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J Morphol. 2011 Apr;272(4):442-51. doi: 10.1002/jmor.10921. Epub 2011 Feb 2.

Dry under water: comparative morphology and functional aspects of air-retaining insect surfaces.

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Departement of Biology, Nees Institute for Biodiversity of Plants, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University of Bonn, 53115 Bonn, Germany.


Superhydrophobic surfaces prevent certain body parts of semiaquatic and aquatic insects from getting wet while submerged in water. The air layer on these surfaces can serve the insects as a physical gill. Using scanning electron microscopy, we investigated the morphology of air-retaining surfaces in five insect species with different levels of adaptation to aquatic habitats. We found surfaces with either large and sparse hairs (setae), small and dense hairs (microtrichia), or hierarchically structured surfaces with both types of hairs. The structural parameters and air-film persistence of these surfaces were compared. Air-film persistence varied between 2 days in the beetle Galerucella nymphaea possessing only sparse setae and more than 120 days in the bugs Notonecta glauca and Ilyocoris cimicoides possessing dense microtrichia (up to 6.6 × 10(6) microtrichia per millimeter square). From our results, we conclude that the density of the surface structures is the most important factor that affects the persistence of air films. Combinations of setae and microtrichia are not decisive for the overall persistence of the air film but might provide a thick air store for a short time and a thin but mechanically more stable air film for a long time. Thus, we assume that a dense cover of microtrichia acts as a "backup system" preventing wetting of the body surface in case the air-water interface is pressed toward the surface. Our findings might be beneficial for the development of biomimetic surfaces for long-term air retention and drag reduction under water. In addition, the biological functions of the different air retention capabilities are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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