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5 Remarkable and Formidable Horny Skeletons

Strong, tough, resilient and an exceptionally impressive evolutionary adaptation welcomes the masters that are compressed, flexed and composed of horny skeletons. Working like a personalized body of armour – powerful and protective delivers us a wide range of revolutionary horny species.

ExoSkeletons that are Tough

ExoSkeletons – so its sound strange to think that an animals body is supported and protected by a skeleton on the outside instead of in? In fact this is a rather popular usage of skeleton across the animal kingdom and is often seen as shells. Appearing in the fossil record 550 millions ago, exoskeletons have played a massive role in the explosion of many invertebrates.

Skeletons

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Arthropods are the most diverse and common species to host horny exoskeletons and the marvelous substance behind it is – chitin. Chitin is light, translucent, strong and supple. In the natural world no substance compares to it, except man made plastic. Chitin is a polysaccharide, also known as a carbohydrate consisting of glucose-like sugar units and brings many advantages…

Structure and Layering

A typical exoskeleton of an animal consists of several layers, but here are the most important.  The outermost layer (epicuticle) is one of the most significant and acts as armour. It is a barrier to the outside world – cleverly repelling microbes, reducing water loss, holding out in fights and prevents physical day to day wear. Impressive aye? The epicuticle is formed from chitin fibers and mineral crystals all perfectly embedded in a variable matrix of proteins in order to provide such quality of protection. The epidermis beneath this is the layer of living cells that manufacture the above layer. Beneath this is the basement membrane which is responsible for providing firm support with fibers of the protein collagen. All of these layers along with others work together to perform a well managed tough skeleton.

Relative proportions, compositions and strengths of these layers diverge between arthropod species – the reason why we see many strange and glorified body parts.

1. Rhinoceros Beetle

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The rhinoceros beetle is an exceptional example of being encased in pristine black armour. Its touch exoskeleton covers and protects its whole body. The horn that pierces from its head is formed from thickened, stiff cuticle and forms into three long points that look like a rhinoceros’s horn. These horns are used for variety purposes: digging holes in the ground for shelter, fighting against other males during competition of breeding with a female and foraging through the heavy rotting littered floor of rainforests.

A pair of thick wings lay atop another set of membranous wings underneath, allowing the rhino beetle to fly. However, due to its large size and horny wings they are very great at the job. Now these beetles are a mere 2 – 2.5 inches long and weight less than a single ounce so nothing past the further bug life activities could be achieved right? Wrong. Despite being little in size and weight the rhino beetle is actually the strongest living animal on earth. The rhino beetle in proportion can carry weight 850 times than itself. Due to such a triumph in nature the rhino beetle has also took the name of the Hercules beetle.

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The rhinoceros beetle has been an amazing inspiration of nature – during the 1940’s the tough rounded beetle shape inspired the German car manufacturer Volkswagen to produce one of the world’s most popular family cars, the VW beetle. The car’s tough outer shell, just like that of a beetle helped it to achieve a good safety record and it is undeniable that when spotted on the motorway is an amazing enlargement of the beautifully armoured rhinoceros beetle.

2. Caterpillar

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Caterpillars are garden favourites and often caught insects within children’s hands. Consisting of big heads and strong jaws- just like the famous caterpillar book, they are easily capable of snipping through large qualities of food. Their long soft bodies are divided into thirteen segments and the thin slender body cuticle is the key behind the flexibility and changing shapes of these segments. A lot of species like the Five-spotted Hawk moth caterpillar contains a spine or horn at the tip of the abdomen to aid with balance. Tipping the end of each segment is a ring of crochets (hooks) that are essential for holding on to stems and leaves.

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Here is a little impressive fact about the caterpillar. Unlike most growing organisms, the number of cells that make up the caterpillars body never increases as the body grows from a newly hatched larva to a large caterpillar that is ready to pupate. This is very impressive considering that caterpillars grow approximately 27,000 times its size during its lifecycle. In humans this would be an obesity issue, but with caterpillars it’s imperative for survival.

3. Japanese Spider Crab

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Japanese spider crabs are extremely feared in appearance, with 10 huge spider like looking legs and 2 equipped with rusting claws these creepy crawlers of ocean floors are piercing and fearful specimens to the eyes when observed in nature collections and aquariums. Living in the exciting waters of Japan, its holds the record for the largest leg span of any arthropod reaching up to a daunting 3.8 meters!

The Japanese spider crab is one of the many aquatic arthropods where the chitin and protein in their exoskeleton is accompanied by minerals – especially chalky crystals of calcium carbonate. These manufacture the shell to a harder consistency for exceptional protection. These minerals also make the weight of the shell heavier -but as an aquatic species the weight is less of a hindrance as it becomes supported by water. The only weak parts across spider crabs are where the exoskeleton shell thins out at the joints.

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Spider crabs share a remarkable behaviour to snakes – moulting. During the few hours after each moult, the soft new cuticle enlarges rapidly before it hardens. At this time the crab’s body is extremely soft as it takes hours to harden, so the crab has to find somewhere productive enough to hide away due to the increased vulnerability against predators until its new shell is ready.

4. Centipedes

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Centipedes are terrestrial arthropods globally famous for their many many many legs. Each of their numerous body segments carries one or two pairs and the trail of them can be endless. Their heads have biting mandibles and a single pair of antenna. The elongated and flattened exoskeletons of the centipede holds a trunk of at least 16 segments which means lots of legs and exposed body parts, so the exoskeletons duty is to protect the body like a shield.

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The cuticle of the centipede is unique and provides tiny openings. These are used for the centipede to breath by inhaling gases directly from the atmosphere, through the openings of the cuticle and into the body. With such a well manufactured line of protection, many centipedes hold no limits to what they can tackle with minimal damage, allowing a fair few species to evolve into carnivores. A popular example – the Red Giant centipede is a forest dwelling carnivore. With advance antenna to sick out prey and the use of their eerie long legs to scuttle quickly over grounds, they soon catch up with invertebrate prey and with large mandibles pin them down – escape is confidently impossible.

5. Jewel Wasps

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A jewel wasp hosts a beautifully green to blue insect exoskeleton consisting of three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. The Jewel wasp’s horny exoskeleton is very hard and dimpled compared to other insects to protect them from bee and wasp stings. The exquisiteness of the bright metallic blues, greens, red or magnificent combinations of all is often missed due to their miniscule size, (0.2 – 2cm) but species of jewel wasps across North Australia can be very large. The abdomen is hollow underneath, allowing the wasp to curl up if due an attack to reduce and protect the body area exposed to the wasp’s sting. This wasp is very famous for its unusual reproductive behaviour which involved stinging a cockroach and using it as a host for its larvae to live and feed on.

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There are many extravagant variations of horny Skeletons spread far and wide across waters, lands and even air. Some are brightly painted like the jewel wasp, whilst others are built for sheer protection (rhinoceros beetle) and others to become a formidable predator (centipede). Different variations support and boost diverging behaviour and unique forms of protecting skeletons. Becoming an influence from nature to humanity of the design of cars to soldiers armour displays the exceptional intelligence and reaping benefits of bearing uniquely formed horny exoskeletons.

Around the Web

  • samantha

    Talk about protection! The rhino beetle is the best one. Cant believe its the strongest in the world!!

  • Tony

    This is yet another great article by you Emma. Quite fascinating, and not something one might ever have thought about otherwise, Keep up the excellent work.

  • Daniel

    Awesome work so amazing well done :D

  • errr……Frank

    good work!!

  • Marmaduke

    Very interesting…you should totally have this job above anyone else….

  • http://www.devonholidayguide.co.uk Devon Hotels

    Great information…..its interesting and knowledgeable article.
    Because of this I must avoid some of them ’cause they harm us.

  • JP

    Just stumbled across this and its an amazing read, a very unique topic to write about and written brilliantly, Horseshoe crabs are not of this planet im sure of it, aliens from long ago. Always great to read your work :)

  • http://twitter.com/wrightmary10 mary wright

    that is just gros
    i dont like these bugs thy are gros

  • http://twitter.com/wrightmary10 mary wright

    write back soon

  • http://twitter.com/wrightmary10 mary wright

    i do like them

  • http://twitter.com/wrightmary10 mary wright

    i was just playing around when i sead i didt like them :) <3 <3