Since we live in a time best described by our technological advances, it’s only natural that we take inspiration from the absolutely best source we have – Mother Nature. With animals being around for so long before our time on the planet, they’ve had a lot of time to develop the most efficient and appropriate tools based on nature’s physics.
So it should come as no surprise that there is technology based on desert beetles that can favor the appearance of condensation via a series of bumps on their backs or a Japanese bullet train based on the kingfisher bird. There are even vehicles base on the ground effect used by the water lily leaf beetle to basically waterski.
Yeah, you read that right. The water lily leaf beetle has developed a technique that allows it to basically fly over water with minimal efforts. Humanity has actually developed a technique using the same physical principles as the ones used by the beetle when we developed the Ekranoplan and other ground effect vehicles.
Despite the fact that they knew for a while that the water lily leaf beetle had a very particular way of flying, scientists haven’t really explored how it works all that much. That is until very recently, when a team of experts from Stanford University discovered the complex physical principles involved in the beetle’s flight process.
The beetle starts preparing its body before it actually takes off by lifting its middle legs so that they don’t touch the water and by tilting its body upwards. With its back and front legs touching the water, its short claws maintaining contact with it at all times, the beetle then powerfully flaps its wings and dashes over the water’s surface.
While most of the beetle’s underside is covered in tiny hydrophobic hairs so that it repels water, the tip of each leg ends in short claw that helps maintain contact with any surface of water. This effectively helps it easily and quickly navigate watery surfaces, while at the same time staying at water level.
According to the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Manu Prakash,
Water acts like a superglue for insects because of their small size. Once they attach, they cannot detach themselves. The fact that evolution ends up actually designing this solution is just absolutely beautiful.
The field of biomimicry would have jumped at the occasion of developing a new way of transportation based on this ingenious little beetle, had we not already used the same principles to develop ground effect vehicles like the Ekranoplan back in the ‘60s.
Image source: Wikimedia