Scientists looking for ways to develop stronger construction materials have found inspiration in an unlikely source: a bug. More precisely, a beetle.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and Purdue University report in a study published in the journal Nature that the diabolical ironclad beetle—its actual name—has a unique exoskeleton that is so indestructible that you can run one over with a car and not phase it. Any other beetle that you would be able to squish between your thumb and forefinger doesn’t match the diabolical ironclad beetle, technically referred to as Phloeodes diabolicus.
“This beetle is so tough that the energy or the force that you can do with your hand, it’s not enough—it’s like a piece of rock,” Pablo D. Zavattieri, a professor of civil engineering at Purdue and one of the study’s authors, told CNN.
The scientists report that the diabolical ironclad beetle can withstand forces a remarkable 39,000 times its body weight. At least in part, the study found that because it is a species of beetle that cannot fly, natural selection has created a structure that not only deters predators but also helps it from getting crushed by enormous weight.
When a ladybug or other beetles able to fly release their outer shell that is split down the middle of their abdomen line (called elytron), it enables them to spread their wings for flight. The diabolical ironclad beetle’s outer shell’s halves, however, have fused together over time. And that fused connection comes together like puzzle pieces, providing unusual resistance to force. Part of that resistance comes with a degree of flexibility, scientists say, which makes the beetle less prone to cracking or collapsing like, say, a typical one-piece shell.
“If you take two pieces of that jigsaw puzzle, and you try to pull them apart once they’re attached, it’s a pretty robust interface,” UC Irvine materials scientist Davis Kisailus, also an author of the study, told Wired.
Study authors believe the microscopic evaluation and research of the beetle can lead to material advances in industries such as aerospace, construction, and architecture. A critical dilemma for engineers is how various types of materials are connected, often with mechanical fasteners that are prone to points of stress and corrosion.
“We have the materials. One of the engineering issues is how to connect them,” Zavattieri said. “This is a good example of how nature uses this connection. Every single time we look at nature, we learn something new.”
The Department of Consumer Affairs licenses construction and architectural professionals statewide who can answer all of your engineering questions and help you work through any home structural issues that may arise. You can check a professional’s license at https://search.dca.ca.gov.