This legless insect can jump 30 times its body length | Science

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This legless insect can jump 30 times its body length | Science

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—U.S. figure skater Nathan Chen may wow crowds with his endless quadruple jumps, but the Olympic hopeful can’t hold a candle to the legless gall midge larva (Asphondylia sp). The 3-millimeter-long larva—which startled scientists when it started hopping out of its lab dishes—plants its rear end on the ground, slides its head toward its nether regions, and latches its body into a loop, which it then flattens by shifting fluids inside its body. After enough pressure builds up, the midge releases the latch, straightens, and flies into the air at 1 meter per second for a jump as much as 30 times its body length. On a human scale, that distance would be 60 meters. (Consider: The current long jump record is less than 9 meters, with a running start.) Researchers discovered the feat with super–high-speed video cameras that shot 20,000 frames per second. The secret to the midge’s success is power amplification—the ability to build up force and then release it all at once, they report here today at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. It’s like an archer pulling back a bowstring, temporarily storing the energy for shooting the arrow in the elastic string. No one knows yet why the midge larva jumps—until it matures into a fly, it never leaves its home, an abnormal growth on a type of goldenrod called silverrod. But documenting its Olympian performance could help scientists understand the movements of similar larval flies—and design better robots.

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