The Ironclad Beetle: Armored Tank of the Insect World
If there is an unwanted beetle or cockroach running across your kitchen floor, what is your first reaction? For many of us, it might be to step on the intruder or smash it with a shoe. While that might work for the average bug, there is one beetle that would laugh at your pitiful attempt to smash it, since its armor is so tough. The diabolical ironclad beetle is one of the world’s toughest critters, and has a shell that is so strong it can get run over by a car and scuttle off with hardly a scratch.
Just how strong is this rugged beetle’s armor? Researchers have discovered that the beetle can withstand pressure from loads that are 39,000 times its own body weight. To help us understand the significance of that fact, it would be “akin to a 90 kg (200 lb—KB) human withstanding the weight of about 280 doubledecker buses.”1 Of course, with this kind of armor technology—the real life equivalent of something out of a superhero movie—scientists want to know how it works. What makes the beetle’s exoskeleton so remarkably strong?
When the research team zoomed its microscopes in on the hard outer shell of the beetle, they found “two key microscopic features” that “help it withstand crushing forces.”2 First, they discovered that the two halves of the outer shell connect by a series of joints that interlock with multiple connection points. The amount of interconnectivity varies between different parts of the beetle’s body. Certain areas are extremely tightly connected, while others are looser and act almost as springs that cushion and absorb shock.3 The second key feature, as described by Rivera and his colleagues in the Nature magazine article that discusses the major work they did on the beetle, is detailed in very complicated engineering terms in the article.4 Temming summarized it well when she wrote:
The second key feature is a rigid joint, or suture, that runs the length of the beetle’s back and connects its left and right sides. A series of protrusions, called blades, fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces to join the two sides. These blades contain layers of tissue glued together by proteins, and are highly damage-resistant. When the beetle is squashed, tiny cracks form in the protein glue between the layers of each blade. Those small, healable fractures allow the blades to absorb impacts without completely snapping….5
Rivera’s team noted that their research may provide significant knowledge to our current understanding of mechanical engineering. Under a section titled “Biomimetic sutures,” they explain that when the suture design of the beetle is compared and tested against that found in our most advanced “turbine engines and aerospace structures,” the design of the beetle performs better than our best designs. They found that blades “mimicking the DIB (diabolical ironclad beetle—KB) suture are slightly stronger…than current engineering fasteners…, yet demonstrate a substantial increase (more than 100%) in energy displacement.”6 They went on to say that based on our new knowledge of how the beetle’s armor is designed, they believe that in our current fields of engineering there is “considerable potential for further improvement of these interdigitated interfaces by tuning material parameters.”7 In other words, we can copy this beetle’s design and make stronger material than we have at the present.
Sadly, the obvious implication of the beetle’s armor design is completely missed by the research team. They incorrectly attribute these phenomenal features to “millions of years” of evolutionary change due to “environmental pressures.” Such a conclusion truly defies logic. Literally, the most brilliant human researchers in the world have, for many decades, collaborated together to contemplate, engineer, design, and build the most advanced connecting joints and protective structures ever conceived in the human mind. They have used these joints and structures, as rocket scientists, to build aerospace devices that must withstand massive amounts of pressure. And for all that, when we look at the tiny, two-centimeter long diabolical ironclad beetle, its armor eclipses the abilities of our best and brightest rocket scientists. An unbiased observer cannot miss the implication. Whoever designed the beetle’s armor possesses an intelligence superior to the combined abilities of the world’s rocket scientists. How long will it take the human race to recognize that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9)? Isn’t it ironic that the lofty ways of God are so clearly evident in a tiny, ground-crawling beetle?
1 Nicola Davis (2020), “Scientists Reveal How Diabolical Ironclad Beetle Can Bear Huge Weights,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/21/scientists-reveal-diabolical-ironclad-beetle-bear-huge-weights.
2 Maria Temming (2020), “The Diabolical Ironclad Beetle Can Survive Getting Run Over by a Car, Here’s How,” Science News, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/diabolical-ironclad-beetle-exoskeleton-armor-impossible-squish.
4 Jesus Rivera et al., “Toughening Mechanisms of the Elytra of the Diabolical Ironclad Beetle,” Nature, Vol. 586, October 22, 2020, p. 543.
6 Rivera, et al.
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