Materials Fatigue and Fracture Division, Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016, China; School of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei 230026, China. Electronic address: [Email]
Operating mainly as a type of weapon, the beetle horn develops an impressive mechanical efficiency based on chitinous materials to maximize the injury to opponent and simultaneously minimize the damage to itself and underlying brain under stringent loading conditions. Here the cephalic horn of the beetle Allomyrina dichotoma is probed using multiscale characterization combined with finite element simulations to explore the origins of its biomechanical functionality from the perspective of materials science. The horn is revealed to be highly regulated from the macroscopic shape, geometry, and connection with the body to the meso- and microscopic architecture, moisture content, and chemical and structural characteristics. Varying kinds of gradients are integrated at all length-scales. Such designs are demonstrated to benefit the mechanical performance by mitigating stress concentrations, retarding crack propagation, and modulating local properties to better adapt to stress. Enhanced rigidity, robustness and stability are additionally generated from the constrained flexibility endowed by the nanocomposite plywood structure through the reorientation of chitin nanofibrils within the proteinaceous matrix. These findings shed light on the intriguing materials-design strategies of nature in creating synergy of offence and persistence. They may even offer inspiration for the synthesis of high-performance materials and structures, in particular beams to resist bending and torsion.