Looking into the Strongest Creature on the Planet

on March 15, 2008

The Hercules beetle, the strongest animal in the world, is not only renowned for its strength; it also employs a shell that changes colors in response to ambient humidity.

Able to carry up to 850 times its weight, the beetle is protected by an exoskeleton that changes from green to black as humidity increases. Researchers from Belgium’s University of Namur, publishing in the New Journal of Physics, report on how their study of this color-changing exterior could result in the design of more “intelligent materials” for use in human applications.

Humidity-sensing architecture of the beetle’s shell could eventually be used in “intelligent materials.”

The team used a scanning electronic microscope and a spectrophotometer to better understand how light interacts with the beetle’s porous protective casing. In low humidity, the light interferes with the exoskeleton structure, resulting in a green color. Then, rising humidity penetrates the porous layers, putting an end to the interference and leaving simply a black color.

In addition to offering an opportunity for the team to test new scanning techniques for electron images, the study concluded that the humidity-sensing architecture of the beetle’s shell could eventually be used in “intelligent materials” that will monitor levels of moisture. Once again, scientists are intrigued by one of God’s designs found in nature that, even with all our technology, is more amazing than anything we could produce. It’s fascinating to consider how numerous features of each organism—even down to individual cells’ ability to function—defy explanation by natural selection and cry out, “Design!”

As for why the Hercules beetle changes colors, two popular theories are that either the color change is a form of camouflage, or the color change improves warmth absorption at night. For now, though, the reason for this incredible feature remains a mystery to all but God.

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