Living in Australia, the sensible thing to do when there’s a bushfire around is to make tracks in the other direction very quickly indeed. That’s what most creatures do, but not the Melanophilia beetle, AKA the “Fire Chaser”. It heads towards the fire, and new research suggests it can detect the infrared radiation from a fire from an incredible distance.
Helmut Schmitz from Bonn University and Herbert Bousack from the Julich Research Centre’s research looked at the tiny pits that the Melanophilia beetles have under their middle legs. The pits are minute, but contain around 70 dome shaped sensors that detect the radiation. Lining that up with what’s known about an oil depot fire back in 1925, Schmitz and Bousack theorise that the beetles travelled around 130km from the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. They modelled the fire to determine the output of it, determining that detection at that range would mean that the beetles must be able to sense a minimum of 0.13 milliwatts per square metre of changing heat flux. If it’s true — and it still needs more laboratory experimentation — it means the beetles are as sensitive as radio telescopes when it comes to detecting infrared radiation. [Discover Magazine]