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Fun Fact January 6, 2020

6 January 2020


A small plant eating insect call Issus Coleoptratus, or planthopper, has interlocking gears, at least in the juvenile stage.  “To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first demonstration of functioning gears in any animal,” said study researcher Malcolm Burrows, an emeritus professor of neurobiology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.  Burrows and a colleague captured the gears’ motion using high-speed video.  As the young bug prepares to leap, it meshes the gear teeth of one leg with those of the other, like cocking a gun. Then, the insect releases its legs in one smooth, explosive motion.

Unlike other jumping or hopping insects, whose legs are off to the side, like a grasshopper, the planthoppers’ hind legs are located directly under it’s belly making it difficult to hop in a straight line.  These gears lock the small bugs’ back legs together so when they jump the legs are synchronized allowing them to jump straight.  The insect jumps from plant to plant, in particular various types of ivy’s, to extract the sugar from the plants veins.  The jump happens in a matter of microseconds and catapult the bug towards it target with significant g-forces, estimated to be greater that 500 g’s.  The discovery of these geared legs represents the first time that an insect has a mechanism that was thought to only be a man made invention.  The gears are only seen in the juvenile stage of the planthopper.  As they molt and transition into a adult, the gears are disappear and the synchronization of the jumping legs is accomplished by friction between the legs.  Evolution or intelligent design?  I know what I think.


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