Published: April 15, 2008
From behind a crawling beetle a large spider carefully approaches, the
span of its spindly legs spreading and hovering over the tiny bug as its
hooked fangs lower in for a quick kill. Suddenly, the spider recoils as
an explosion of hot irritant is shot at it. The beetle then scurries
away to safety.
The peculiar and unique defense mechanism of the
bombardier beetle – which has been a subject of much interest to
scientists and scholars – was what brought Jamie Crawford and a TV film
crew from Animal Planet Europe to The University of Tampa campus on a
Producers from the British-based TV network
sent Crawford, host of a new program titled “In Too Deep” to UT in order
to recreate in a laboratory the chemical reaction the bombardier beetle
employs when threatened.
“My job is to explain what takes place
in an easily understandable way,” Crawford said. “It makes so much
difference to do something visual rather than just talk about the
reaction that takes place.”
With the help of Assistant Professor
of Chemistry Dr. Thomas Jackman and Lab Coordinator Ellyn Bender, the
crew set up shop in UT’s Cass Lab to conduct the experiment. Two student
assistants were also on-hand to help with the experiment.
way that Professor Bender explained it, she said they wanted to make an
explosion inside the lab,” said Lisa Ladany, a senior biochemistry
major. “I thought I was going to be in danger, but it turned out it
wasn’t as explosive as it sounded like it was going to be.”
under a fume hood, Crawford used a flask containing hydrogen peroxide
to demonstrate the reaction. The bombardier beetle, he explained for the
camera, carries hydrogen peroxide inside a compartment in its abdomen,
which is mixed with a catalase – an enzyme common to most living
organisms - when it is threatened. The mixture of the two creates an
explosive, heat-producing reaction that brings the mixture to a boil and
sends the substances out through an opening in the beetle’s abdomen.
tiny drop of the catalase fell from a small syringe into the flask, and
the camera rolled as the same reaction the beetle employs to defend
itself took place underneath the lab hood. Afterward, Crawford used a
thermometer to show that the temperature inside the beaker had increased
by 20 degrees; a demonstration of how much heat was produced.
Later, he set the end of a wooden stick aflame and quickly blew it out, before lowering it into the flask.
show you just how much oxygen is being produced, it’s enough to relight
this stick,” he told viewers as the stick reignited.
filming at UT, Crawford and the film crew left to locate the bombardier
beetle in Florida’s Everglades. The entire segment on the bombardier
beetle will account for about 1/5 of an episode, Crawford said.
in production, “In Too Deep” is scheduled to make its debut on Animal
Planet Europe in several weeks, according to the show’s producers. The
series will be shown overseas first before it is determined whether it
will be shown in the U.S.