Could beetle armor improve farming equipment?


One variety of beetle has a shell that is an unbreakable suit of armor that can withstand stomps, pecks and even being rolled over by a car which is why scientists are looking to understand this trait and see if there are any applications for building stronger and more durable structures, vehicles and possibly farm equipment.

The research team explains that the one-inch long diabolical ironclad beetle, which can be found in southern California, has a shell that is layered a certain way to better withstand pressure. It is almost like a jigsaw puzzle.

Because of this layered shell, the beetle can withstand compression of 39,000 times its own weight. For perspective, that is like an average 200-pound man being crushed by nearly 8 million pounds.

When the research team analyzed the beetle, they realized that the puzzle-like shell fractured slowly and did not begin snapping all at once.

According to one member of the research team, Purdue University’s Pablo Zavattieri, “When you pull them apart, it doesn’t break catastrophically. It just deforms a little bit. That’s crucial for the beetle.”

Typically engineers hold steel, plastic, and plaster together through pins, bolts, welding, screws or by some other means, which are prone to failure. However, if scientists can understand how the beetle’s shell breaks more predictably than structures and vehicles could be more reliable.

Building airplanes is one application, but agriculture could find a use as well. For instance, having this durable capability could allow grain bins to better withstand massive storms, like the derecho storm that hit the Midwest this year.

Levees are another way this research could be used. Levees withstand enormous amounts of pressure and if they fail it seems to be all at once. This research would allow levees repair to be more precise.

Also, the general wear and tear of operating a tractor in a field could lead to the equipment’s decline, but with this research, that same tractor could be more durable and last much longer.

This study is part of a $8 million dollar project by the Air Force.

The co-author of the study, David Kisalius, an engineer with the University of California, Irvine, says, “We’re trying to go beyond what nature has done.”

The study is looking to nature to find solutions to human problems.

The Associated Press contributed to this report