Bug Blog

Engineers Base Designs On Insect Anatomy

Insects are made of a material called “cuticle,” which accounts for one of the toughest biological materials known to man. In fact, biologists are in agreement that cuticle counts as nature’s second toughest material, but other than that, experts know very little about this remarkably tough biological material.

Engineers believe that if they understood how insect cuticle, which makes up an insect’s exoskeleton, could handle loads of varying weight, then perhaps they could build more durable machinery, especially vehicles.

In order to better understand when an insect’s cuticle, such as legs and wings, become fatigued, researches focused on the movements of the locust. The locust was the best choice among insects for the purpose of this study because of their ability to travel across oceans without stopping.

Next the researchers took samples of the insect’s legs and wings and ran them through a simulator that revealed that both legs and wings made of cuticle can withstand hundreds of thousands of cycles. The researchers also noted that insect legs were more resistant to fatigue than wings were.  This resistance to fatigue is likely a result of the shape and the fibrousness of the material that make up an insect’s legs. This is exciting for engineers as they may be able to use insect cuticle as a model for more durable machinery.

If the cuticle that makes up an insect’s exoskeleton is the second toughest material in the world, then what type of biological material may count as the toughest of all?