Oxford biologist Dr. Andrew Parker and Dr. Chris Lawrence of QinetiQ were studying tenebrionid (Stenocara) beetles in the barren Namibian Desert when they discovered the shell of these insects has a bumpy surface texture. Further research showed how these hydrophilic bumps surrounded by hydrophobic troughs allowed the beetles to collect water from fog in order to survive in such an arid environment. On a foggy morning, a beetle will face the wind and adopt a unique posture with its back in the air. Water carried in on the fog sticks to the bumps, eventually forming droplets. When the droplets are large enough, they roll into the troughs and down to the beetle’s mouth. Researchers have designed a material surface that mimics this fog-catching strategy. The materials inspired by these beetles have many potential uses, including tent coverings and roof tiles for collecting water from fog in regions lacking access to fresh water.
According to the World Water Management Institute, over 1/3 of the human population is affected by water scarcity. Projections show that, without improvements, by 2025 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity. Additionally, 2/3 of the world population could be under stress conditions. Several prototypes of these beetle-inspired materials have been created thus far, and have shown to be more effective than “net harvesting” and other traditional methods for collecting water from fog.