THE north African desert scorpion, Androctonus australis, is a hardy creature. Most animals that live in deserts dig burrows to protect themselves from the sand-laden wind. Not Androctonus. It usually toughs things out at the surface. Yet when the sand whips by at speeds that would strip paint away from steel, the scorpion is able to scurry off without apparent damage. Han Zhiwu of Jilin University, in China, and his colleagues wondered why.
Their curiosity is not just academic. Aircraft engines and helicopter rotor-blades are constantly abraded by atmospheric dust, and a way of slowing down this abrasion would be welcome. Dr Han suspects that scorpions may provide an answer. As he writes in Langmuir, he has discovered that the surface of Androctonus’s exoskeleton is odd. And when that oddness is translated into other materials it seems to protect them, as well.