Tag Archives: beetles

Why This Beetle Is Whiter Than Anything Human Technology Can Produce

If you ever visit Southeast Asia, you might come across the whitest thing you’ve ever seen.

And it’s not this guy:

“Double dream hands!”

It’s the Cyphochilus beetle, a beetle whose shell is whiter than even the whitest paper, the whitest snow, even the whitest paint.

In fact, it’s brighter than anything that human technology could create using a material as thin as the beetle does.

So what is this material? Well, it’s called chitin.

Chitin is similar to the cellulose, the main material in a plant’s cell wall. It forms complex, tightly-knit networks of filaments that build the shells of crustaceans and the exoskeletons of many insects.

A close-up of the chitin filament network on the Cyphochilus beetle’s shell. Click to enlarge (Image: Lorenzo Cortese)

But on it’s own, chitin is not a very good reflector of light at all, so researchers at the University of Cambridge and the European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy in Italy came together to try to uncover the secret behind the Cyphocilus beetle’s extraordinary brilliance.

What they found was that it was not the material itself that made the beetles look so white, but the geometric pattern in which the chitin filaments had arranged themselves.

A close-up of the beetle. Click to enlarge (Photo: P. Vukusic)

The colors we perceive come from the ways in which different colors of light reflect off of different materials.

However, the structure of the beetle’s shell reflects light anisotropically. This means that all the different colors of light get reflected in the same direction, which is why the shell appears to be such a brilliant white (mixing all of the colors of light gives you white light).

But unlike man-made reflectors, which tend to be fairly thick, the beetle’s individual scales are only thousandths of a millimeter thick. This keeps them light, minimizing the amount of energy the beetle has to expend while flying.

Read more from the New Scientist here.

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The Strongest and Most Misunderstood Creature in the World (Video)

When you think of strength in the animal kingdom, it’s natural to think of some of the massive majestic creatures we’re all so familiar with: lions, elephant, grizzlies, rhinos, hippos…

These animals are definitely powerful, but when you examine pound-for-pound strength, you quickly realize that it’s the smallest creatures who are really the most impressive lifters.

Take the leafcutter ant, for instance. These ants cut off and carry leaf segments that are sometimes up to 50 times heavier than they are.

Leafcutter ants march across the forest floor. Click to enlarge

But even the leafcutter ant is no match for the dung beetle when it comes to true strength.

Though their appetite for dung has given them a bit of a bad name in our society today, dung beetles (also known as scarabs) were actually worshipped in ancient Egypt.

An eagle-winged scarab beetle on the door to the Edfu temple in Egypt. Click to enlarge

The ancient Egyptians believed that the sun was rolled across the sky every day by a giant scarab god.

Dung beetles may not actually be gods, but they definitely have superhuman strength. The insects are able to drag dung balls up to 1,140 times their body weight- the equivalent of an average human pulling six double deckers buses full of passengers.

But there’s more to dung beetles than just eating poop.

For example, they’re actually pretty good parents. Dung beetles are one of only a few groups of insects that has been shown to actively care for their offspring. There is even a monogamous species of dung beetle that mates for life.

Even more interesting is the dung beetle’s navigation system. After rolling a fresh poop ball, the beetles will climb on top of it and dance around, orienting itself.

Scientists theorized that the beetles were actually using the Milky Way to orient themselves and navigate.

One of the dung beetles used in the Milky Way navigation testing. Click to enlarge

They tested this theory on one species of African dung beetle by putting little hats over them that covered their eyes.

The beetles still perched atop their poop balls to try and orient themselves, but only were able to wander around aimlessly without being able to see the stars, proving that they were using the heavens to navigate.

So give the dung beetle some credit- they’re probably much more intelligent and complex than you ever imagined.

To learn more about dung beetles, check out these 10 Fascinating Facts About Dung Beetles from About.com.