By PATRICIA SIMPSON
Imagine yourself lying down in the middle of the road (don’t do it) and a car comes by and rolls right over you. If you don’t die, you will at the very least sustain considerable injuries. Fast forward a few months, you are suing the driver, but the defense attorney brings in an unusual expert witness: a Diabolical Ironclad Beetle such as the one in our observation of the month: inaturalist.org/observations/80242969 by rachelleaf.
This witness, if he could speak, would proceed to explain that the unfortunate outcome was no fault of the driver and instead the injuries were simply the result of a faulty biological design on the part of the victim.
“I can get stepped on or run over by a car and be just fine,” he would boast. This expert witness, a 2-centimeter-long beetle in the Zopheridae family, looks like he is sporting a medieval-like exoskeleton with a slitted walnut-shell-looking surface.
Experts have recently cracked open the mystery of the beetle’s secret armor and it’s all in the design. After much analysis, 3-D printed models, and computer simulations, they found that the exoskeleton’s incredible resistance to impact is a direct result of an interlocking puzzle-like structure paired with impact-absorbing proteins. Considering the amount of pressure the beetle can withstand (about 39,000 times its own body weight), it is no wonder that engineers are looking to imitate and recreate the Diabolical Ironclad Beetle’s blueprint.
Biomimicry, or the art of applying nature’s ingenious designs into manufacturing concepts, is an up-and-coming science, but it is nothing new. Dung Beetles would argue they invented the wheel long before humans did. Airplanes, trains, automobiles and any other air or water-splitting objects all have mimicked the aerodynamics of birds and fish alike. Submarine’s sonars are designed after dolphin and bat’s echolocation aptitudes. Plant burs such as the ones found on Rough Cocklebur (a plant found in Mission Trails Regional Park) inspired Velcro! And scientists are still trying to reveal the secrets of feathers: if the structure that makes them water resistant while offering unmatched warmth can be mimicked, it would revolutionize the winter clothing industry.
The moral of this story is that until we can manufacture a Diabolical Ironclad Beetle suit to fit you, don’t lie on the road.
— Patricia Simpson is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.