Insect cuticle is one of the most common biological materials, yet very little is known about its mechanical properties. Many parts of the insect exoskeleton, such as the jumping legs of locusts, have to withstand high and repeated loading without failure. This paper presents the first measurements of fracture toughness for insect cuticle using a standard engineering approach. Our results show that the fracture toughness of cuticle in locust hind legs is 4.12 MPa m1/2 and decreases with desiccation of the cuticle. Stiffness and strength of the tibia cuticle were measured using buckling and cantilever bending and increased with desiccation. A combination of the cuticle’s high toughness with a relatively low stiffness of 3.05 GPa results in a work of fracture of 5.56 kJ m–2, which is amongst the highest of any biological material, giving the insect leg an exceptional ability to tolerate defects such as cracks and damage. Interestingly, insect cuticle achieves these unique properties without using reinforcement by a mineral phase, which is often found in other biological composite materials. These findings thus might inspire the development of new biomimetic composite materials.
This study was financially supported by a postdoctoral fellowship of the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) to J.-H.D.
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