Can we pull enough water out of the air to sustain drought-stricken places around the planet? It might help to Think Like A Tree… or a Namib Desert Beetle called the Stenocara gracilipes, who harvests water from the early morning fog in southern Africa’s arid Namib Desert:
To drink water, the S. gracilipes stands on a small ridge of sand using its long, spindly legs. Facing into the breeze, with its body angled at 45°, the beetle catches fog droplets on its hardened wings. Its head faces upwind, and its stiff, bumpy outer wings are spread against the damp breeze.
Minute water droplets (15-20 µm in diameter) from the fog gather on its wings; there the droplets stick to hydrophilic (water-loving) bumps, which are surrounded by waxy, hydrophobic troughs. Droplets flatten as they make contact with the hydrophilic surfaces, preventing them from being blown by wind and providing a surface for other droplets to attach.
Accumulation continues until the combined droplet weight overcomes the water’s electrostatic attraction to the bumps as well as any opposing force of the wind; in a 30 km/h breeze, such a droplet would stick to the wing until it grows to roughly 5 mm in diameter; at that point it will roll down the beetle’s back to its mouthparts.
Biomimicry — imitating nature’s best ideas in our design of materials, structures, and systems — has inspired us to invent and improve upon fog-catching nets, self-filling water bottles, water collection irrigation systems, and other solutions.
Read more about the Namib Desert Beetles at Wired.
Watch more from Think Like a Tree on this site, as well as this: Hydrophobic metal made with laser-etched microscopic patterns.
This Webby award-winning video collection exists to help teachers, librarians, and families spark kid wonder and curiosity. TKSST features smarter, more meaningful content than what's usually served up by YouTube's algorithms, and amplifies the creators who make that content.
Curated, kid-friendly, independently-published. Support this mission by becoming a sustaining member today.