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The Diabolical Ironclad Beetle

diabolical ironclad beetle

At last something with a cool name. It sort of looks like a small tank, but it has a super power to go with that name.


The diabolical ironclad beetle has a formal name which is not quite so cool - Nosoderma diabolicum, which has the advantage of being the same all over the world. It is found in dry areas in western USA, and relatively flat in profile. It is dark in colour and about 2 cm long.


And its superpower is ... the beetle’s exoskeleton can withstand approximately 150 newtons of force, which is about 39,000 times its body weight, which is more than twice as much as any other terrestrial beetle they tested.

If you were to extrapolate this toughness to a human scale, a person weighing 100 kilograms would have to be able to withstand a weight of 3900 tons to deliver the same performance. To give you an idea, 3900 tons is roughly equal to the curb weight of two thousand F150 pickup trucks!1

At first sight, the beetle's exoskeleton looks like bumpy charred rock. Unlike most other beetles, which have functional wings on their backs, the ironclad is wingless. To remain safe from predators, it plays dead, relying on its heavy armor to make it invulnerable to predators. It is thought to have been a winning strategy as the lifespan of the ironclad is longer than other beetles in its weight class.

The exoskeleton is so hard that entomologists have trouble pinning dead specimens to boards for museum and research purposes. But given the purpose of this site, what does it actually do for humans (beside help to stabilise its ecosystem)?

The amazing resilience of the diabolical ironclad beetle is inspiring scientists to rethink how we make strong structures. It is being looked at as a model for changes in how we build bridges, vehicle and aircraft bodies, cladding for buildings and body armor. Please see the video below for an animated explanation of how the structure and function of the beetle is informing scientists to look at new ways of conceptualising and building structures.

Finding solutions in nature to human problems is called biomimetics. Probably the best known example is Velcro.

The inventor of Velcro, George de Mestral, was intrigued by the microscopic structure of burrs that stuck to the fur of his dog. Their outer surface features many projections that have tiny hooks in them. When the dog brushed by a plant, these hooks would cling on to its hairs and be carried away, along with being very difficult to remove.2

This observation led de Mestral to consider how we could use this design solution to certain types of fastenings and the rest, as they say, is history.

See the Dig Deeper section below for sites that explain the concept further and give a range of examples from diverse fields.

Summary of services provided for us

Provides a model for new concepts ins structural engineering

Threats to the services?

Insufficient data to tell how populations are faring.

What can we do to retain these services?

Insufficient data to know.

Dig Deeper

  1. This incredible beetle can endure being run over by a car []
  2. What is biomimicry? []
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