Scientists find secret to ‘uncrushable bugs strength

UCI materials scientists discover design secrets of nearly indestructible insect

Birds, lizards and rodents frequently try to make a meal of it but seldom succeed.

The beetle is so tough it can survive getting run over by a vehicle.

Researchers from Purdue University and the University of California, Irvine, studied the aptly named diabolical ironclad beetle - Phloeodes diabolicus - to understand the secret behind its strength.

While many beetles are rounded on top, the diabolical ironclad is flat and low to the ground, University of California, Irvine, materials scientist David Kisailus tells Science News' Maria Temming. "That's its adaptation: It can't fly away, so it just stays put and lets its specially designed armor take the abuse until the predator gives up".

The diabolical ironclad beetle (Phloeodes diabolicus) is found mainly in the USA and Mexico, where it lives under the bark of trees or beneath rocks.

While the average beetle can withstand a maximum pressure of 68 newtons, the diabolical ironclad beetle could reach up to 149 newtons, equal to 39,000 times its body weight.

For a 200-pound man, that would be like surviving a 7.8-million-pound crush. As with some other flightless species of beetle, the wing covers known as elytra are not only hardened but fused together. The ironclad's elytra have evolved to become a solid, protective shield.

After examining the elytra, researchers learned that the forewings are made up of a protein matrix and layers of chitin, fibrous material that contributes to the formation of the exoskeleton. They produced joints out of metal and composites based on the ones they observed in the beetle. Now, scientists believe they know why the insect is almost indestructible, showing that reinforced forewings protect the beetle from getting squished or crushed.

Zafateri explained that the thread works like a jigsaw puzzle, connecting the creature's various exoskeleton blades in its abdomen, which lock to prevent itself from pulling out.

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Their discovery could have implications for engineering and robotics, experts say, and even challenge the position of cockroaches as models of insect indestructibility.

"When you break a puzzle piece, you expect it to separate at the neck, the thinnest part", Kisailus said.

'In the biological tissues of numerous animal and plant species, efficient strategies have evolved to synthesise, construct and integrate composites that have exceptional mechanical properties, ' the team of United States and Japan-based experts say.

When compressed, they found the structure fractured slowly instead of snapping all at once.

"The strong and stiff interdigitated supports are used to protect the beetle's vital organs from being crushed", Po-Yun Chen, a materials scientist from National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan who wrote an accompanying Nature article about the findings, told Business Insider.

Scientists developing new materials are studying an unexpected source of strength: a beetle that can withstand being run over by a vehicle. The Purdue team's models showed that not only does the geometry enable a stronger interlock, but the lamination provides a more reliable interface.

"These beetles are doing the beetle-equivalent of living for 1,000 years", says Max Barclay, the Natural History Museum in London's curator of beetles who wasn't involved in the new study, to the Guardian's Nicola Davis.

The researchers recorded the sedan experiment on video in 2015, capturing two rounds of a Toyota Camry driving directly over a diabolical ironclad beetle in a parking lot.

This cross-section view shows how the two halves of the diabolical ironclad beetle's elytra meet.

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