Sunday, 5 July 2015

Why insects are marvels of engineering

Insects solve some pretty wacky biological problems, says Dr Gregory Sutton.

And he should know. For almost a decade, he has been using high-speed cameras to reveal the secrets of the most acrobatic of the world's invertebrates.

Along with his colleagues at the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge, he is working out how fleas, locusts and even praying mantises take to the air. He presented some of his latest work at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual meeting in Prague on Thursday.

One of the problems these super-jumpers have is that to use a jump as an evasive manoeuvre, they must accelerate in a very short space of time.

A flea, for example, releases the energy in its legs in one thousandth of a second. A more robust grasshopper manages the feat in 30 thousandths of a second.

"There's a problem in how much energy a muscle can produce," explains Dr Sutton, "and the way they solve it is the same way we solve it with a bow and arrow."

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