Molecular Organization of the Nanoscale Surface Structures of the Dragonfly Hemianax papuensis Wing Epicuticle

Elena P. Ivanova, Song Ha Nguyen, Hayden K. Webb, Jafar Hasan, Vi Khanh Truong, Robert N. Lamb, Xiaofei Duan, Mark J. Tobin, Peter J. Mahon, Russell J. Crawford

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The molecular organization of the epicuticle (the outermost layer) of insect wings is vital in the formation of the nanoscale surface patterns that are responsible for bestowing remarkable functional properties. Using a combination of spectroscopic and chromatographic techniques, including Synchrotron-sourced Fourier-transform infrared microspectroscopy (FTIR), x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) depth profiling and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS), we have identified the chemical components that constitute the nanoscale structures on the surface of the wings of the dragonfly, Hemianax papuensis. The major components were identified to be fatty acids, predominantly hexadecanoic acid and octadecanoic acid, and n-alkanes with even numbered carbon chains ranging from C14 to C30. The data obtained from XPS depth profiling, in conjunction with that obtained from GCMS analyses, enabled the location of particular classes of compounds to different regions within the epicuticle. Hexadecanoic acid was found to be a major component of the outer region of the epicuticle, which forms the surface nanostructures, and was also detected in deeper layers along with octadecanoic acid. Aliphatic compounds were detected throughout the epicuticle, and these appeared to form a third discrete layer that was separate from both the inner and outer epicuticles, which has never previously been reported.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere67893
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


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