Bugs use a variety of amazing technologies to build their homes, catch their
prey and process their food. Scientists often attempt to copy some of these
technologies, very often with limited success as the processes involved are not
Honey is an insect-made substance that humans have always craved. Honeybees
collect the nectar from flowers with their long, tube-like tongues. The bees
‘chew’ the nectar in the hive for about half an hour, converting it to honey.
It is then spread throughout the honeycombs where water evaporates from it,
making it thicker. It takes about 2 million flowers and 200,000 kilometres in
flight to make a single kilogram of honey.
The complex compounds in substances produced by bugs have always been of great
interest to medicine. Many insects synthesise defensive toxins or take toxins
from their diet to store in their bodies. They use these substances to deter
predators and combat infection and parasites. Some of these insect-derived
substances have been used for years to treat illness and save lives. Bee venom,
for example, is used to treat rheumatism and arthritis, and an extract from the
Blister Beetle called cantharidin, is used to treat urinogenital diseases.
Scientists interested in robotics have discovered that the incredible speed and
agility of insects is mostly a consequence of their amazing design. Cockroaches
are particularly agile and fast and a new breed of robots mimics their
remarkable body design. The robots have six legs with flexible joints, and are
equipped with muscles that work in the same way as those of real cockroaches.
They could be used to explore areas where it is too dangerous for humans, such
as in minefields, underground or even other planets.
Spider silk is designed to catch fast-moving flies without snapping. It is
therefore flexible and highly elastic. Materials scientists would love to be
able to use this amazing natural substance, but are yet to fully understand it.
Spider silk starts off as a liquid which spiders exude from special nozzles at
the end of their abdomen, called spinnerets. As the liquid silk emerges, it
turns into a solid sticky thread. It can be fifty times thinner than a human
hair, yet, for its size, the thread is stronger than steel.