What We Can Learn From Animals

Searching for good news about 2020, I came across an interesting article, “Ten Scientific Discoveries From 2020 That May Lead To New Inventions” by  Rachael Lallensack in the Smithsonian Magazine. This piece features animals with newly discovered special abilities that may be useful to us. The lessons come from many different sources, including suckerfish, flying snakes, and tube worms.

One of these animals is the diabolical ironclad beetle (“The Diabolical Ironclad Beetle’s Exoskeleton Is Indestructible”). This little guy is only an inch long, but lives up to its name — a team led by University of California, Irvine engineer David Kisailus ran one over twice in a car, and it lived. Testing revealed this beetle can withstand up to 39,000 times its own body weight.

The roughly inch-long insect can survive being run over by a car—twice. 
(Trish Gussler via Flickr under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

How can that be? There are several reasons. The beetle has a flat exoskeleton, not rounded like a ladybug. Within this exoskeleton are protein-rich layers; these can shift individually without the entire shell breaking. The shell’s two halves fit together like a puzzle piece. The layers follow curves which reinforce the thinnest part of the joint, where the two halves interlock.

So what does that have to do with us?  Perhaps a man-made type of interlocking fastener could replace similarly-shaped, but layer-less, joints used in construction. This design could have applications any time two different materials need to join, like in bridges, buildings and vehicles. One use now being studied is to secure airplane turbines.

Once again, we’re realizing we can learn an awful lot just by observing life around us. To read about all ten discoveries, go to https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/ten-scientific-discoveries-2020-may-lead-new-inventions-180976616/?.

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