The diabolical ironclad beetle lives in the deserts of the southwest United States. It is exceptionally long-lived for a beetle, sometimes marking lifespans as long as 8 years. What really earns the beetle its somewhat ominous name, though, is the strength of its exoskeleton. Unlike most beetles, the diabolical ironclad beetle cannot fly; its wingcases are fused together to form a protective armor. Researchers from Japan, Indiana, and California recently measured how much force the shell could withstand without breaking and measured a maximum force of 149 Newtons (N), and an average force of 133 N. This is roughly equivalent to the amount of force exerted by the weight of an average 3 year old. For comparison, an adult human can generate only 43 N of force by pinching a thumb and pointer finger, and other beetles get squished at just 68 N.

Using high energy x-rays on the beetles from different angles, researchers were able to determine that the two wing cases were held together with regions that resembled a jigsaw puzzle. Additionally, instead of snapping, the attachments shed outer layers when pressure was initially applied, protecting the insect within. The researchers 3D-printed a model of the beetle’s puzzle-like joints out of a propriety resin and compared its durability to titanium and aluminum fasteners used in the aerospace industries. They found that the beetle’s design was ultimately stronger and more durable. This suggests that this research may be useful in developing sturdy and long-lasting attachments for the aerospace and other high-space industries in the future.

Jesus Rivera is a PhD student in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of California Riverside.

Author: Emily Kerr

Popular Press Source: This beetle’s stab-proof exoskeleton makes it almost indestructible

Scientific Source: Toughening mechanisms of the elytra of the diabolical ironclad beetle

Image Credit: Shawn Hanrahan

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