WHAT CAN BEETLES TEACH US?
In Africa’s Namib Desert, darkling beetles of the genus Onymacris bask in fog. They condense water on hydrophilic (water-attracting) bumps on their elytra, then channel it down hydrophobic (water-repellant) grooves to their mouths ( above). This technology could be adapted for human water-catching projects in many of the world’s arid zones.
MAKING WHITENING AGENTS
The body scales of ghost chafers (genus Cyphochilus) are amongst the whitest known objects in nature ( above). They are not albino – that is, unpigmented – but each scale is filled with an array of random light-scattering nanotubules. These scatter the different rainbow colours in natural light equally and highly efficiently, with no single colour predominating. Mimicking the fibre arrays could be used to create whitening agents for paper coatings, dentistry and pigment manufacture.
DETECTING SIGNS OF LIFE
The Caribbean’s Pyrophorus noctilucus ( below) is the brightest light-producing beetle known, and in the 1950s it was harvested from forested hillsides to be used in the first experimental attempts to measure ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the keystone energy molecule found across all forms of life. Since the beetle’s lights-storing molecule lucifer in gives up a photo for each molecule of ATP, minute concentrations could be accurately measured electronically in a test tube. A similar experiment could be used to detect extra-terrestrial life onn a Mars mission.
We can learn a thing or two from these versatile insects.