21 June 2012 by Graham Simons, FIA Technical Manager

(above) The fire beetle's infrared organ can detect heat radiation

I came across an interesting article in the latest edition of New Scientist magazine (June 2012) entitled ‘Charcoal Beetles for Fire Alarms?’ which I thought is particularly interesting for those in the fire trade. The article discussed the fascinating Melanophila, commonly known as fire-chasers or fire beetles,  these charcoal coloured beetles are drawn to heat.

The FIA has been considering engaging in research to stimulate the development of new sensor technology, maybe this is a useful line to follow!

Could it be that the next generation of infra-red sensor could detect a fire 130km away? Or perhaps, more usefully, detect the early thermal signature of a fire in the same room as a sensor.

Reading further it seems that these beetles are also sensitive to smoke and combine signals from different sensors to eliminate background noise signals using “stochastic resonance”. So, this is nature seizing on the advantages of multi sensor technology and using complex algorithms to increase sensitivity!

I’m not sure if anyone is actually up for some serious research on this, but it is fascinating to realise that nature has already achieved what we are only just starting to discover.

If you can’t get your hands on the article, New Scientist also has a related blog - Zoologger: Infrared-sensing beetles born in fire.