Naturwissenschaften

, Volume 95, Issue 1, pp 17–23 | Cite as

Insect mandibles—comparative mechanical properties and links with metal incorporation

  • Bronwen W. Cribb
  • Aaron Stewart
  • Han Huang
  • Rowan Truss
  • Barry Noller
  • Ronald Rasch
  • Myron P. Zalucki
Original Paper

Abstract

A number of arthropod taxa contain metals in their mandibles (jaws), such as zinc, manganese, iron, and calcium. The occurrence of zinc and its co-located halogen chlorine have been studied in relation to the mechanical properties and shown to be linked in a direct fashion with increasing concentration. Hardness along with elastic modulus (stiffness) has also been linked to zinc and halogen concentration in some marine polychaete worms. The metal appears to be incorporated within the biological matrix, possibly bonding with proteins. However, the comparative advantage of metal inclusion has not been tested. It is possible that without metals, alternative mechanisms are used to achieve hardness of equal value in similar ‘tools’ such as mandibles. This question has direct bearing on the significance of metal hardening. In the present article, we compare across mandibles from six termite species, including samples with major zinc concentration, minor manganese, and no metals. Nanoindentation, electron microscopy, and electron microanalysis are used to assess metal concentration, form, and mechanical properties. The data demonstrate that termite mandibles lacking metals when fully developed have lower values for hardness and elastic modulus. Zinc is linked to a relative 20% increase in hardness when compared with mandibles devoid of metals. The similar transition metal, manganese, found in minor concentrations, is not linked to any significant increase in these mechanical properties. This raises the question of the function of manganese, which is as commonly found in insect mandibles as zinc and often located in the same mandibles.

Keywords

Coptotermes Mastotermes Cryptotermes Isoptera Young’s modulus 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bronwen W. Cribb
    • 1
    • 2
  • Aaron Stewart
    • 2
    • 3
  • Han Huang
    • 4
  • Rowan Truss
    • 4
  • Barry Noller
    • 3
  • Ronald Rasch
    • 1
  • Myron P. Zalucki
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Microscopy and MicroanalysisThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Integrative BiologyThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.National Research Centre for Environmental ToxicologyBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.School of EngineeringThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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