The fire-starter, 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 capabilities.
The 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.
When 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 past.
The 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.
When 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.
More 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 century, and in the last ten years, no sightings of the insect have been reported.
In an unrelated discovery, it has recently been understand that the fire-starters are 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.
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