensation of burning if it comes into contact with skin (2).

The defence mechanism of the bombardier beetle has been the subject of debate between evolutionary biologists and creationists; some creationists claim that this species is too complex and specialised to have evolved, but there are reasonable evolutionary explanations for the mechanism (5).

The threats facing this species are currently unknown.

No conservation action has been targeted at this species.

For more on the debate about the bombardier beetle between creationists and evolutionary biologists see: Bombardier Beetles and the Argument of Design:
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/bombardier.html

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Jan 2003):
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Lyneborg, L. (1976) Beetles in colour. Blandford Press, Dorset.
  3. Bombardier beetle found near Honeybourne. Worcestershire Biological Records Centre (March 2003):
    http://www.wbrc.org.uk/WorcRecd/Issue11/BombBtle.htm
  4. Dictionary. Com. (March 2003):
    http://dictionary.reference.com/
  5. Isaak, M. 1997. Bombardier Beetles and the Argument of Design (March 2003):
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/bombardier.html