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Pictures courtesy of Professor Serge Berthier.

Picture courtesy of Dr Stuart Brewer (Dstl)


Insects on land have to deal with water, particularly when it rains. After seeing how deadly the surface tension of water is to insects, with the pond skater and water boatman living almost entirely on flying insects that get stuck at the surface of the pond, it might seem surprising that any insects can survive in the rain. Many insects hide at the first sign of rain, but some of the larger insects do not. They can do this because they are large enough to stay flying if hit by a single raindrop. Usually their surfaces are superhydrophobic so they do not retain water and become heavy. A recent study of butterflies shows that the scale structures (see the picture in the top right) that create their colours (click here for a New Scientist article) also generate superhydrophobicity and directional shedding of water (click here for more details). Removing the scales, by damage or mutation, reduces the lifespan of the insects. More about the principles of directional water shedding can be found here.