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Beetle Roundup

May 9, 2008

An innocuous-looking beetle may have been partially responsible for the formation of the vast Chihuahuan desert in Mexico.


Meet the Beetles. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Scientists at New Mexico State University have found that the vast North Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico may be the work of the mesquite girdler beetle. These insects nibble a ring around stems of mesquite shrubs, killing the stem and forcing the plant to grow new ones each year—which provides food for the beetles. But all that new growth forces the shrubs to suck up huge amounts of nutrients from the soil. That’s one reason grasses can no longer grow there, and the landscape is dominated by mesquite and sand.

In other beetle research, engineers at Leeds University in London are studying the bombardier beetle, an insect that can shoot a powerful spray of hot, toxic liquid from its abdomen to defend itself. The beetle’s sprayer is so efficient and powerful that the researchers have copied it, for possible use in fire extinguishers and fuel injectors for cars. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.