The Ironclad Beetle is scary – You can drive over it in a car, and it will walk away just fine and dandy.
Its exoskeleton is one of the toughest in the animal kingdom. Scientists believe that they found out why that is.
In a study posted in the journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers spoke about the beetle’s apparent indestructibility secrets. They believe that the beetle’s anatomy might be useful to develop new ultra-tough materials.
At first sight, the beetle looks remarkable – a shadowy, bumpy exoskeleton that resembles a charred rock. Unlike other beetles, the ironclad isn’t equipped with wings, and it often plays dead, relying on its heavy armor to stay safe from predators, much like a turtle.
Dr. David Kisailus, a professor of materials science and engineering from the University of California and co-author of the study, said:
“The ironclad is a terrestrial beetle, so it’s not lightweight and fast but built more like a little tank.”
The beetle’s exoskeleton is so hardened that it posed a severe challenge for entomologists that tried to display it – It’s hard to put a pin through an ironclad!
To analyze the mini-tanks, a member of the team, Jesus Rivera, captured a few of them and went to the lab.
It turned out that the beetle’s exoskeleton can withstand approximately 150 newtons of force, which is about 39,000 times its body weight.
Three other species of terrestrial beetle were only half as tanky.
The researchers used microcomputed tomography, an advanced 3D imaging technique, to analyze the ironclad’s organism.
They concluded that the ironclad’s elytra might be the main reason it is so tough. First of all, it contains more protein than the elytra of a regular beetle. The elytra are also specific to beetles that can fly, which isn’t the case with the ironclad. It looks like it evolved from a species of beetle that was able to fly, and the elytra somehow merged with the rest of the exoskeleton in a twirling suture to result in solid armor.