HyC Adventures
The Poetics of Perception
Sublimity of Structure: The Bombardier Beetle





Sublimity of Structure:

The Bombardier Beetle



What makes things baffling is their degree of complexity,

not their sheer size . . . a star is simpler than an insect.1





The Bombardier Beetle



“Consider the bombardier beetle, which makes a boiling hot defensive spray by the reaction of quinones and hydrogen peroxide with oxidative enzymes, somewhat in the way of binary nerve gases. The beetle stores hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide in a reservoir, from which the mixture can be pumped into a reaction chamber containing enzymes. The valve is closed, and the explosive reaction at 100 degrees C forces the spray out through a turretlike orifice in the beetle’s rear end, which sends it in any desired direction.


“The jet is not continuous but a series of about 500 pulses per second. The chief defensive value is not from the quinones but from the heat, which greatly increases the otherwise mild effect of the quinones. There is also a nice question how the beetle avoids scalding its insides, as the electric eel manages not to electrocute itself.”2




Diagram of Bombardier Beetle







1. Martin Rees, “Exploring Our Universe and Others,” Scientific American, 1999.


2. Robert Wesson, Beyond Natural Selection, p. 82



The two images are from —


Thomas Eisner, For Love of Insects, pp. 23, 31.


Eisner’s first essay in his superb book is about the bombardier beetle.






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Sublimity of Structure: The Bombardier Beetle
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