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Humidity changes exoskeleton color: Hercules beetle

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Color change in Hercules beetle / Sogang Unive.. / LicenseCopyright - All Rights Reserved

The exoskeleton of the Hercules beetle changes from green to black with increasing humidity using thin film interference by reversible modification of layer thickness.

"The Hercules beetle, Dynastes Hercules [sic] L., can change the colour of its elytra—horny fore-wings—from black to greenish yellow and back again to black all within a few minutes. It does this in a way previously unknown among insects. Apart from the reversible migrations of pigment granules in the iris cells, physiological or rapidly reversible colour changes are very rare in insects. Among beetles, CoptocycliaAspidomorpha, and many other Cassidinae can change the colour of their elytra by varying the amount of water in the cuticle and thereby the thickness of the thin films responsible for the interference colours." (Hinton and Jarman 1972:160)

"The elytra from dry specimens of the hercules beetle, Dynastes hercules appear khaki-green in a dry atmosphere and turn black passively under high humidity levels. New scanning electron images, spectrophotometric measurements and physical modelling are used to unveil the mechanism of this colouration switch. The visible dry-state greenish colouration originates from a widely open porous layer located 3μm below the cuticle surface. The structure of this layer is three-dimensional, with a network of filamentary strings, arranged in layers parallel to the cuticle surface and stiffening an array of strong cylindrical pillars oriented normal to the surface. Unexpectedly, diffraction plays a significant role in the broadband colouration of the cuticle in the dry state. The backscattering caused by this layer disappears when water infiltrates the structure and weakens the refractive index differences." (Rassart et al. 2008:1)

"The visible dry-state greenish coloration originates from a open porous layer located at 3 μm below the cuticle surface. This layer has three-dimensional photonic crystal structures, which are a network of filamentary strings, arranged in layers parallel to the cuticle surface [Fig. 1d]. In dry state, nanosized holes in the layer are occupied with air (refractive index 1) but the empty holes are filled with water (refractive index 1.33) under high humidity. The change in refractive index with respect to the humidity level induces the variation in the visible color." (Kim et al. 2010:103701-1)
About the inspiring organism
Med_herculesbeetlecolorchange Dynastes hercules
Dynastes hercules Linnaeus, 1758

Habitat(s): Forest
Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: Scarabs: World Scarabaeidae Database
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

IUCN Red List Status: Unknown

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Humidity sensor with color display.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Architecture, manufacturing, quality control

Laboratoire de Physique du Solide
Marie Rassart, Jean-Pol Vigneron, Jean-Fran├žois Colomer
University of Namur
Hinton, HE; Jarman, GM. 1972. Physiological color change in the Hercules beetle. Nature. 238: 160-161.
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Rassart, M; Colomer, J-F; Tabarrant, T; Vigneron, JP. 2008. Diffractive hygrochromic effect in the cuticle of the hercules beetle Dynastes hercules. New Journal of Physics. 10(033014): 14 pp.
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Kim JH; Moon JH; Lee S-Y; Park J. 2010. Biologically inspired humidity sensor based on three-dimensional photonic crystals. Applied Physics Letters. 97: 103701-1 - 102701-3.
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about 1 year ago
Thanks for pointing out another relevant Function, Karel, it's been added to this strategy.
about 1 year ago
I find this quite funny because when I was in 7th grade my science teacher failed me on my science project about the color chang of dynastes tityus, she claimed it had no scientific value
about 1 year ago
I would say this is also an example of the Taxonomic Function : Process Information - Sense signals/environmental cues - Atmospheric conditions.
over 7 years ago
Thanks to Ille C. Gebeshuber for contributing this strategy. The question is, why does the Hercules beetle change color in response to humidity? A paper Ille recommended, "Diffractive hygrochromic effect in the cuticle of the hercules beetle Dynastes hercules" by Rassart et al. in New Journal of Physics 10 (2008) 033014 (14pp) gives several ideas, but then comes up with reasons why those are questionable.
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