'Super Tough' Beetle Could Inspire Us to Do Better

Researchers say the bug's crush-resistant shell can be a model for planes and buildings
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 21, 2020 5:13 PM CDT
Engineers Have a New Inspiration: This Beetle
In this 2016 photo provided by the University of California, Irvine, a cross section of the medial suture, where two halves of the diabolical ironclad beetle’s elytra meet, shows the puzzle piece configuration that’s among the keys to the insect’s incredible durability.   (Jesus Rivera, Kisailus Biomimetics and Nanostructured Materials Lab, University of California Irvine via AP)

It's a beetle that can withstand bird pecks, animal stomps and even being rolled over by a Toyota Camry. Now scientists are studying what the bug's crush-resistant shell could teach them about designing stronger planes and buildings, the AP reports. "This beetle is super tough," said Purdue University civil engineer Pablo Zavattieri, who was among a group of researchers that ran over the insect with a car as part of a new study. So, how does the seemingly indestructible insect do it? The species—aptly named diabolical ironclad beetle—owes its might to an unusual armor that is layered and pieced together like a jigsaw, according to the study by Zavattieri and his colleagues published in Nature on Wednesday. And its design, they say, could help inspire more durable structures and vehicles.

Researchers found that the species, which can be found in Southern California’s woodlands, withstood compression of about 39,000 times its own weight. The key is that the species' elytra—a protective case that normally sheaths wings—had strengthened and toughened over time. Up close, scientists realized this cover also benefited from special, jigsaw-like bindings and a layered architecture. It could also be useful for engineers who design aircrafts and other vehicles and buildings with a variety of materials such as steel, plastic, and plaster. Currently, engineers rely on pins, bolts, welding, and adhesives to hold everything together. But those techniques can be prone to degrading, and Zavattieri called the beetle's shell an "interesting and elegant" alternative. (Another beetle has an amazing way of escaping death.)

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