If a car manufacturer were to succeed in somehow making the same material as the outer skeleton of the humble stag beetle—its ‘armour-plating’—he'd be a multi-millionaire overnight! Imagine a car body that’s lighter than any metal, will never rust, shrugs off corrosive liquids, copes with extremes of heat and cold, doesn’t need painting, and resists knocks and scratches. If dented by mild-to-moderate accidents, it will pop back to the original shape.
That’s what the ‘wonder substance’ (chitin), of which the beetle’s body-covering is made, is like. What’s more, such a car body would always be shiny, without washing, waxing, or polishing—ever. Have you ever seen a stag beetle that’s not clean and shiny? Even a dung beetle crawling out of its unsanitary mound emerges a sparkling metallic-blue, as if freshly polished. A car body that repels dirt—imagine!
Incredibly, this marvellous chitin is only a combination of protein and sugar. Only? In a strict chemical sense, yes. But the secret of its amazing multitude of useful properties is only partly in the actual substance. It is mainly due to the fine, submicroscopic details of the way in which it is constructed.
So even if we could produce chitin itself, all our modern technology would be unable to imitate this fine microstructure so as to make a sports car body out of it, for instance.
Yet this miracle-body, in the case of the beetle, develops at its last moulting—all by itself—with all the complicated joints between all the parts that have to be able to move in relation to each other. Next time you see this humble beetle, consider the incredible amount of programmed information needed just to construct this super-high-tech marvel, its outer coat. Such information is passed on generation after generation, silent testimony to the Master Programmer.
It can take five years or more to get a mature stag beetle (family Lucanidae). Its large larvae are quite useful in a forest economy—they help to dismantle dead and rotting tree-stumps. The female lays up to 100 eggs at such sites, burrowing down as far as 80 centimetres (2-3/4 feet) into the forest floor.
The male can grow to a length of 11 centimetres (more than four inches) if the antlers are included. These impressive appendages are actually huge upper jaws. In spite of such war-like equipment, stag beetles are actually peaceful ‘saplickers’, which is why they have a long, paintbrush-like tongue. Their huge ‘jaws’ are used in bloodless combat for mates. The array of ‘spikes’ along the inside ensures that they don’t slip off their rival’s smooth chitinous armour after grabbing him—the same purpose as the ridges inside the jaws of our manmade pliers.
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