Can't crush this: Beetle armor gives clues to tougher planes

2020/10/28 14:19

Today's Vocabulary

1. withstand (v)
to be strong enough, or not be changed by something, or to oppose a person or thing successfully

2. stomps (v)
to walk with intentionally heavy steps, especially as a way of showing that you are annoyed

3. resistant (adj)
not wanting to accept something, especially changes or new ideas

4. sheaths (n)
a close-fitting covering to protect something

5. compressed (v)
to press something into a smaller space

6. snap (v)
to cause something that is thin to break suddenly and quickly with a cracking sound

7. exoskeleton (n)
a hard outer layer that covers, supports, and protects the body of an invertebrate animal such as an insect or crustacean

8. pecks (v)
(of a bird) to hit, bite, or pick up something with the beak

Can't crush this: Beetle armor gives clues to tougher planes

It’s a beetle that can withstand bird pecks, animal stomps and even being rolled over by a Toyota Camry. Now scientists are studying what the bug’s crush-resistant shell could teach them about designing stronger planes and buildings.

To understand what gives the inch-long beetle its strength, researchers first tested how much squishing it could take. The species, which can be found in Southern California’s woodlands, withstood compression of about 39,000 times its own weight.

For a 200-pound man, that would be like surviving a 7.8-million-pound crush. Other local beetle species shattered under one-third as much pressure.

Researchers then used electron microscopes and CT scans to examine the beetle’s exoskeleton and figure out what made it so strong. As is often the case for flightless beetles, the species’ elytra – a protective case that normally sheaths wings – had strengthened and toughened over time. Up close , scientists realized this cover also benefited from special, jigsaw-like bindings and a layered architecture.

When compressed, they found the structure fractured slowly instead of snapping all at once. “When you pull them apart,” Zavattieri said, “it doesn’t break catastrophically. It just deforms a little bit. That’s crucial for the beetle.”

It could also be useful for engineers who design aircrafts and other vehicles and buildings with a variety of materials such as steel, plastic and plaster. Currently, engineers rely on pins, bolts, welding and adhesives to hold everything together. But those techniques can be prone to degrading.


  1. What did you think when you read the headline?

  2. Why aren’t governments doing more to protect animals?

  3. What would happen to the world if all the bugs died?

“Any foolish boy can stamp on a beetle, but all the professors in the world cannot make a beetle.”

Arthur Schopenhauer