Role of Surface Chemistry in the Superhydrophobicity of the Springtail Orchesella cincta (Insecta:Collembola)

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


  • Lars Schmüser
  • Wen Zhang, Max-Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz
  • ,
  • Michael Thomas Marx, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
  • ,
  • Noemi Encinas, Max-Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz
  • ,
  • Doris Vollmer, Max-Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz
  • ,
  • Stanislav Gorb, Kiel University
  • ,
  • Joe E. Baio, Oregon State University
  • ,
  • Hans Joachim Räder, Max-Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz
  • ,
  • Tobias Weidner

Collembola are ancient arthropods living in soil with extensive exposure to dirt, bacteria, and fungi. To protect from the harsh environmental conditions and to retain a layer of air for breathing when submerged in water, they have evolved a superhydrophobic, liquid-repelling cuticle surface. The nonfouling and self-cleaning properties of springtail cuticle make it an interesting target of biomimetic materials design. Recent research has mainly focused on the intricate microstructures at the cuticle surface. Here we study the role of the cuticle chemistry for the Collembola species Orchesella cincta (Collembola, Entomobryidae). O. cincta uses a relatively simple cuticle structure with primary granules arranged to function as plastrons. In contrast to the Collembolan cuticle featuring structures on multiple length scales that is functional irrespective of surface chemistry, we found that the O. cincta cuticle loses its hydrophobic properties after being rinsed with dichloromethane. Sum frequency generation spectroscopy and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry show that a nanometer thin triacylglycerol-containing wax layer at the cuticle surface is essential for maintaining the antiwetting properties. Removal of the wax layer exposes chitin, terpenes, and lipid layers in the cuticle. With respect to biomimetic applications, the results show that, combined with a carefully chosen surface chemistry, superhydrophobicity may be achieved using a relatively unsophisticated surface structure rather than a complex, re-entrant surface structure alone.

Original languageEnglish
JournalACS applied materials & interfaces
Pages (from-to)12294-12304
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

    Research areas

  • biomimicry, cuticle, NEXAFS spectroscopy, sum frequency generation, ToF-SIMS spectroscopy, triacylglycerol

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