Video: Why Don't Jumping Bugs Break Their Legs?

Credit: Courtesy of Gabriella Bonsignori

If your feet ache after a long day, just be glad you're not a green leafhopper (Cicadella viridis). When the small insect jumps between plants, it applies enough force to its spindly hind legs to snap them in half. Wondering how leafhoppers avoid these expected fractures during their powerful leaps, a team of scientists used a high-speed camera to film the bugs at the moment of takeoff. By analyzing the footage (above), the researchers discovered that leafhoppers rotate a part of their legs while gearing up for a jump, thereby distributing the stress more equally throughout the limb and creating a safe, constant force between their feet and the leaf launch pad. This precision movement allows the insects to accelerate at a near constant rate of 152 meters per second squared while keeping their fragile limbs intact, the team reports online today in The Journal of Experimental Biology. Next up? Using the clever mechanics of the leafhopper leg to build better jumping robots.

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*Correction, 15 March: The green leafhopper accelerated at a near constant rate of 152 meters per second squared, not 152 meters per second as originally reported.