This Beetle Can Survive Being Run Over by a Car

The Diabolical Ironclad Beetle is one of the most resilient beings on the planet. Its protective shell can withstand forces that would pulverize most other living things.

In 2015, when entomologists told Jesus Rivera that a beetle found primarily on the west coast of North America had this “superpower” that allowed it to survive being run over by a car, he didn’t believe them. So he staged a rudimentary experiment, laying this nondescript black beetle on a a pillow of dirt in a parking lot and had a friend run it over with a Toyota Camry, twice. The bug played dead afterwards, but as he was poking it, Rivera realized it was very much alive. The bug scientists were right, this beetle could easily survive being run over by cars. Jesus ended up spending his doctoral career studying the beetle’s superpower to find out what made it so strong.

Photo: Vahe Martyrosian/Flickr

The Diabolical Ironclad Beetle is not much larger than a grain of rice, but its protective exoskeleton allows it to resists a force 39,000 times its body weight, which scientists explain is the equivalent of a 150-pound person surviving under the weight of about 25 blue whales. That would not only kill but jellify almost any other creature, but then again, we don’t have a complex armor perfected over millions of years of evolution.

The beetle’s name can be a bit misleading, as scientists found during their testing. Unlike the scaly foot gastropod, whose shell actually contains iron and other hard minerals, the protective shell of the Diabolical Ironclad Beetle only contains organic components. Studying this natural armor, they they found it was packed with proteins that seemed to enhance its durability, and very cleverly designed.

 

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The beetle’s exoskeleton appeared to have evolved from a pair of now-defunct forewings, stretching across the insect’s back and attaching to a separate structure that shielded its belly. Under this hard exterior was an airy buffer, which inspired researchers to compare the beetle to an incredibly durable egg.

“You can compress the shell without the yolk, or the organs, getting squished,” Dr. Jesus Rivera said.

 

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Analysis of the Diabolical Ironclad Beetle’s armor also revealed a series of concentric layers that looked like a natural Russian doll. This apparently allows some of the stress to be dissipated, so even if some of the layers end up breaking under a certain degree of pressure, the beetle itself doesn’t sustain any significant damage.

To date, there aren’t any materials that mimic the diabolical ironclad beetle’s protective armor, but the data recently published in a new study is expected to inspire new and innovative materials that copy both the structure and design mother nature created.

 

   
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