When the Tenebrionind´s played evolution

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By Moongateclimber (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons FOTO:
11/12/14 12:19 Patricia Sainz de Robredo

Maybe you are not interested in beetles. Most probably you´ve never considered what their role in this planet is. Perhaps, when someone talks about evolution you just turn your eyes to the sky and start thinking of Darwin, great apes and how it is all connected. But nature has a strange way of playing its cards and sometimes the smallest and most unknown little animal can open a new spectrum of research and of the future.

Some beetles of the Tenebrionind family live in the Namib dessert. An inhospitable place somewhere in the southwest of Africa where sand, sun and heat means only one thing: water scarcity. In this unpleasant environment, these insects have found their way to collect water not only from fog and microdroplets floating in the air, but also from dew. Some species of this family, which are known in the region as Tok-tokkies, have paved their own way in evolution and developed a nanostructure as a micro condenser that helps them, in among droughts and lack of any fog, to get the water they need to survive.

This incredibly complex and tiny mechanism is not only a great proof of what adaptation and evolution means to all species in the planet, but it also implies moving a step closer to harvesting dew to obtain drinking water from the humidity in the air. José Guadarrama-Cetina with two other researchers from the University of Navarra in an international collaboration involving researchers from French and British institutions believe that this apparently simple breakthrough could help to improve drinking water collection in dew condensers mimicking the nanostructure of the beetle´s back.

Twenty-first century human-made dew harvesters should include the three main ingredients these beetles are showing to us: an enhanced and efficient radiative cooling, a microstructured surface and a hilly back as a wind-shield, combined in an optimal way. Fields like engineering and architecture would benefit from this research and become more sustainable.

How your everyday life is connected with an insect that lives in the other side of the world is still a mystery… or not. But one thing we know for sure, the Tenebrionind´s will never be the same.

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