Beetles in rubber boots: Scientists study ladybirds' feet

Aug 15, 2013
Upper side (left) and lower side (right) of a seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata). The blue arrow exemplarily indicates one of the adhesive pads of the ladybird. Credit: Stanislav N. Gorb

During their evolution, insects have developed various unique features to survive in their environment. The knowledge of the working principles of insects' microstructures holds great potential for the development of new materials, which could be of use to humans. With this idea in mind, Dr. Jan Michels, a scientist at the Institute of Zoology at Kiel University, investigates how insects manage to efficiently cling to diverse surfaces. Michels and his colleagues recently published their new findings on the adhesive structures of ladybirds in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

A lot of insects are able to climb up walls or walk upside down on surfaces. The new study shows for the first time what astonishing materials allow for these abilities. Using special microscopy techniques, confocal microscopy and , Michels and his colleagues investigated the legs of ladybirds. "Each leg is equipped with fine adhesive hair, which enable the insect to cling to surfaces in a most impressive way", explains Michels. "Our results show that different parts of the single hair feature varying material compositions and properties. While the bases are relatively hard and stiff, the material in the tips of every single hair is rather soft and flexible." The scientists assume that this enables the tips to adjust to uneven surfaces resulting in a better adhesion to rough substrates.

The research team composed of Dr. Jan Michels, Dr. Henrik Peisker and Professor Stanislav Gorb came upon these findings by visualising the protein , which is responsible for the softness and elasticity of the hair tips. This protein is present in many insect structures with strong resilience properties such as wings, and, as shown now, adhesive hair of ladybirds.

Adhesive hair of a seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) – made visible with a scanning electron microscope (above) and a confocal laser scanning microscope (bottom). Structures with a high proportion of resilin are depicted in blue. Credit: Jan Michels

Increasing scientific knowledge of nature's tricks represents important fundamental research for the future development and improvement of surface active materials. The scientists can imagine to optimise the basic material used for the so-called Gecko®-Tape, which was developed and characterised by Stanislav Gorb and his team in cooperation with their industry partner. However, the material composition of the ladybird's adhesive hair is so complex that there is currently no material available, which would make such a reproduction possible. "Nature is a ladybird's step ahead of us", jokes Jan Michels. He sets his hopes on materials scientists: "It's their turn now."

Explore further: Substrates change nanoparticle reactivity

More information: Peisker, H., Michels, J. and Gorb, S. Evidence for a material gradient in the adhesive tarsal setae of the ladybird beetle Coccinella septempunctata, Nature Communications 4:1661; DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2576

Related Stories

Captured in silken netting and sticky hairs

May 16, 2013

The great ecological success of spiders is often substantiated by the evolution of silk and webs. Biologists of the Kiel University and the University of Bern now found an alternative adaptation to hunting ...

How long do insects last?

May 09, 2013

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin have shown that although insects are made from one of the toughest natural materials, their legs and wings can wear out over time. The findings have been just published in the Journal of ...

Nature helps to solve a sticky problem

Apr 05, 2011

The arrays of fine adhesive hairs or 'setae' on the foot pads of many insects, lizards and spiders give them the ability to climb almost any natural surface. Research by James Bullock and Walter Federle from the University ...

Insects use bubbles to walk underwater

Aug 23, 2012

A team headed by Dr. Naoe Hosoda at the National Institute for Materials Science is engaged in research and development of "Future joining technology for reversible interconnection" as an environment-friendly ...

Recommended for you

Chemists characterize 3-D macroporous hydrogels

19 minutes ago

Carnegie Mellon University chemists have developed two novel methods to characterize 3-dimensional macroporous hydrogels—materials that hold great promise for developing "smart" responsive materials that ...

Substrates change nanoparticle reactivity

6 hours ago

(Phys.org)—Nanoscale materials tend to behave differently than their bulk counterparts. While there are many theories as to why this happens, technological advances in scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) ...

Reviving cottonseed meals adhesives potential

8 hours ago

Cottonseed meal—the leftovers after lint and oil are extracted from cottonseed—is typically fed to ruminant livestock, such as cows, or used as fertilizer. But Agricultural Research Service scientists ...

New concrete composite can heal itself

8 hours ago

In the human body, small wounds are easily treated by the body itself, requiring no further care. For bigger wounds to be healed, the body may need outside assistance. Concrete is like a living body, in that ...

Actuators that mimic ice plants

9 hours ago

Engineers developing moveable robot components may soon take advantage of a trick plants use. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and Harvard University in Cambridge ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.