On the west part of Southern Africa is the Namib desert. This desert, one of the driest places on earth, is very unforgiving when it comes to the availability of water. The Namib desert receives under 2 centimeters of rain per year.
For the animals that live there, it’s a real fit-in-or-die situation. And while each animal has their own peculiar adaptations and behaviours geared at their survival, the Namib beetle, also known as the fogstand beetle (Stenocara gracilipes), is probably unmatched by the others.
The amazing fogstand beetle drinks water by collecting tiny droplets on its body coming in from the ocean breeze and fog in the early morning. The beetle does this by standing upside down in a semi-upright position on its long legs.
The Namib beetle’s back is highly hydrophobic, meaning that it repels water. On the back of the beetle, there are also tiny bumps that attract water droplets (hydrophilic).
When water droplets gather and condense in the hydrophilic bumps, they flatten to reduce the dragging effect of the wind on them. When they become big enough, they then flow down on the beetle’s hydrophobic back, towards its mouth.
And just like that, the Namib beetle gets water to drink in a place where others would not survive.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have tried mimicking the nature of the fogstand beetle’s back, to create a surface with alternating hydrophobic and hydrophilic materials that can be used to extract moisture from air.