Episode 202 – Golden-Tailed Gecko: The Sticky Sprayer

“…and today we’re talking about a lizard that is great at getting out of sticky situations. But more on that later.”

In the outback you need an exit strategy for whenever you get into trouble, especially if you’re a lizard of modest stature. The Golden-tailed gecko is a striking subject to look at, but it’s golden tail is more than an interesting feature. When they get into a sticky situation, they’ve learned to fight it by creating their own stickiness. But fighting fire with fire is one way to beat the heat in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 201: Bombardier Beetle: F. Scott Spritzgerald

“Today we’re talking about bug spray… in a manner of speaking. But more on that later.”

When you’re a small beetle in a big world, you can easily become someone’s lunch if you’re not careful. So having a secret weapon is vital to survival. When danger rears its ugly head, the bombardier beetle rears its rear to give a nasty chemical surprise to any hungry eyes that might want an easy snack. It just goes to show that paying attention in chemistry class can save your life. But sometimes you just gotta give your enemies the business here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Bombardier Beetle

  • Bombardier beetles come in several varieties, but most have a large abdomen, long thorax, and small head.
  • Looking at it, you may assume that it’s mostly abdomen, but it’s wings conceal half of it’s thorax, which is about the same length as it’s abdomen.
  • Our friend the crepitans has a shiny dark green elytra and a red orange body. 

Measure up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new Measure Up from Nora. She also said her favorite animal is the “noble, idiotic dairy cow.”

Length

  • 7–10.2 millimetres (0.28–0.40 in)
  • How many bombardier beetles go into the length of Optymistychna Cave, the longest gypsum cave in the world?
  • Hint: The cave is in Korolivka, Ukraine and it was discovered in 1966. It’s situated between layers of 20 meter thick gypsum. 
  • 23,126,400 beetles.
  • So far, the cave has been mapped to be 236 km (146 miles).

Weight

  • 7 milligrams (estimated)
  • How many bombardier beetles go into a large male hucul pony?
  • Hint: A hucul pony is also called a Hutsul or carpathian pony that was first bred by the Hutsul people of Ukraine. The first domestic horses were probably domesticated in Ukraine 6,000 years ago.
  • 65,576,496 beetles.
  • The hucul pony is between 880 to 1210 pounds with stallions being on the upper end of average.

Fast Facts Bombardier Beetle

Bombardier Beetles are a group that’s also called ground beetles, of which there are more than 500 species. 

The bombardier beetle lives in the steppes of the Podolian Province of Ukraine. It’s also found in the UK, especially in southern England and Wales. It’s also dispersed throughout Europe. They prefer dry sunny areas of grasslands and plains. But they may be found under rocks, in train yards, farmland, and rock quarries. 

The species goes through several instars, but it’s lifecycle isn’t completely understood. Larvae are believed to be parasites that attach to other beetle larvae and consume it over several instars. 

The bombardier beetle is something called irreducible complexity, and we’ll talk about why in a minute. But irreducible complexity is a term that’s debated between naturalists and the theory of intelligent design. It’s offered as a counterpoint to slow, gradual evolution. 

Irreducible complexity is a concept that says a system cannot be made any less complex and still be functional. The primary example that’s usually pointed to is the bacterial flagellum. Apparently bacterial flagellum has what is essentially a little motor that would not work if a part was reduced or removed. 

If something is irreducibly complex, then it poses a threat to the concept of unguided, gradual evolution. The big point of contention is usually whether or not something can or can’t be reduced and still function. 

Major Fact: Acid Bombs

The bombardier beetle has a pretty unique defense mechanism that is anything but basic.

When predators like ants, spiders, praying mantises, or frogs threaten the bombardier, it hikes up its glands and gives it a nice and potentially fatal spritzing of a different kind of chemotherapy.

The beetle has two acid glands at the end of its bum that are lined with special cells that secrete a special mixture of enzymes. This is connected to a compressible chamber containing chemicals including hydrogen peroxide.

When it’s threatened, the beetle turns the not-so-cold shoulder to the predator and compresses the chemical chamber to squeeze those good chems into the enzyme glands.

The enzymes immediately break down the hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals into a substance called benzoquinone.

This chemical reaction releases a lot of energy and heat – getting up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and turns it into a not nice-smelling vapor.

Then, with a loud pop, out comes a bunch of superheated vaporized benzoquinone that irritates the eyes and respiratory systems of the predators – sometimes enough to kill them.

The spray is made possible by 70 compressions of the reservoir in a fraction of a second. The pressure on the reservoir creates “microexplosions” that open and close the valve between the reservoir with the hydrogen peroxide and the glands with the enzymes.

Some beetles can swivel their glands 270 degrees to spray in most directions.

Ending: So know your chemistry, keep your glands on a swivel, and use superheated acid to your advantage like the bombardier beetle here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 200 – Tanuki: The Racoon Dog

“…and today, on our 200th episode, we’re talking about an adorable video game character.”

For a true generalist, nothing is off the menu. Sometimes survival is all about versatility, and if you have an adventurous palate, there are more resources at your disposal. For one Japanese canine, finding enough food to last through the winter is a matter of life and death, so being picky isn’t an option. But what happens when the tanuki comes across a food that may threaten his Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 199 – Pebble Toad: Rock and Roll Toad

“…And today we’re talking about a frog that rolls with the punches. But more on that later.”

High in the table-top mountains of Venezuela, a tiny pebble toad inches its way across the moist sandstone outcroppings. Little does he know that danger lurks just around the corner. A toad-eating tarantula is on the hunt and it’s out for blood. With the advantage of size, speed, and ferocity, the spider seems like a shoo-in for the victory, but the pebble toad has a plan for exactly this kind of situation. Rather than go toe to tarsus with the terrible tarantula, it opts to just roll away from its problems. But sometimes you just gotta let go of the ledge you thought was so secure in order to survive here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 198 – Vaquita: A Little Porpoise With a Big Problem

“…and today we’re talking about a little porpoise with a big problem. But more on that later.”

If you’re in the Gulf of California and you see a small figure break through the glistening surface of the water, you may be witnessing a rare site. Like a glimpse of ball lightning, you may stare, unbelieving at the last Vaquita. The world’s smallest porpoise may also be the most elusive mammal in the sea. But it’s rarity isn’t only about it’s size. This critically endangered porpoise may be on the verge of seeing the end of its Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 197 – Brown Antechinus: Mating Marathon

“…and today we are literally talking about a creature that lives by a pattern of life and death and has an interesting taxonomy. But more on that later.” 

Every fall, the arid wilderness of Australia is peppered with the fallen bodies of tiny marsupials. What could create such a scene? Predators, disease, global warming? The answer is none of the above. The brown antechinus spends the month of August focused on one thing to the exclusion of all else, and it costs him his life.

In the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, he’s done that himself. But why such a sad ending for such a cute animal? Well, the answer can be found in this creature’s massive appetite, both for food and for love. But you gotta give it your all if you want to pass on your genes here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 196 -Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake: Made for the Sea

“…and today we’re talking about a reptile who’s lady is the sea. But more on that later.”

We all know and share a healthy fear of snakes. They live under rocks and slither on their bellies to get around. But there are actually dozens of snake species that don’t live on land at all. Instead, they’ve taken to the sea, and many of them never grace the ground. The Yellow-bellied sea snake rides the waves all over the world. Despite their name, they are no cowards. They’re the most widely distributed snake species in the world. Adapting your body and habits to take the world by storm is the sea snake’s way in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 195 – Olm: Long and Long-Lasting

“…and today we’re talking about a lost boy that lives in caves and doesn’t want to grow up. But more on that later.”

Living in the pitch blackness of the caves of southern Europe is a tiny eyeless Chinese dragon that can regrow its arms and sense prey using electricity. Intrigued? Well that’s not even the half of it. The olm is the world’s longest-living salamander and has taken Gloria Gaynor’s call to survive as it grows strong and learns how to get along – without food and light and stuff. But sometimes the neutral gin is the way to live a long life here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 194 – Aldabra Giant Tortoise: Elephants of the Atoll

“…and today we’re talking about the largest shelled reptile that lives on land maybe! But more on that later…”

A strange reptile that lives on a strange type of island will surely deliver in the weird department. Islanders are known for showing some interesting adaptations that mainlanders may find funny. But when you’re surrounded by the ocean, it pays to be unique and self-sufficient. The Aldabra Giant tortoise is a sizable, shelled, super-reptile large enough for a child to keep as a steed. But being large and in charge of your domain is one way  to make a path through Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 193 – Atlantic Mudskipper: A Fish Out of Water

“…and today we’re talking about slimy yet satisfying frogish fish, but more on that later.”

While other fish are relegated to the vast oceans, lakes, and rivers that cover 70% of the planet, some decided that it wasn’t enough room. Bent on total global domination, the Atlantic Mudskipper wants to be where the people are. By using its mighty pecs to drag itself onto land, the skipper slaps its way out of the waves and into our hearts as one of the only voluntary fish out of water here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.