Beetle Butt, Beetle Butt, Beetle Butt! – This Insect Shoots Hot Nasty Liquid Out of Its Abdomen

KS Nature

Bombardier beetles are famous in the insect world, not because they have colorfully patterned wings or a nasty bite, but because they have a very unique defense mechanism: When disturbed or attacked, the beetles produce an internal chemical explosion in their abdomen and then expel a jet of boiling, irritating liquid toward their attackers.

Photo: Charles Hedgcock
Photo: Charles Hedgcock

The liquid they eject is called benzoquinone, and they heat it to the temperature of boiling water before they shoot it out in an intense, pulsating jet. They are not the only insect to use this liquid, but they are the only ones to make it steaming hot. Not only that, they are the only ones to emit a pulsating stream, forcing out the liquid with unique precision five times faster!

Researchers were baffled as to how these beetles could produce this spray without causing themselves any physical damage. But, the question has now been answered! Researchers at MIT used high-speed synchrotron X-ray imaging to look inside the abdomens of living bombardier beetles during their chemical explosions. Check out the video below to see the X-ray footage in action!

The key is that they synthesize the chemical at the instant of use, mixing two chemical precursors in a protective chamber in their hindquarters. As the materials combine to form the irritant, they also give off intense heat that brings the liquid almost to the boiling point — and, in the process, generates the pressure needed to expel it in a jet.

The findings are published this week in the journal Science by MIT graduate student Eric Arndt, professor of materials science and engineering Christine Ortiz, Wah-Keat Lee of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Wendy Moore of the University of Arizona.

Bombardier beetles lives on every continent except Antarctica and have virtually no predators. Sounds like a good life to me 🙂 Spray on, little dudes.

Beetle Butt, Beetle Butt, Beetle Butt! – This Insect Shoots Hot Nasty Liquid Out of Its Abdomen

Crazy X-Ray Images Show Python Digesting an Alligator Whole – And it Only Took 7 Days!

KS Strange Science

Have you ever wondered what it looks like when snakes digest their prey? As humans, we tend to eat certain parts of animals… while snakes eat and digest whole animals.

Below are a series of X-Ray images that reveal just what happens when a Burmese python swallows an entire alligator.

Burmese pythons are one of the five largest snakes in the world. Their body’s response to eating such large prey is what makes them a model species for digestive physiology. After they ingest their prey, their digestive system goes into hyper-drive. Each meal triggers dramatic increases in metabolism, upregulation of tissue function and tissue growth. Their organs literally supersize themselves!

Dr. Steven Secor, Professor at the University of Alabama, is obsessed with ‘the integrative design of gastrointestinal morphology and function.’ Who isn’t, right? 😉

Dr Secor said: ‘For the Burmese python, native to southeastern Asia, the next meal could range from a monitor lizard or ground-dwelling bird to a prey as formidable as a pangolin, deer or leopard… When it does eventually capture a prey and feed, the python’s previously dormant gut rapidly resumes function to tackle the difficult task of digesting a prey that may exceed half of the python’s own body mass. Upon the completion of digestion, these postprandial responses are thrown into reverse; tissue function is collectively downregulated and tissues undergo atrophy.’

Dr. Secor and his colleagues discovered that the snake’s heart increased by 40%, it’s pancreas increased by 94%, it’s kidney’s increased by 72%, and the reptile’s liver more than doubled in size.

Want more information? Check out Dr. Stephen Secor’s 2008 submission to the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Day 1- Here, you can see the alligator’s snout, torso, legs, and tail, snuggly stuffed in the python’s gut.

281794D400000578-3058837-Day_1_Scientists_have_taken_x_ray_images_of_a_python_as_it_diges-m-32_1430216606865

Day 2 – The soft tissue is dissolving and the skeleton has begun to break down. The python floods its small intestine with powerful enzymes and acid, while its metabolic rate increases – forty times!

281794DD00000578-3058837-Day_2_The_soft_tissue_has_been_dissolved_away_and_the_skeleton_i-m-33_1430216616579

Day 3 – The bones continue to be broken down, it’s scaly skin disappearing. The snake is essentially immobile during such a large meal, making it vulnerable to predators.

281794FB00000578-3058837-Day_3_The_bones_and_scaly_skin_of_the_alligator_are_now_being_di-m-34_1430216625446

Day 4 – Only the hardest parts of the alligator remain as the python begins its final stages of digestion.

2817963800000578-3058837-Day_4_Only_the_hardest_parts_of_the_alligator_remain_and_they_pa-m-37_1430216645826

Day 5 – Almost finished. The snake must digest quickly before the alligator rots.

281794EE00000578-3058837-Day_5_Just_a_few_fragments_of_the_large_meal_remain_The_python_h-a-39_1430216668708

Day 6 – Little is left of the alligator. By day 7 the python’s large snack will be completely digested. 

2817950C00000578-3058837-image-a-41_1430216976530

Day 7 – ALL GONE! Nom nom nom.

2817959B00000578-3058837-Burmease_Python_s-a-28_1430216491902

Image