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Firebug Pyrrhocoris apterus

Many people are confused when first seeing the Firebug. Is it a beetle, a fly, a wasp? The colours are very vivid and usually you seen a lot of them. Once you know it is a bug, things get easier, for the firebug is one of a kind. In Central Europe there are only a very few other red and black species, but these differ considerably. In Southern Europe there are more species of Firebugs and most of them can fly, the Firebug can't. The Firebug belongs to its own family, represented by only some 300 species world wide.

The Firebug measures 9 to 12 millimeters and is red with black markings. The nymphs are entirely red, except for the spot where the wings will be once adult. Those spots are... black. The Firebug eats almost everything. It sucks on plants, carrion, eats dead insects, but also hunts and kills other insects. In summer adults and nymphs can be seen in groups in huge numbers. When it gets colder, the nymphs still in existence die and only adults overwinter.

The colouring of the Firebug is a warning for birds and other enemies to leave them alone. From the plant juices they eat, firebugs make a complicated poison. Most birds avoid them, even though some finches will eat them anyway. The poison the Firebug makes is very interesting, for it contains one element that is highly anti-bacterial. This element is now studied with a lot of energy, for it is capable of killing bacteria that are unharmed by present day antibiotics, such as penicillin. The stuff is even capable of killing off bacteria that got immune to all antibiotics, such as the Hospital bacteria (MRSA). The substance is known as pyrrhocorine.