The falconfly is not the only insect enemy of flutterbirds. The high oxygen concentration of the atmosphere has meant that insects are taking over from vertebrates as the dominant terrestrial animals. There are others, large and deadly, who are making the most of their time at the top of the food chain.
The spitfire beetle is one such insect inheritor of Earth. Apart from their bright red and yellow coloring, spitfire beetles resemble a typical Quaternary beetle, with a head, thorax, diaphanous underwings and elytra (hard forewings). Individually, they are unremarkable. Collectively, they are capable of an ingenious form of ambush hunting.
The carnivorous spitfire beetles spend most of their lives in groups of four. They position themselves on the trunk of a spitfire tree, standing head to head in a cross formation. Spreading their wings, they are suddenly almost indistinguishable from the flowers of the tree itself. In this formation, the heads and thoraxes look like the flower's center, the antennae resemble the stamens, and the brightly-colored elytra the petals.
Motionless, the spitfire beetles wait, mimicking the flowers of the spitfire tree. Their intended prey is a spitfire bird, which can be hovering about the tree and collecting chemicals. As it moves in, the beetles leap into action, seizing the bird before it can bring its defenses into play. Grasshopper-like hind legs propel the attack and strong jaws and grappling-hooked claws on the forelegs crunch into the bird's body. The carcass of the dead spitfire bird is then eaten by all four spitfire beetles. In this method, the beetles can avoid the spitfire bird's defensive spray of hot acid.
While such cooperation mimicry was not common in previous times, it was known. The larvae of the tortoise beetle exhibited similar behavior. These disk-shaped grubs would remain in clusters after hatching and react synchronously to anything which approached them by moving the tips of their tails upwards and mimicking the shape of a large spider. As the larvae's only predators were spiders, this proved an extremely effective form of defense and became an evolutionary success. A similar action has been performed by blister beetle larvae.
At the end of the spitfire tree's flowering season, when there is nothing more to tempt the spitfire birds, the colonies of beetles disband and disperse, looking for mates. After mating, the male beetle dies. The pregnant female flies around among the spitfire trees, laying clutches of four eggs beneath their bark. Having laid all her eggs, she too dies. The following spring, when the eggs hatch into the four individuals that form the flower imitators, the spitfire beetles will once again lie in ambush for a roving spitfire bird.