Sure, perhaps a roach will be able to survive the radiation of a nuclear war. But can it take a 5.56 caliber round? Nope. Perhaps, though, this living tank can. It’s called the diabolical ironclad beetle (Phloeodes diabolicus). You can drive a car right over it. The New York Times (sorry, but it’s paywalled) reports:
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In 2015, Jesus Rivera filmed a very unusual science experiment for posterity.
On the asphalt of a sun-soaked parking lot, he placed a mottled black beetle on a pillow of dirt and had a colleague run it over with a Toyota Camry. Twice.
Just about any other bug would have died. This one, a species called Phloeodes diabolicus, did not.
“Yeah, it’s still alive,” Dr. Rivera narrated matter-of-factly, as he prodded the still-intact beetle on the video. “It’s playing dead. But it’s still alive.”
Bashed beneath the wheels of a 3,500-pound sedan, the inch-long insect made it through without a scratch. It was a seemingly impossible physical puzzle that Dr. Rivera spent his doctoral career obsessively trying to solve.
Rivera’s research revealed that this bug can withstand the force of 39,000 times its own weight. How? Through a multi-faceted armor system that would be an engineering marvel if it wasn’t the result of evolution:
The ironclad’s exoskeleton, they found, was packed with proteins that seemed to enhance its durability.
It was also cleverly structured: Evolved from a pair of now-defunct forewings, the exoskeleton stretched across the insect’s back and hooked into a separate structure sheathing the insect’s belly, encasing the beetle in a shell with an airy buffer underneath.
Dr. Rivera compared the arrangement to an industrial-strength egg, with the yolk sloshing gently against a cushion of whites. “You can compress the shell without the yolk, or the organs, getting squished,” he said. Pressed from above, the exoskeleton would bow out slightly at the sides with just enough strength and flexibility to protect the delicate tissues within.
And where the two halves of the exoskeleton met atop the insect’s back, they interlocked like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. “That provides strength at this interface,” Dr. Kisailus said.
A closer look at the exoskeleton’s interlocking lobes also revealed they each had an internal Russian doll architecture — a series of concentric layers that faithfully mirrored the shapes that contained them.
“Having these layers helps toughen the joint,” said Talia Moore, a roboticist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan who wasn’t involved in the study. “It allows some of the stress to be dissipated.” Any pressure put on the structure would get distributed throughout the labyrinth, rather than concentrating in a single weak spot.
“Even if it breaks, it wouldn’t significantly damage the beetle,” said Adriane Minori, a mechanical engineer at the University of California, San Diego, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s a fail-safe mechanism that nature has found — that’s something we can learn from.”
-via Dave Barry | Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda