The Secrets of the Diabolical Ironclad Beetle’s Almost Unsquishable Strength | Smart News

The diabolical ironclad is not a notorious Civil War-era battleship, but a flightless inch-long beetle that thrives on the United States’ west coast. While most beetles only live for a few weeks, a diabolical ironclad can live for seven or eight years, in part because it outer shell is so peck-, crunch- and squash-proof. Now, a new study has unraveled what makes the beetle so buff, Katherine Wu reports for the New York Times.

The paper, published on October 21 in the journal Nature, shows how the beetle’s exoskeleton uses internal layers, tight joints and overall near-indestructable shape to give it both toughness and flexibility under pressure. And by studying the beetle’s strategy’s, engineers may be able to apply the same techniques to synthetic materials used in aircraft and construction.

“These beetles are doing the beetle-equivalent of living for 1,000 years,” says Max Barclay, the Natural History Museum in London’s curator of beetles who wasn’t involved in the new study, to the Guardian’s Nicola Davis. “So they have to protect themselves against risk in a way that shorter-lived creatures don’t.”

While many beetles are rounded on top, the diabolical ironclad is flat and low to the ground, University of California, Irvine, materials scientist David Kisailus tells Science News’ Maria Temming. That makes it hard to squish, since the pressure is distributed over the whole shell. Compression experiments conducted by Kisailus and colleagues showed that the exoskeleton held up against up to the crushing force of 39,000 times the beetle’s body weight.






A cross section shows the puzzle piece-shaped joint that’s among the keys to the insect’s incredible durability.

(Jesus Rivera / UCI)

Getting run over by a car only exerted about two-thirds of that force on the beetle’s back, according to a statement. The researchers recorded the sedan experiment on video in 2015, capturing two rounds of a Toyota Camry driving directly over a diabolical ironclad beetle in a parking lot.

“Yeah, it’s still alive,” University of California, Riverside materials scientist Jesus Rivera, the first author on the paper, said in the video reviewed by the New York Times after one pass by the car. “It’s playing dead. But it’s still alive.”

The exoskeleton is also made of a super tough, layered material. The rock-hard shell has long plagued entomologists who can’t use their normal stainless-steel pins to mount the beetles in collection boxes. In order to pin up a beetle, insect collectors first need to drill holes in the shell where they want to put a pin, Matt Simon reports for Wired. The protein-rich layering of the exoskeleton seems to boost toughness because the layers can crackle and separate individually, without the entire shell breaking at once, per the Guardian.

The layers also work to distribute stress over the joints where different parts of the exoskeleton come together.

“You can imagine the beetle’s exoskeleton almost like two halves of a clamshell sitting on top of each other,” Kisailus tells Science News. The

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What Are Diabolical Ironclad Beetles? Scientist Discover Secret Behind ‘Crush-Resistant’ Bugs

Although cockroaches are known for being able to survive just about anything, a new study found that the diabolical ironclad beetle is essentially “crush-resistant” when an extreme amount of pressure is put on it, like a car.

A study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature found that the beetle’s exoskeleton has made the insect indestructible. Although the diabolical ironclad beetle’s elytra, exoskeleton forewings, makes it unable to fly away from predators, it acts as durable armor that makes the bug “extremely impact-resistant and crush resistant.”

“The ironclad is a terrestrial beetle, so it’s not lightweight and fast but built more like a little tank,” David Kisailus, the principal investigator, said in a statement. 

“It can’t fly away, so it just stays put and lets its specially designed armor take the abuse until the predator gives up.”

When attacked, Kisailus revealed the exoskeleton won’t instantly break down, instead the tough exterior deteriorates over time.

“When you break a puzzle piece, you expect it to separate at the neck, the thinnest part,” he said. 

“But we don’t see that sort of catastrophic split with this species of beetle. Instead, it delaminates, providing for a more graceful failure of the structure.”

After examining the elytra, researchers learned that the forewings are made up of a protein matrix and layers of chitin, fibrous material that contributes to the formation of the exoskeleton.

Researchers learned the exoskeleton found on a diabolical ironclad beetle contains around 10% more protein by weight compared to the average beetle.

Overall, the study revealed evolution is responsible for the resilience of the diabolical ironclad beetle, which is native to the Southwestern U.S.

“For millions of years, environmental pressures and predator-prey relationships have driven arthropods to develop structures that are both mechanically robust and multifunctional,” the study states.

“With over 350,000 species of flying, terrestrial and aquatic variants, beetle cuticles exemplify these traits by providing structural support, water collection, and retention, and serve as a defense mechanism against predators.”

Facts about the diabolical ironclad beetle. Facts about the diabolical ironclad beetle. Photo: AFP / John SAEKI

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Meet the diabolical ironclad beetle, which can survive being run over by a car

Scientists are unraveling the mystery of a bug with one of the coolest names in the animal kingdom: the diabolical ironclad beetle. 

Phloeodes diabolicus has one of the toughest natural exoskeletons scientists have ever seen. According to research published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the insect’s armor is so durable, few predators have successfully made a meal out of it — and it can even survive getting run over by a car.

This is a bug that scientists famously need to drill a hole into before they can stick a pin through it. 

A team from Purdue University and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have deduced that when an extreme amount of pressure is put on the beetle, its “crush-resistant” shell adapts to the situation by stretching, rather than shattering. Its nearly indestructible shell, coupled with its convincing acting skills when it comes to playing dead, leave the beetle with few predators.  

ucimaterials.jpg
Native to desert habitats in Southern California, the diabolical ironclad beetle has an exoskeleton that’s one of the toughest, most crush-resistant structures known to exist in the animal kingdom.

David Kisailus / UCI


“The ironclad is a terrestrial beetle, so it’s not lightweight and fast but built more like a little tank,” lead author David Kisailus, a UCI professor of materials science and engineering, said in a news release. “That’s its adaptation: It can’t fly away, so it just stays put and lets its specially designed armor take the abuse until the predator gives up.”

In compression tests, researchers found the beetle can withstand a force of about 39,000 times its body weight — the equivalent of a 200-pound man enduring the weight of 7.8 million pounds. 

So, how does the seemingly indestructible bug manage to survive against all odds? 

Scientists have found that the shell of the bug, which is native to desert habitats in the Southwestern U.S., has evolved to protect it. Specifically, its elytra — the blades that open and close on the wings of aerial beetles — have fused together to act as a solid shield for the beetle, which can’t fly. 

Analysis of the elytra revealed that it’s made of layers of chitin, a fibrous material, and a protein matrix. Its exoskeleton contains about 10% more protein by weight than that of a lighter, flying beetle.

Under compression, the jigsaw puzzle-like structure of the elytra doesn’t snap as expected, but rather, fractures slowly.

1-ucimaterials.jpg
A cross-section of the medial suture, where two halves of the diabolical ironclad beetle’s elytra meet, shows the puzzle piece configuration that’s among the keys to the insect’s incredible durability. 

Jesus Rivera / UCI


“When you break a puzzle piece, you expect it to separate at the neck, the thinnest part,” Kisailus said. “But we don’t see that sort of catastrophic split with this species of beetle. Instead, it delaminates, providing for a more graceful failure of the structure.”

Scientists believe that understanding just what makes the iron beetle so tough will have practical applications for humans, too. Kisailus

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This diabolical ironclad beetle can survive being run over by a car

Scientists are unraveling the mystery of a bug with one of the coolest names in the animal kingdom: the diabolical ironclad beetle. 



ucimaterials.jpg


© David Kisailus / UCI
ucimaterials.jpg

Phloeodes diabolicus has one of the toughest natural exoskeletons scientists have ever seen. According to research published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the insect’s armor is so durable, few predators have successfully made a meal out of it — and it can even survive getting run over by a car.

This is a bug that scientists famously need to drill a hole into before they can stick a pin through it. 

A team from Purdue University and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have deduced that when an extreme amount of pressure is put on the beetle, its “crush-resistant” shell adapts to the situation by stretching, rather than shattering. Its nearly indestructible shell, coupled with its convincing acting skills when it comes to playing dead, leave the beetle with few predators.  



a small insect on a rock: Native to desert habitats in Southern California, the diabolical ironclad beetle has an exoskeleton that's one of the toughest, most crush-resistant structures known to exist in the animal kingdom. / Credit: David Kisailus / UCI


© Provided by CBS News
Native to desert habitats in Southern California, the diabolical ironclad beetle has an exoskeleton that’s one of the toughest, most crush-resistant structures known to exist in the animal kingdom. / Credit: David Kisailus / UCI

“The ironclad is a terrestrial beetle, so it’s not lightweight and fast but built more like a little tank,” lead author David Kisailus, a UCI professor of materials science and engineering, said in a news release. “That’s its adaptation: It can’t fly away, so it just stays put and lets its specially designed armor take the abuse until the predator gives up.”

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In compression tests, researchers found the beetle can withstand a force of about 39,000 times its body weight — the equivalent of a 200-pound man enduring the weight of 7.8 million pounds. 

So, how does the seemingly indestructible bug manage to survive against all odds? 

Scientists have found that the shell of the bug, which is native to desert habitats in the Southwestern U.S., has evolved to protect it. Specifically, its elytra — the blades that open and close on the wings of aerial beetles — have fused together to act as a solid shield for the beetle, which can’t fly. 

Analysis of the elytra revealed that it’s made of layers of chitin, a fibrous material, and a protein matrix. Its exoskeleton contains about 10% more protein by weight than that of a lighter, flying beetle.

Under compression, the jigsaw puzzle-like structure of the elytra doesn’t snap as expected, but rather, fractures slowly.



A cross-section of the medial suture, where two halves of the diabolical ironclad beetle's elytra meet, shows the puzzle piece configuration that's among the keys to the insect's incredible durability.  / Credit: Jesus Rivera / UCI


© Provided by CBS News
A cross-section of the medial suture, where two halves of the diabolical ironclad beetle’s elytra meet, shows the puzzle piece configuration that’s among the keys to the insect’s incredible durability.  / Credit: Jesus Rivera / UCI

“When you break a puzzle piece, you expect it to separate at the neck, the thinnest part,” Kisailus said. “But we don’t see that sort of catastrophic split with this species of beetle. Instead, it delaminates, providing for a more graceful failure of

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Meet the Diabolical Ironclad Beetle. It’s Almost Uncrushable.

In 2015, Jesus Rivera filmed a very unusual science experiment for posterity.

On the asphalt of a sun-soaked parking lot, he placed a mottled black beetle on a pillow of dirt and had a colleague run it over with a Toyota Camry. Twice.

Just about any other bug would have died. This one, a species called Phloeodes diabolicus, did not.

“Yeah, it’s still alive,” Dr. Rivera narrated matter-of-factly, as he prodded the still-intact beetle on the video. “It’s playing dead. But it’s still alive.”

Bashed beneath the wheels of a 3,500-pound sedan, the inch-long insect made it through without a scratch. It was a seemingly impossible physical puzzle that Dr. Rivera spent his doctoral career obsessively trying to solve.

Some five years later, he and his colleagues have figured out how this unbreakable bug earned its colloquial name: the diabolical ironclad beetle. Evolution has given the insect an exterior that can hold its own against a force 39,000 times its body weight — the equivalent of a 150-pound person resisting the crush of about 25 blue whales.

“That would jellify a human,” said David Kisailus, an engineer at the University of California, Irvine, who mentored Dr. Rivera’s work.

The impressive armor of these insects, which are found primarily on the west coast of North America, most likely evolved to allow the flightless, fungus-munching bugs to safely wriggle under rocks and fend off the pecks and nips of birds and rodents. But understanding what makes the beetle so diabolical and ironclad could aid development of synthetic products for use in construction or aeronautics, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

After his automobile-based field testing, Dr. Rivera and his fellow researchers focused most of their attention on laboratory experiments. They assessed the tensile strength and composition of the beetle’s exterior with a suite of ultrasensitive instruments. The ironclad’s exoskeleton, they found, was packed with proteins that seemed to enhance its durability.

It was also cleverly structured: Evolved from a pair of now-defunct forewings, the exoskeleton stretched across the insect’s back and hooked into a separate structure sheathing the insect’s belly, encasing the beetle in a shell with an airy buffer underneath.

Dr. Rivera compared the arrangement to an industrial-strength egg, with the yolk sloshing gently against a cushion of whites. “You can compress the shell without the yolk, or the organs, getting squished,” he said. Pressed from above, the exoskeleton would bow out slightly at the sides with just enough strength and flexibility to protect the delicate tissues within.

And where the two halves of the exoskeleton met atop the insect’s back, they interlocked like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. “That provides strength at this interface,” Dr. Kisailus said.

A closer look at the exoskeleton’s interlocking lobes also revealed they each had an internal Russian doll architecture — a series of concentric layers that faithfully mirrored the shapes that contained them.

“Having these layers helps toughen the joint,” said Talia Moore, a roboticist and evolutionary biologist at

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