WHAT CAN BEE­TLES TEACH US?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Beetles -

HAR­VEST­ING WA­TER

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.

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