To a naturalist, the wings of a cicada appear to be clear and simple structures. The transparency at the optical scale belies a complexity at the micro and nanoscale. The wing surfaces are not smooth, but contain a diverse range of micro and nano architectures. These tiny structures vary across the wing surface and among species of cicadas. With over 2000 species of cicadas world wide, structural biologists and nanotechnologists have plenty of material and variety of properties to examine. To date, wings from only a couple dozen species of cicadas have been investigated. These studies have already identified features associated with self-cleaning, anti-wetting, anti-microbial properties.
For example*, a cicada wing will readily shed water. This is adaptive for adult insects that encounter rainstorms and need to fly after the storm passes. The anti-wetting properties of the wing are due to a wax layer on the wing cuticle surface. If the wax layer of the wing is artificially removed, the wing no longer sheds water but becomes hydrophilic. Nanofabricators can make synthetic materials with anti-wetting properties by using insect nano structures as a guide.
*Mingxia Sun, Gregory S. Watson, Yongmei Zheng, Jolanta A. Watson and Aiping Liang. 2015. Wetting properties on nanostructured surfaces of cicada wings. The Journal of Experimental Biology 212, 3148-3155.