Tags: insect | mechanical | gears | bug | jump
Image: Insect Mechanical Gears Help Common Garden Bug To Jump

Insect Mechanical Gears Help Common Garden Bug To Jump

By Michael Mullins   |   Friday, 13 Sep 2013 07:28 AM

The discovery of common garden bug with mechanical gears on its hind legs that help the insect to jump has dispelled the notion that such engineering feats are solely man-made and don't exist in nature.

Scientists at Cambridge University made the discovery recently by analyzing the legs of a baby Issus bug – a common plant-hopping garden insect – in high-speed video, Britain's Daily Mail reported.

The scientists observed that the Issus' hind legs interlocked via a curved strip of 10 to 12 cog-like teeth that through rotating assisted the insect prior to a jump.

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According to study author Malcolm Burrows, an emeritus professor of neurobiology at the University of Cambridge, the structures were described in 1957, however this is the first time they had been shown to be functional.

"To the best of my knowledge, it's the first demonstration of functioning gears in any animal," Burrows told LiveScience.com.

"We usually think of gears as something that we see in human designed machinery, but we’ve found that that is only because we didn’t look hard enough," Zoologist Gregory Sutton, another author of the study, told the Daily Mail. "These gears are not designed; they are evolved - representing high speed and precision machinery evolved for synchronization in the animal world."

The insect's legs move within 30 microseconds of each other every time, Burrows added. A microsecond is equivalent to a millionth of a second.
"This precise synchronization would be impossible to achieve through a nervous system, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extraordinarily tight coordination required," Burrows said.

"By developing mechanical gears, the Issus can just send nerve signals to its muscles to produce roughly the same amount of force - then if one leg starts to propel the jump the gears will interlock, creating absolute synchronicity," he added.

Only immature planthoppers, or nymph as they are called, have the cog strips. The gear-like structures are apparently lost before the insects reach adulthood.

In place of gears, adult planthoppers rely on the friction naturally produced between their legs when they jump in order to obtain the same effect, LiveScience.com noted.

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Whereas cog-like structures that resemble gears have been found in other animals, such as the shell design of a cogwheel turtle, or in the heart valves of certain reptiles, this is the first time it has been shown to function as an actual gear, the study finds.

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