Don’t Judge an Animal By its Size

Author: Zoya Farooqui

From: McKinney, Texas, USA

Image Credit: ABC Blog


You’re walking down your driveway and spot a tiny beetle a few feet away. It’s only about an inch long and has off-white and black dots all over its body. Suddenly, you notice a car pulling up and it ends up running right over the beetle. To your surprise, as the car passes, the beetle remains unscathed.


That’s the speciality of the ironclad beetle. It gets its name for its extremely tough exoskeleton. Although it has a bright outer layer, which can easily attract other animals, even predators who have the capability to consume it can’t crack one open. Sometimes, the beetle plays dead when it’s disturbed to fool predators too. One way or another, the ironclad beetle manages to ward off many kinds of animals like birds, lizards, and rodents. However, they are nothing to be afraid of as they are very unlikely to attack humans and often feed on fresh and rotting plants.


What is the Ironclad Beetle?


With only 20 species that belong to this family, ironclad beetles dwell in desert-like regions in North America, specifically in Texas. Appearance wise, they are very flat on top and consist of six legs. There are many varieties though: some have black and white spots on top while some are simply black.

Image Credit: ScienceNews


Ironclad beetles are usually found on the dead wood of pecan and oak trees. This leads to the worry that these beetles destroy plants. However, although they live in areas with decaying plant matter, they are not harmful to them at all.


The beetle starts out as an egg and transforms through the pupae, larvae and adult stages. Other than these basic processes, there isn’t a lot of information about the development of the ironclad beetle.


What Contributes to its Strength?


It took multiple trials and analyses of images, 3-D printed models, and computer simulations for scientists to understand the components of its strength. The beetle’s exoskeleton consists of tightly packed, impact-absorbing pieces that interlock the bones. The connective ridges have different shapes depending on where they are located. For example, they almost fit together like zipper teeth near its most vital organs, creating sturdy connections and a body resistant to pressure.


The other secret to their tank-like body is a rigid joint called a suture. This suture runs along the beetle’s back and is similar to a human spine. It connects the right and left sides of the exoskeleton. To help with this, a series of blades fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces to bind sides. These blades carry layers of tissue that are glued to one another by extremely resistant proteins. When the ironclad beetle is squished, small cracks form inside the protein layers. Since they are healable, the blades are capable of absorbing any impact without breaking.


Conclusion


Although it may look small, the strength of the ironclad beetle can’t be compared to most insects: these beetles can stand over 39,000 times their own weight, which is similar to a human carrying over six airplanes! Even though it is almost impossible to kill, the ironclad beetle is harmless to most animals, including humans. Many scientists and engineers look to study these beetles for inspiration in order to build sturdier structures and stronger armor.

 

About the Author: Zoya Farooqui


Zoya is a rising junior in high school who loves art, podcasting, programming, robotics, and spending time with her friends and family. When she’s free, she enjoys playing video games and listening to music.

 

References


Zoya is a rising junior in high school who loves art, podcasting, programming, robotics, and spending time with her friends and family. When she’s free, she enjoys playing video games and listening to music.References

  1. Anas, Brittany. “This Species Of Beetle Can Survive Being Run Over By A Car.” Simplemost, Simple Most, 3 Nov. 2020, www.simplemost.com/diabolical-ironclad-beetle-survive-car/.

  2. Downer, Posted by Ryan. “Ironclad Beetle: A Friend Or Foe To Your Plants?: ABC Blog.” ABC Home & Commercial Services Blog, ABC Blog, 19 Feb. 2020, www.abchomeandcommercial.com/blog/ironclad-beetle/.

  3. Temming, Maria. “The Diabolical Ironclad Beetle Can Survive Getting Run Over By a Car. Here's How.” Science News, Science News, 21 Oct. 2020, www.sciencenews.org/article/diabolical-ironclad-beetle-exoskeleton-armor-impossible-squish.

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