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Video: Bugs wage chemical warfare with butts and guts

Scientists are pointing X-rays at the butts of bombardier beetles. Why, you ask?

A closer look into the bug’s behind is revealing how the insect conducts chemical warfare on its enemies, according to a new video by the American Chemical Society.

As producer Matt Davenport describes in this 3-minute explainer, when the beetle is threatened, it tightens muscles in its abodmen, causing droplets of its arsenal — harsh chemicals like hydrogen peroxide and p-hydroquinones — to leak from its “reservoir chamber.” Only 5 nanoliters of liquid — or 17 millionths of an ounce — squeezes free each time.

The compounds drip into a second “room” closer to the tail — a water-filled “reaction chamber” — where they brew into a deadly mixture of compounds called p-benzoquinones. Meanwhile, the muscle contraction increases the pressure in the reaction chamber, which consequently elevates temperature and vaporizes the water. When pressure reaches the tipping point, the beetle’s bum sprays its unexpecting victim

“Some beetles spray up to 700 times a second,” says Davenport.

Bombardier beetles aren’t the only chemical wizards. Armyworms create a defensive poison by eating corn, while “rasberry crazy ants” (actual name) make spit out of chemical neutralize venom from fire ant bites.

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