Capillary-based static self-assembly in higher organisms

Abstract : Organized structures produced by dynamic self-assembly are often observed in animal groups. Static self-assembly, however, has to date only been observed at the cellular and sub-cellular levels. The aim of this study was to analyse organized structures in immobile whirligig beetle groups on the water surface. We used theoretical and computational approaches to model the meniscus around whirligig beetles and to calculate the surface energy for configurations involving two beetles. Theoretical predictions were then tested using live insects and resin casts. Observations were also made for three and more casts. The meniscus of whirligig beetles had a bipolar shape with two concave parts. For two beetles , predicted configurations based on energy minima corresponded to beetles in contact by their extremities, forming lines and arrows, and agreed well with observations. Experimental results for three and more beetle casts revealed new geometrical arrangements similar to those obtained with colloids at interfaces. This study provides the first example of static self-assembly at the inter-organism level and shows importance of capillary interactions in such formations. We identify the ecological context in which our findings are of importance.
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Jonathan Voise, Michael Schindler, Jérôme Casas, Elie Raphaël. Capillary-based static self-assembly in higher organisms. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the Royal Society, 2011, 8 (62), pp.1357-1366. ⟨10.1098/rsif.2010.0681 ⟩. ⟨hal-01310114⟩

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