Pheropsophus prodigium, is a
species of bombardier beetles. Like its cousins, it can mix together
hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide to create a flammable substance.
However, unlike its cousins, which only use this mechanism
defensively, the fire-starter pro-actively makes use of its pyrolitic
fire-starter lives mainly off of smaller insects, hunting them around
the small, newly-sprouted leaves that they eat. Given that the
fire-starter lives near the deserts of Australia, most plants quickly
harden to avoid dessication, and thus, the amount of prey diminishes,
since the smaller insects cannot chew through the hardened outer
layer of plants.
prey density is low, fire-starters tend to aggregate. Once a critical
population size is reached, the beetles will spread out in every
direction, all the while using their abdomen to shoot out the flaming
compound contained within their abdominal glands, and effectively
setting their habitat on fire. One they have gone a certain distance,
they dig holes in the ground, where they hide until the fire has
ashes left by the fire fertilize the soil, and as the new boughs of
young plants start to appear, the fire-starter's prey find themselves
with an abundance of food. As the population of
their prey increases, so do
the fire-starters, until the cycle starts again.
the fire-starter was first discovered in the late nineteen-hundreds,
it was considered a pest, and a highly dangerous insect. As such, it
was killed on sight by settlers. But given their remote habitat, this
did little to affect their population.
damaging to the fire-starters, and the Australian ecosystem as a
whole, was the increase
of fires due to humans. This perturbed the cycle of growth
and destruction that had been installed by the fire-starter, and the
fragile equilibrium that had been established between prey, predator
and feed. In response, the population of fire-starters declined
rapidly during the whole of the XXth
and in the last ten years, no sightings of the insect have been
an unrelated discovery, it has recently been understand that the
an important part of aboriginal culture, where the insects where
considered to be the keepers of the land, destroying the old to make
room for the new.