Being able to jump is a hugely advantageous skill out in the wilds of nature. Being able to quickly propel yourself into the air means you can jump away from something that's trying to eat you or towards something you're trying to eat. Kangaroos use jumping as their primary way of getting around, while cats use it to pounce on their prey.
In the insect world, some species have evolved remarkable abilities to accurately hurl themselves vast distances. Some of the jumping bugs I've highlighted here throw themselves the equivalent distance of a human jumping hundreds of feet in the air over the length of a football field. Engineers have learned a lot about the mechanics of robotic jumping from insects (case in point, the "Sand Flea") but they haven't begun to scratch the surface of what's possible when the mechanics of insect jumpers are translated to human-engineered devices.
Here are four insects that have mastered the art of the jump. Enjoy!
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
In 2003, researchers from the University of Cambridge in England declared a new champion in the world of insect jumpers: the froghopper. The small bug (0.2 inches long) uses a unique propulsion system to jump more than two feet in the air. Froghoppers use their bounding leaps to avoid predators and to search for food.
What's maybe even more remarkable than the length and height of their jumps is what they have to endure to make them — froghoppers accelerate from the ground with a force that is 400 times greater than gravity. (Humans jump with a force that is two to three times that of gravity, and we pass out around five G's.
The froghopper uses two large muscles to catapult itself around, literally locking its back legs down in such a way that they hold until their jumping muscles have generated enough energy to break the lock and send the insect flying through the air. This release of energy happens so fast that it proved difficult for scientists to capture it using a video camera capable of shooting 2,000 frames per second. The froghopper's jump took up exactly two of those 1/1000th of a second frames.
The guitarist shares a name with an insect rock star. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Fleas — the real ones — are one of the more well-known jumping insects and are not creatures that most people like having around. Fleas are parasites that make a living sucking blood from their host. They use their mighty jumps to get around and to hurl themselves onto new host animals. It was discovered in the '70s that fleas store up energy in their body to make jumps, but the exact mechanism wasn't actually known until recently when faster, high-speed cameras showed that they actually push off with their "toes," not their "knees," as many entomologists had believed.
Photo: Orange Leaf/flickr
The grasshopper is the insect that jumps to mind when most people think of leaping bugs. Grasshoppers have long, hinged legs that they use to both walk around and jump when needed. Although the froghopper can jump farther than the grasshopper, relative to its size, the grasshopper is still highly respected (among those who respect insects for their jumping ability) for its prodigious leaps. The muscles they use to make their jumps have been shown to have 10 times the raw power than the strongest human muscle cell. The only known muscles in the world that are stronger are the ones used by clams to shut their shells, and even then the grasshoppers muscles fire more rapidly.
Katydids look a lot like grasshoppers but they are more closely related to crickets. Like grasshoppers, katydids have large hinged legs that they use to make enormous jumps. Unlike the grasshopper, katydids typically have long antennae that can grow longer than the rest of their body. There are hundreds of species of katydids and many combine a great leaping ability with masterful camouflage, perfectly blending into their green and leafy surroundings, ready to jump away if necessary.
Have a bug for more insect stories? Check these out:
- 10 insects immortalized in macro photos
- 8 videos of docile insects relaxing with people
- 7 insects you'll be eating in the future