Mechanical properties of calcified exoskeleton from the neotropical millipede, Nyssodesmus python.

Research paper by Brendan J BJ Borrell

Indexed on: 27 Jan '05Published on: 27 Jan '05Published in: Journal of Insect Physiology


The calcified exoskeleton of millipedes plays a crucial role in resisting large forces developed during burrowing locomotion. I measured morphological and mechanical properties of cuticle from the neotropical forest floor millipede, Nyssodesmus python (Diplopoda: Polydesmidae), which ranges in body mass from 2 to 7 g. Scaling of thickness of the cuticle with respect to body mass followed predictions of geometric similarity. Both fracture strength and Young's modulus increased with body mass in females but not in males. In spite of their smaller size, male millipedes were still stronger, on average, than female millipedes. Mean fracture strength of millipede cuticle was 124 MPa, and Young's modulus was 17 GPa. Both of these values exceed measurements from typical insect cuticle, suggesting that calcium salts may play a role in stiffening and strengthening the millipede exoskeleton. Because of the high density of calcified millipede cuticle (1660 kg/m3), stiffness and strength relative to body weight remain comparable to values for other insect cuticles. These results corroborate a previous hypothesis that absolute not specific strength and stiffness have been selective factors in the evolution of millipede cuticle, and that bulkiness of the exoskeleton has been minimized through the deposition of calcium salts.