Jumping Insect Uses ‘Gears,’ Proving They Exist in Nature
Gear-like structures previously found were ornamental — but these catapult-like mechanisms are a rare example of human engineering converging with evolution.
A jumping insect has gears, scientists discovered, a rare instance in which man and nature independently converged on the same idea.
It was not easy to verify. The planthopper (Issus coleoptratus) is tiny, just a bit larger than a flea. And it jumps extremely fast — with an acceleration of 200 Gs, a level close to the highest ever survived by a human.
But neurobiologist Malcolm Burrows and engineer Gregory Sutton, both of the University of Cambridge, used a high-speed camera attached to a microscope to capture the bugs in action. They put their tiny subjects on their backs on sticky wax and gently rubbed their bellies to provoke them to jump.
They found the insects have toothed gears at the base of their hind legs that inter-mesh and rotate to perfectly synchronize the timing of each limb’s release during a jump.
“It’s remarkable that these gears look so similar to the gears man has designed, even the individual teeth are so similar,” said Burrows, author of the study that was published online in the journal Science this week.