Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Insect antenna as a smoke detector


The larvae of jewel beetles of the genus Melanophila (Buprestidae) can develop only in the wood of trees freshly killed by fire1. To arrange this, the beetles need to approach forest fires from as far as 50 kilometres away1, 2. They are the only buprestid beetles known to have paired thoracic pit organs3, which behavioural2, ultrastructural4 and physiological experiments5 have shown to be highly sensitive infrared receptors, useful for detecting forest fires. It has been suggested that Melanophila can sense the smoke from fires6, but behavioural experiments failed to show that crawling beetles approach smoke sources2. We find that the antennae of jewel beetles can detect substances emitted in smoke from burning wood.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Typical gas chromatograms.
Figure 2: Absolute and relative sensitivities of pyrophilic and non-pyrophilic insects to guaiacol.


  1. Linsley, E. G. J. Econ. Entomol. 36, 341–342 (1943).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Evans, W. G. Nature 202, 211 (1964).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Sloop, K. D. Univ. Calif. Berkeley Publ. Entomol. 7, 1–20 (1937).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Vondran, T., Apel, K. -H. & Schmitz, H. Tiss. Cell 27, 645–658 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Schmitz, H., Mürtz, M. & Bleckmann, H. Nature 386, 773–774 (1997).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Manee, A. H. Entomol. News 24, 167–171 (1913).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Weissbecker, B., Schütz, S., Klein, A. & Hummel, H. E. Talanta 44, 2217–2224 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Sagebiel, J. C. & Seiber, J. N. Environ. Tox. Chem. 12, 813–822 (1993).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Edye, L. A. & Richards, G. N. Environ. Sci. Technol. 25, 1133–1137 (1991).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Bossert, W. H. & Wilson, E. O. J. Theor. Biol. 5, 443–468 (1963).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Schütz, S., Weissbecker, B. & Hummel, H. E. Biosens. Bioelectron. 11, 427–433 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Schütz, S., Weissbecker, B., Hummel, H. et al. Insect antenna as a smoke detector. Nature 398, 298–299 (1999).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing