Photo by Artchemist
Clearly the ant’s body has served it very well for millions of years, and as we all know, size isn’t everything. If a designer were looking to use the ant exoskeleton for inspiration, some of its other qualities might be more important, like the fact that it is highly breathable, with gases passing through the shell via spiracles (this is important since ants and other insects don’t have lungs, so this is how they respirate). At the same time, the chitinous outer layer is completely waterproof, so ants can get carried away in flash floods, fall into ponds, go for a swim to find food, or get sprayed off the patio and still find their way home later. Lastly, ant bodies are very biodegradable, and don’t take much energy to produce or maintain.
A tough, waterproof but breathable and totally biodegradable material, (in shiny black!) would make an ideal packaging for fruits and veggies (which need to breathe and are often kept in plastic containers which only hasten their demise) or prepared foods, or for high-end disposable plates or silverware. Any instance where you need a breathable container that keeps water out (cell phones? bags? trendy hats?) could be a use for a material with ant exoskeleton properties. This material would be made in a lab or production facility of course — not harvested from tiny ant bodies!
Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (MNN.com)