Tag Archives: exoskeleton

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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Time Lapse Photography Reveals the Amazing Secret Life of Corals (Video)

You may have heard of or even seen coral reefs before. The corals that make up these reefs may look like strange rock formations or odd plants, but in actuality, corals are animals.

These marine invertebrates live in large colonies of genetically identical polyps: tiny, spineless creatures which are typically vase-shaped. A colony of these polyps is known as a coral “head”.

Star coral polyps. Click to enlarge

Corals don’t do anything very fast, which is why many people mistake them for rocks or plants. But when you get long term footage of these strange creatures and speed it up, you immediately realize that they are very much alive.

Check out this awesome time lapse video of corals in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, captured by Pim Bongaerts from the University of Queensland:

Coral also use the calcium and carbonate in the water to create a hard, calcified exoskeleton for protection (which is why some mistake them for rocks). When a polyp is physically stressed, it recedes behind this tough outer layer.

Coral are also equipped with stinging tentacles, which they typically use to capture plankton and small fish. They also use them when competing for space with other corals.

You can check out more of Bongaerts’s work on his website coraltimelapse.com.