Fire-Chasing Beetles

firechasingbeetlemainForest fires can be devastating. The Great Fire of 1910 -- possibly the worst forest fire in U.S. history -- roared through Idaho and Montana, wiping out as much as 3 million acres (12,000 sq km) of timber. Yet we now understand that these fires clear a path for new plants to flourish, thriving in the open sunlight and newly enriched soil. The benefits extend to the animal world, as well. In fact, some insects actually seek this charred landscape to begin their new families.

Of special interest is the Melanophila (mell-ann-AH-fill-a) beetle. Its name means "black-loving" because the beetle likes freshly burned, blackened wood, where the female lays her eggs. Often the charred wood is still hot and smoldering when the beetles arrive. This curious (and dangerous) behavior even has a name: pyrophilic or "fireloving." Dozens of pyrophilic insect species, including certain species of flies and wasps, will often move into the devastated area along with the beetles.

Two design features help the Melanophila beetle find its way to a fire and avoid flying embers once it gets there. First, super-sensitive antennae can "smell" or detect just a few parts per billion of smoke particles in the air. This is equivalent to sensing a single drop of chemical in a 10,000 gallon (38 kl) swimming pool. A second feature is specialized infrared sensors that can detect heat radiation from distant forest fires.

[Read the rest of the article at Answers in Genesis.]