By Madeleine Neisler

We’re in the midst of summer and, in many places, it’s not only hot out – but the bugs are out too. This got me thinking about insects in engineering… always thinking engineering. You may ask yourself how an insect could be involved in an engineers experiment. Have you looked closely at, let’s say, a beetle? Every beetle has a special shell, almost like a suit of armor to protect it. According to Manufacturing and Engineering Magazine, engineers are working to de-code the architecture of a beetle’s shell in order to make evolutionary advancements in the engineering field. According to the article, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering discovered a way to examine the structure and makeup of a beetle’s shell.  What they have discovered is although the shell offers protection much like body armor, it is very light weight, allowing the beetle to move efficiently and fly.

Jewel Beetle Courtesy of Daily Mail

By gaining a better understanding of the beetle’s exoskeleton, scientists in the engineering field will be able to build stronger and lighter materials that could help a variety of industries as well as the military.  What is this amazing exoskeleton made of? Thin fibers known as chitin that are 20 nanometers in diameter. This is miniscule compared to a strand of human hair! The study was conducted using the Figeater Beetle-Cotninis mutabilis, which is from the scarab family and native to the United States. This species was selected due to the every day demands these beetles face in nature. We can truly learn a lot from our many legged friends.

Figeater Beetle Courtesy of Wikipedia

BBC calls insects “marvels of engineering.” Dr. Gregory Sutton, a professor at the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge in the UK has been studying these amazing creatures for about a decade. He says that they are key to solving unusual biological problems. He uses high-speed cameras to study invertebrates with his colleagues, focusing on how locusts, fleas, and praying mantises jump and spring high into the air. One of the issues these creatures face is to have to use a leap as an evasive method, meaning they need to be able to accelerate rapidly. Dr. Sutton uses these special cameras to capture the jumps in order to learn more about his particular conundrum. Another issue that these insects face is zipped-up legs, meaning the back legs must propel at the exact same time in order for the jump to be successful.  If they do not the insect will spin. According to the article, larger insects have friction pads, almost like gears, to help to control movement. Smaller, younger insects are too tiny to have these. When studying praying mantises, Dr. Sutton discovered that these incredible insects move almost like they are in a ballet. When they jump, their bodies spin and they are able to control that spin. They adjust in the air using their limbs like a ballet dancer to know exactly where to land.

Praying Mantis Jumping Courtesy of Daily Mail

BBC calls insects “marvels of engineering.” Dr. Gregory Sutton, a professor at the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge in the UK has been studying these amazing creatures for about a decade. He says that they are key to solving unusual biological problems. He uses high-speed cameras to study invertebrates with his colleagues, focusing on how locusts, fleas, and praying mantises jump and spring high into the air. One of the issues these creatures face is to have to use a leap as an evasive method, meaning they need to be able to accelerate rapidly. Dr. Sutton uses these special cameras to capture the jumps in order to learn more about his particular conundrum. Another issue that these insects face is zipped-up legs, meaning the back legs must propel at the exact same time in order for the jump to be successful.  If they do not the insect will spin. According to the article, larger insects have friction pads, almost like gears, to help to control movement. Smaller, younger insects are too tiny to have these. When studying praying mantises, Dr. Sutton discovered that these incredible insects move almost like they are in a ballet. When they jump, their bodies spin and they are able to control that spin. They adjust in the air using their limbs like a ballet dancer to know exactly where to land.

Locust Jumping Courtesy of Snipe View

Conservation Magazine wrote an article last year on how small insects helped to solve an intricate engineering problem. As most people know, drones have become omnipresent, not just for taking pictures but also for aiding in natural disaster recuperation and public health outbreaks. One of the biggest issues these engineers face when constructing drones is battery life. A larger battery makes the drone heavier and inefficient. Harvard University engineer, Moritz Graule, and his colleagues are working to solve this problem. Many flying creatures from mammals to insects can fly without running out of energy because they perch. Drones hover, using more energy. These living creatures also have anatomical parts such as hair-like barbs, talons and even adhesive like substances to aid in their endeavors. Bird-sized robots were engineered using spring-loaded needles to cling onto a surface, but insect-sized robots were too small for this. Insect-sized robots are more nimble, but cannot house the essential mechanics to operate grabbers and grippers. What these scientists ultimately decided to use is an electrostatic adhesive, allowing a robot of much smaller stature than, say, a bird-sized robot, to attach to a surface.  These tiny drones could be used for providing excellent bird’s-eye views of geographical areas, detecting various chemical and biological hazards, and even be used as a temporary telecommunications network. That is pretty amazing!

Insect Drones Courtesy of University of Washington Conservation

In conclusion, bugs can be pretty awesome. Despite the fear factor many of us share, we can truly learn a lot from our many legged friends.  We could even help to better our world using technology based on their attributes. So like engineers, we should definitely take the time to appreciate these amazing creatures.

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