- News Home
5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
Borrowed From the Beetles
10 August 2004 (All day)
Spotting wildfires as early as possible is vital in slowing their spread. Now, a beetle thought to be able to detect fires from as far away as 80 kilometers has inspired an ingenious and cheap new forest fire detector.
The jewel beetle, Melanophila acuminate, is a living fire detector: It can sense forest fires from afar, moving in quickly to lay its eggs in the smoldering bark of burnt trees, where its young develop virtually free of competition. To spot fires, the bug has discs of cuticle in tiny pits under its wings, which absorb infrared radiation at 3 micrometers, the dominant wavelength emitted by a raging wildfire. The heat makes the discs expand, setting off mechanoreceptors.
Now, zoologist Helmut Schmitz and colleagues at the University of Bonn in Germany have used polyethylene platelets that replicate these infrared sensors. Their patented finding, described in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Comparative Physiology, could be mounted in protective housing with a power supply and maybe a GPS device to provide timely and accurate information about forest fires, says Schmitz. Because they detect heat, instead of smoke--which wafts away easily--they could be more accurate than standard fire detectors.
Current methods to detect forest fires, such as airplane and satellite surveillance and fire watchtowers, are often difficult and expensive, says Richard Sneeuwjagt, a fire manager with the Western Australia Department of Conservation and Land Management in Kensington. "Cheap, reliable and accurate technology for fire detection," such as Schmitz's finding, will help improve current methods, he predicts.