From the scorching deserts to the dense rainforests, nature has endowed many insects and animals with remarkable abilities to regulate their body temperatures through radiative cooling. This passive and energy-efficient process allows these creatures to dissipate excess heat without relying on external energy sources, enabling them to thrive in even the harshest of environments.

Radiative Cooling in the Animal Kingdom

One of the most fascinating examples of radiative cooling in nature is the Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina). These resilient ants inhabit the blistering Sahara Desert, where temperatures can soar well above 50°C (122°F). To survive in such extreme conditions, the ants have evolved unique triangular-shaped hairs that exhibit two remarkable properties.

  • First, these hairs enhance the ants’ reflectivity in the visible and near-infrared regions of the solar spectrum, minimizing the absorption of solar radiation and preventing overheating.
  • Second, the hairs possess high emissivity in the mid-infrared atmospheric window (8-13 μm), allowing the ants to efficiently radiate their body heat to the cold outer space.

This dual-scale microstructure, consisting of triangular prisms adorned with microscopic pleats, enables the Saharan silver ants to maintain their body temperatures up to 10°C (18°F) below the scorching desert surface, a remarkable feat of thermal regulation.

Radiative Cooling in Insects

Insects, too, have mastered the art of radiative cooling. The tropical longicorn beetle (Neocerambyx gigas), native to Southeast Asia, boasts a striking golden brilliance that belies its ability to stay cool in the sweltering heat. Like the Saharan silver ant, the longicorn beetle’s forewings are covered in densely packed fluffs with a triangular cross-section and corrugated facets.

These dual-scale structures reflect a significant portion of solar radiation while simultaneously enhancing the beetle’s mid-infrared emissivity, enabling it to radiate excess heat effectively. This natural cooling system allows the longicorn beetle to thrive in the intense heat of its volcanic habitats, where ground temperatures can exceed 70°C (158°F).

Beyond insects, other creatures, such as the Goliathus goliatus beetle and the Curetis acuta butterfly, have also evolved intricate microstructures that facilitate radiative cooling, further underscoring nature’s ingenuity in thermal regulation.

Biomimetic Radiative Cooling Materials

Inspired by these natural marvels, researchers have developed biomimetic radiative cooling materials that mimic the microstructures found in insects and animals. By incorporating photonic architectures and embedding resonant dielectric particles, these bioinspired materials can achieve high solar reflectivity and high mid-infrared emissivity, enabling efficient passive cooling even under direct sunlight.

Biological optics, photonics and bioinspired radiative cooling

These biomimetic materials not only offer promising solutions for energy-efficient cooling in buildings, electronics, and various other applications but also serve as a testament to the invaluable lessons nature has to offer in the pursuit of sustainable and innovative technologies.

As we continue to explore the wonders of the natural world, we may uncover even more ingenious thermal regulation strategies employed by Earth’s diverse inhabitants, further expanding our understanding and inspiring new frontiers in radiative cooling and energy-efficient technologies.