HS research team uncovers long-standing secret behind the world's strongest animal

Rhinoceros beetle in Gunung Palung National Park, Borneo. Photograph by Tim Laman

By James Owen, "Weird and Wild: Why Do Males Have Built-in Weapons?" National Geographic.

The stunning array of weaponry brandished by male animals—be they antlers, horns, mandibles, spurs, or claws—is driven by each species’ individual fighting style, scientists have revealed.

The finding, which may solve a long-standing evolutionary puzzle, is thanks to perhaps the most impressive weapons proliferator of them all, the male rhinoceros beetle—also the world’s strongest animal. 

A study of the heavily armed insects by researchers at the University of Montana, Missoula, directly linked the males’ elaborately shaped horns, which they use for jousting over females, to their method of combat.

From the antlers of a giant elk to those of a stag beetle, it’s long been suspected that different fighting styles drive weapon diversity in males, study co-author Erin McCullough noted.

“What’s exciting and new about this study is that we can actually test this hypothesis,” she said.

The study team did this by creating biomechanical models of the horns of three rhino beetle species with very distinct weaponry...

Check out Owen's article in National Geographic for the rest of the story.

For more information on similar research projects underway at UM, visit the Flight Laboratory