Pyrophilic Beetles

In recent years, scientists have learned a great deal about how nature is designed to deal with fire. When Yellowstone National Park had a major fire several years ago, it was discovered that the fire actually benefitted many kinds of mammals like elk who had more food than they were able to find in heavy wooded areas. It was also interesting to learn of several kinds of plants who needed fire to make their seeds germinate to replenish the trees that had been burned. One of the questions that arises in studying the ecology of fire is how millions of dead unburned trees that are left after a fire get broken down to organic material to allow new growth to occur. In a fire, there is frequently a major loss of biomass in an area because it burned up. The nutrients and organic base that living things need have to be provided quickly or the reforestation and recovery of an area will be too slow to avoid massive erosion.

Red beetle with yellow spots The basic thrust of this series of articles is that God has designed the natural world in such a way that all critical situations have a solution available to them. In this case, the solution is a beetle named Melanophila. One scientist has identified this beetle as "a fire-seeking missile." This beetle has a infrared detector in its midsection that can detect a fire burning as far as 50 miles away. Fire sends out light waves that our eyes cannot see. These waves are called infrared, and they are too long for us to pick up by our eyes. Today we have electronic devices and some remotes that function in this infrared part of the light spectrum, but many animals use infrared for survival. Some snakes see in the infrared which helps them hunt mammals such as mice and rats. In this case, we have a beetle that has a specially designed sensor that detects a fire any where in the area.

When a forest burns, it sends out massive amounts of infrared light. The beetle Melanophila picks up this light and flies toward it. When the beetle gets to the fire it finds a cooling tree that has not been burned up and tunnels into it. In the tunnels, eggs are laid which turn into grubs which tunnel and bore through the tree providing paths for bark beetles and various fungi. All of these agents work together to turn the dead tree into soil. In the Yellowstone fire, scientists have been amazed at how fast the area has recovered. The design of the forest and fire as one of its main agents is a great demonstration of the wisdom in the world all around us. We can see more and more evidence of God through the things He has made (Romans 1:19-22). Reference: Nature Conservancy Magazine, May/June 2001, page 11.

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