Saturday, June 11, 2011

False Bombardier Beetle

This halloween-colored insect is a False Bombardier Beetle (Galerita bicolor), there are two similar species within this genus, the other is G. janus and the only real way to tell them apart is the shape of the head and pronotum (thorax area). Based on the info provided by bugguide.net I am going with G. bicolor on this one....but it is difficult to tell with such subtle difference separating them. The name bicolor comes from the two-tone black and orange coloring. These beetles are very common throughout their range of the eastern United States. They are commonly encountered in woodlands within or under decaying or rotting timber. I find them equally as often in my basement however. In fact that is where the one pictured here came from. I found an additional one the very next day, this time in a laundry basket.


Bombardier beetles have a unique defense mechanism; they can spray acid at their potential predator. False bombardier beetles do not have the same chemical defense as real bombardier beetles, but they are not without resources....they can spray "formic acid" from their backside which is exactly what many species of ants use as their defense....and believe me it is a formidable chemical to have sprayed at you. It effectively "burns" the skin and causes irritation that can last for hours depending upon your own bodies reaction to the chemical. The best way to differentiate between "real" and "false" bombardier beetles is that real ones have a red head as well as a red thorax, whereas false ones have a black head. I cannot say that I have seen a real one, since each specimen I find has the black head.

Finding these beetles is easy, simply turning over logs in the timber will almost always yield at least one, and often times several of these beautifully marked beetles....remember though....look but don't touch!

13 comments:

  1. Here in AZ the false ones are rarer than the real Brachinus. I didn't know about the formic acid - seems more a threat than the little hot puff that Brachinus produces. Of course, Brachinus makes a little explosive sound, so that's impressive. B. is shorter and faster than Galerita, you'd see the difference right-away. We have all black Galeritas in addition to at least three bi-colored ones in AZ.

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  2. I keep my eyes open all the time for the real Brachinus, but never seem to be looking in the right place. While formic acid seems a relatively non-threatening defense.....it welts me up and hurts for hours. These false bombardiers are very fast, I can't imagine if B. is faster WOW

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  3. The post is interesting, but I am in awe at the comments. Two people who are experts discussing these bombardiers is a real treat.

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  4. LOL Emma...I am flattered that you think I am an expert, I am more of an enthusiastic amateur. Margarethe on the other hand is definitely an expert in her field.

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  5. I get so many bites I definitely will avoid a sprayer.Steve

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  6. I know what you mean Steve, I get mosquito bites, tick bites and all sorts of other bites too. I've even been blistered by a blister beetle!

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  7. All I have to say is screw that beetle I was looking up info for it cuz I got shot in the eye by it's spray today I was screaming like a little girl for about 15 min not to mention I tripped ate crap trying to get into the house to wash out my eyes it was big black and had huge pincers I picked it up to look and he nailed me write in the eye with its string of formic acid from it's but let me tell u it felt like someone stuck a red hot nail straight outta the fire and shoved it in my eye

    Ps u see one leave it the he'll alone it ain't worth it

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  8. OMG Anonymous! How horrible for you. Often times we learn the hard way that insects are best left untouched. I've received blisters from blister beetles, horrible bites from ants, stings from bees, and various other unsavory happenings, but I can honestly say I've never nose-planted into crap after being unduly attacked by an insect. These beetles are truly best left alone, and I am glad you shared your very unfortunate incident with everyone here. I hope your eye feels better soon.

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  9. Felt something in my pants, sitting here after Thanksgiving at 9:30pm at night. Looked down to see what I thought to be a roach crawling around my waist. Pulled pants off to find what I later ID'd as this False Bombardier Beetle. Not sure when or where it decided to shack up in my pants but its not the action I prefer while on vacation in SC. My wife and I got a good laugh about it, though, as I do not think it bit me (apparently it cant) and I dont think it sprayed me, though I will thoroughly wash my 'area' to be sure.
    Probably will just wear shorts when visiting my Mom from now on as well, though my pants look nothing like a log or stone!

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  10. Question. And I cant seem to find this anywhere, what is the color of the spray that the real bombardiers release? I'm doing a research paper and I need to know that...

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  11. I live in SC. I found a false bombardier beetle between my chin and pillow in the wee hours of the morning last week. I felt the movement and frantically brushed it off my face. I thought it had bit me, so I searched and eventually found it and scooped it into a jar. The next morning I had a nice welt on my chin. It took several days of searching numerous sites before I could identify it. In the meantime the welt turned to a half-inch long irregular scab. I must have been sprayed with the acid. Now one week later, I still have traces of the scab. It was an adventure I don't care to repeat.

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  12. I've encountered a few of these False Bombardier Beetles over the past few nights in my basement computer room. Each one has been seen...and caught...venturing across my hardwood floor. The first couple of them were immediately dispatched under my shoe-covered foot. The most recent one is presently residing in an empty cashew jar while I do some reading on them after having successfully identified the critter. He...or she...seems desperate to find a way out of this jar.
    Fortunately, I wasn't spit upon by either of them.

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  13. I just encountered my first False Bombardier Beetle while headed to the bathroom. Seen a black bug on the floor near my livingroom entry so I hurriedly used the bathroom with the intentions on killing it. When I got a good look at it, I noticed that with it's backing, that it was some kind of beetle. I just didn't know what kind. Not wanting to leave it alive, I went and got some bleach and poured it on top of the beetle. I went to put the bleach away and came back and it was STILL alive. Not wanting to live it there, I went and got the broom and shovel, swept it up and put it in the toilet. Lord and behold, it started swimming and that's when I noticed the black head and red abdomen. Not knowing what I was dealing with, I took a pic of it in the toilet and automatically started Googling to find out what kind of beetle it was. To make a longer story short, I lucked up on this and found that indeed this was the bug that I just seen. After reading the comments, I'm glad I looked it up and found out what kind of bug it was and that I didn't have to be "sprayed". I hope there isn't any more lurking around.

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