Scientists are unraveling the mystery of an insect with one of the coolest names in the animal kingdom: the evil armored beetle.
Phloeodes diabolicus has one of the strongest natural exoskeletons scientists have ever seen. According to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the insect’s armor is so durable that few predators have managed to make it into a meal – and it can even survive being run over by a car.
It’s a bug where scientists have to punch a hole before they can put a pin through it.
A team from Purdue University and the University of California at Irvine (UCI) deduced that when extreme pressure is exerted on the beetle, its “crush resistant” shell adapts to the situation in s ‘stretching rather than breaking. His nearly indestructible shell, coupled with his convincing acting skills when it comes to playing dead, leaves the beetle with few predators.
“The battleship is a land beetle, so it is not light and fast but rather built like a small tank,” lead author David Kisailus, professor of materials science and engineering at UCI, said in a statement. Press. “It’s his adaptation: he can’t fly away, so he just stays put and lets his specially designed armor take the abuse until the predator gives up.”
During compression tests, the researchers found that the beetle could withstand a force of about 39,000 times its body weight – the equivalent of a 200-pound man supporting the weight of 7.8 million pounds.
So how does this seemingly indestructible bug manage to survive against all odds?
Scientists have discovered that the shell of the bug, which is native to desert habitats in the southwestern United States, evolved to protect it. Specifically, its elytra – the blades that open and close on the wings of aerial beetles – have merged to act as a strong shield for the beetle, which cannot fly.
Analysis of the elytra revealed that it is composed of layers of chitin, fibrous material, and a protein matrix. Its exoskeleton contains about 10% more protein by weight than that of a lighter flying beetle.
Under compression, the puzzle-like structure of the elytra does not break as expected, but rather slowly does.
“When you break a piece of the puzzle, you expect it to come apart at the neck, the thinnest part,” Kisailus said. “But we don’t see that kind of catastrophic division with this species of beetle. Instead, it delaminates, predicting a more graceful failure of the structure.”
Scientists believe that understanding what makes the iron beetle so resistant will have practical applications for humans as well. Kisailus said new extra-strong materials based on the bug’s characteristics will dramatically improve the durability of airplanes, automobiles and more.
Kisailus and his team mimicked the structure of the insect’s exoskeleton using carbon fiber reinforced plastics. The result was both stronger and more resilient than current aerospace designs.
“This study really connects the fields of biology, physics, mechanics and materials science to engineering applications, which you don’t typically see in research,” Kisailus said. “Fortunately, this program, which is sponsored by the Air Force, really allows us to train these multidisciplinary teams that have helped connect the dots to lead to this significant discovery.”