Meet the beetle: It’s diabolical, ironclad and uncrushable

Meet the beetle: It’s diabolical, ironclad and uncrushable

This beetle has a thick skin.

The diabolical ironclad beetle has a tough natural exoskeleton. So tough, it can survive being run over by a car, The New York Times reported.

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According to research published Wednesday by the journal Nature, phloeodes diabolicus -- the diabolical ironclad beetle -- has armor so durable that it cannot be crushed. That makes it difficult for predators to pierce its natural shield.

Teams from Purdue University and the University of California, Irvine, have reported that when an extreme amount of pressure is put on the inch-long beetle, its shell stretches, rather than shattering, CBS News reported. Plus, the insect is a fine actor and can play dead, according to the website.

The journal’s findings and the universities’ research complement an experiment Jesus Rivera filmed in 2015, the Times reported. Rivera placed the beetle on a pile of dirt and had a colleague run over it two times with a Toyota Camry, according to the newspaper.

“Yeah, it’s still alive,” Rivera said as he narrated the video. “It’s playing dead. But it’s still alive.”

The beetle can hold its own against a force 39,000 times its body weight, the Times reported. In human terms, that is equivalent to a 150-pound person surviving the weight of about 25 blue whales, the newspaper reported. A 200-pound man would have to endure the weight of 7.8 million pounds to equal the feat, UCI said in a news release.

“That would jellify a human,” said David Kisailus, an engineer at UCI, Irvine, who mentored Rivera’s work, told the Times.

“This beetle is super tough,” Purdue University civil engineer Pablo Zavattieri told The Associated Press.

The beetle, which is unable to fly, is primarily found on the west coast of North America and feeds on fungus, the newspaper reported. Because of its stretching ability, the bug can hide under rocks and fend off birds and rodents.

"The ironclad is a terrestrial beetle, so it’s not lightweight and fast but built more like a little tank,” Kisailus, who is the principal investigator and a materials science and engineering professor at UCI, 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.”

Rivera compared the arrangement to an industrial-strength egg, noting that the yolk would slosh gently against a cushion of egg whites, the Times reported.

“You can compress the shell without the yolk, or the organs, getting squished,” Rivera told the newspaper.

“When you pull them apart, it doesn’t break catastrophically," Zavattieri told the AP. "It just deforms a little bit. That’s crucial for the beetle.”

The shell of the beetle, and in particular its elytra -- the blades that open and close on the wings of aerial beetles -- have fused to act as a solid shield for the beetle, CBS News reported. The elytra are composed of layers of chitin, which is a fibrous material, and a protein matrix, the network reported. The insect’s exoskeleton contains about 10% more protein by weight than that of a lighter, flying beetle, according to CBS News.

Kisailus said the exoskeleton could provide “great promise” for new substances to benefit humanity, UCI said in its news release. He hopes to create ways to fuse aircraft segments without the use of traditional rivets, for example.

“This study really bridges the fields of biology, physics, mechanics and materials science toward engineering applications, which you don’t typically see in research,” Kisailus said in the release. “Luckily, this program, which is sponsored by the Air Force, really enables us to form these multidisciplinary teams that helped connect the dots to lead to this significant discovery.”