DAVIS (CBS13) – As fires race through parts of Northern California, there’s a race of a different kind underway involving insects naturally drawn to the smoke and flames.

Certain beetles actually have thermal receptors that can sense fires miles away.

“When there’s a fire, boom, there they are,” said scientist Steve Haydon. “They just show up.”

Haydon, the senior museum scientist at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology, says fires are a rare opportunity to study the insects.

“Between fires, they are very difficult or even impossible to find,” Haydon said.

But there are some difficulties.

“The problem is the fire service really doesn’t want to deal with entomologists when there’s a fire burning,” Haydon said.

Charred trees create a prime environment for beetles like these to lay eggs and reproduce. That’s because the burned trees can no longer produce chemical defenses to battle the bugs.

Other insects, like these wasps, are then attracted to the area to feed on the beetle larvae.

“The wasp grub eats out the beetle grub and a wasp comes out instead of a beetle,” Haydon said.

The bugs can also bite – creating potential problems for fire crews and residents returning to their homes.

But even though fires are devastating for people living in the area, nature often depends on the flames to continue the cycle of life.

“You have a lot of flowers, a lot of bees and caterpillars, so a lot of butterflies,” Hyadon said. “It actually rejuvenates the landscape to have a fire”

Researchers have found that the beetles can sense fires up to 80 miles away.


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