Local mechanical properties of the head articulation cuticle in the beetle Pachnoda marginata (Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae).

Research paper by N N Barbakadze, S S Enders, S S Gorb, E E Arzt

Indexed on: 02 Feb '06Published on: 02 Feb '06Published in: The Journal of experimental biology


Insect exoskeleton (cuticle) has a broad range of mechanical properties depending on the function of a particular structure of the skeleton. Structure and mechanical properties of the specialised cuticle of insect joints remain largely unknown to date. We used scanning (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to obtain information about the material structure of the gula plate, the head part of the head-to-neck articulation system in the beetle Pachnoda marginata. The surface of this cuticle appears rather smooth in SEM. The fibers of the exocuticle are partly oriented almost perpendicular to the surface, which is rather unusual for arthropod cuticle. Nanoindentation experiments were performed to determine the local mechanical properties (hardness and elastic modulus) of the gula material. To understand the effect of desiccation and the influence of an outer wax layer on the mechanical behavior of the material, the samples were tested in fresh, dry and chemically treated (lipid extraction in organic solvents) conditions. Nanoindentation results were found to be strongly influenced by desiccation but only slightly by lipid extraction. Decreasing water content ( approximately 15-20% of the cuticle mass) led to an increase in hardness (from 0.1 to 0.49 GPa) and elastic modulus (from 1.5 to 7.5 GPa). The lipid extraction caused a slight further hardening (to 0.52 GPa) as well as stiffening (to 7.7 GPa) of the material. The results are discussed in relation to the mechanical function of the gula plate.