Scuba divers can explore underwater depths firsthand because of specialized equipment that was developed in just the last century. Likewise, solar-powered airplanes currently in development promise to provide fuel-free flying. These inventions open new realms for human exploration, but the arachnid and insect equivalents of their equipment have been on the planet for ages.
Scuba is a stand-alone word today, but it began as the acronym for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus,” so named because it supplies breathable air underwater. An early version called the aqualung was engineered in part by the late Jacques Cousteau in 1943, based on an even earlier prototype. Modern scuba equipment is the result of several engineered refinements.
But it turns out that certain spiders had been master divers long before Cousteau. The diving bell spider is able to attach an air bubble to its abdomen and use it underwater for gas exchange. A LiveScience article described how these unique arachnids build underwater webs in ponds and then stock them with a pocket of air.1 A recent study found that the spiders could stay underwater “for more than a day,” which surprised the researchers.2
In a similar context, Tel Aviv University scientists tried to discover why Oriental hornets were more active when sunlight was most intense. They found that these creatures actually convert ultraviolet light into usable electric power using microscopic grooves in their dark brown stripes, tiny pinholes in the yellow stripes, and the pigments melanin (brown) and xanthopterin (yellow). The authors of the study published in the journalNaturwissenschaften wrote, “The cuticle surfaces are structured to reduced reflectance and act as diffraction gratings to trap light and increase the amount absorbed in the cuticle.”3….
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