This is one ridiculously tough insect. Image Credit: David Kisailus / UCI
Scientists have discovered that one particularly hardy beetle has an almost indestructible exoskeleton.
When you accidentally step on an insect, there usually won't be much of it left - but for the super-tough diabolical ironclad beetle, even being run over by a car isn't enough to stop it.
Formally known as Phloeodes diabolicus, this remarkable insect is so tough that it is rarely ever preyed upon by other animals and breaking through its exoskeleton requires the use of a drill.
Keen to understand exactly how this insect is quite so durable, scientists at Purdue University and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) conducted their own study to find out.
They discovered that the beetle can survive being crushed by 39,000 times the weight of its own body - that's equivalent to a human being crushed by something weighing over 3,500 tons.
The key to this incredible exoskeletal strength lies in how it stretches instead of shattering when a large weight is applied. The scientists found that the beetle's elytra - which would normally be wings - have fused together to provide a shield made from layers of a fibrous material called chitin.
Under extreme pressure, this layer doesn't snap but instead fractures slowly.
"The ironclad is a terrestrial beetle, so it's not lightweight and fast but built more like a little tank," said lead author David Kisailus. "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."
It is hoped that by fully understanding this beetle's remarkable defenses, it could lead to the development of tougher construction materials for use in aircraft, space probes and more.
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