Scientists find secret to 'uncrushable' ironclad beetle's strength

Rodiano Bonacci
Ottobre 25, 2020

The diabolical ironclad beetle is an insect that lives up to its name.

Uncovering the biological structures that make the sturgeon beetle exoskeleton virtually unbreakable could help engineers design structures that are more impact resistant, and the researchers tested them with their own 3D-printed designs. As expected, the insects can take a serious beating, being capable of withstanding continuous forces of up to 150 newtons (15 kg), which corresponds to a pressure exerted by an object 39,000 times its body weight.

When attacked, Kisailus revealed the exoskeleton won't instantly break down, instead the tough exterior deteriorates over time.

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

"We can use these formulas - they show you the way the beetle does it - to improve their hardness", he said. Second, the suture and blades divide into layers so they can deal with deformations more gracefully.

What's more, the elytra are layered and rich in protein, which furter boosts toughness. 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.

Cross-section through the exoskeleton of the diabolical iron-armored beetle.

"For millions of years, environmental pressures and predator-prey relationships have driven arthropods to develop structures that are both mechanically robust and multifunctional", the study states. The scientists found that the main cause is to be found in the two cover wings that usually protect the fine wings.

"Yeah, it's nonetheless alive", Rivera could be heard saying within the video as he inspects the beetle, a species referred to as Phloeodes diabolicus.

Kisailus sent Rivera to work with Dula Parkinson and Harold Barnard at the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where they performed high-resolution experiments to pinpoint the changes within the structures in real time using extremely powerful X-rays. This helps the shell avoid catastrophic failure. The geometry and internal structure of this "jigsaw" design increases the strength of the beetle armor. They ran tests revealing that the arrangement provides the maximum amount of strength and durability.

But the various parts of the armor are are joined together in different ways. Advertisement Those elytra also fit together with the rest of the beetle's exoskeleton like a suit of armor, making it impervious to crushing forces.

The team is now planning to use a similar design that of the beetle and build strong fasteners for transportation vehicles.

"This study really bridges the fields of biology, physics, mechanics and materials science toward engineering applications, which you don't typically see in research", Kisailus said.

The project - which received support from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Army Research Office, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology's Institute of Global Innovation Research - also included researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine built a carbon fiber composite fastener mimicking a diabolical ironclad beetle's suture. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs.

There are many species of beetles around the world, but one has fascinated researchers thanks to the presence of an unusual trait.

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