Nature Invented Inter-meshing Gears On Legs of Insects


Nature, wonderful inventor that it is, developed inter-meshing gears long before man did. The teeny-tiny planthopper  is the creature who ended up benefiting from this genetic twist of fate. Though it’s almost as small as a flea, this insect has a very fast jump, accelerating up to 200 Gs. That is a G force near the level of the highest level a human has ever survived.

The gears with the inter-meshing teeth occur on the planthopper’s back legs, and they enable the insect to accomplish their super-fast, super-powerful jumps, according to a recently published study on these amazing creatures in the journal Science.

To film the bugs as they were jumping, University of Cambridge researchers Malcolm Burrows (a neurobiologist) and Gregory Sutton (an engineer) used a high-speed camera that they rigged up to a microscope.

By examining them closely when they put the planthoppers on their back onto wax that was sticky, the two researchers involved the study noticed that they had small toothed gears on their back legs where they join up to their bodies. The gears mesh and rotate and allow the planthoppers to time the release of their jumps perfectly.

According to the study’s author, Burrows,the specialized gears allow the insects to jump both faster and for longer distances than other insects lacking such gears can jump.  1.13723_SCIENCE_burrows5HR

The inter-meshing teeth on the gears the researchers discovered on the planthopper’s back legs help it in escaping from any potential predators that would like to make a snack out of it. The extra speed and distance gained could be what separates the quick from the dead.

Like the string of a bow pulled taut, the hind legs of the insect are cocked, and when their energy is released during a jump, the insects take of like arrows shot from bows.

According to Burrows:

You suddenly let go, and the arrow goes much faster than if you were to throw it directly.”

The 10 teeth of each of the gears are located on strips at the bases of the insects’ rear pair of legs.

Strangely enough, the inter-meshing gears only exist during the nymphal stage of the planthopper’s life cycle. When they become adults, the gears are molted off. Then, they use friction that is generated from the rubbing together of two parts of their legs to help assist their jumps.

Though structures that resemble gears have been seen on animals such as the spiny turtle, they are only for ornamental purposes.

A biologist from Harvey Mudd College, who did not take part in the study, Anna N. Ahn, enthuses that the new discovery of inter-meshing gear teeth on the hind legs of the planthoppers is “fantastic.”

Burrows theorizes that the “teeth” could have evolved from small bumps that eventually grew larger over time, until they came to resemble the inter-meshing teeth of gears.

The juvenile planthopper is fairly common. It is found in gardens and fields throughout Europe.

According to the study’s co-author, Sutton, who now is employed at the University of Bristol, unlike gears in machines that humans design, the one on the hind legs of the planthoppers “are evolved,” and they represent “high speed and precision machinery evolved for synchronization in the animal world.”

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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8 Responses to "Nature Invented Inter-meshing Gears On Legs of Insects"

  1. D. Browning   September 26, 2013 at 10:48 am

    DNA ’caused’ these gears. DNA is a quaternary computer code. Computer codes and gears are intelligent information and design. The case for accidental naturalistic design is getting weaker by the day. Wake up people.

  2. Perry   September 16, 2013 at 6:38 am

    “Nature, wonderful inventor that is is” – So you do believe in creationism, just not God. It takes more faith than science to believe that something that powerful just evolved.

  3. Joe   September 15, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Forget the gears, I’m more impressed by the afterburners on that insect. I had no idea bugs actually beat us to jet propulsion.

  4. AJL   September 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

    ALL living things (plant & animal) contain the DNA information – without which amino acids cannot form usable proteins needed by living things. Therefore, the DNA information had to be there first. Wherever there is information, there is intelligence. Wherever there is intelligence there is personality. Follow the evidence.

  5. Erik   September 14, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    It’s impossible for that to have evolved. Furthermore, if it did evolve, and if it were an “improvement” to prior designs, then why would it not maintain the gears post-metamorphosis?

    Of course, the simplest answer is that “nature” didn’t create the gears any more than did the planthopper itself. The gears were a gift to it. It had no choice but to receive that which it was given, just as you and I have received the abilities which we have.

    Now, if I could just evolve a satellite receiver for myself, a new sense of “radio,” and a flash-memory finger with lots of extra data space. Then, if I could just evolve for myself a data link by which to transfer my stored knowledge quickly to others.

    Alas! As my grandfather used to say, “Son, I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever learn!” Perhaps scientists are in the same boat. We all forget so much these days.

  6. Douglas Cobb   September 13, 2013 at 5:00 am

    The two sources I used are cited, at the bottom of the page, as well as inside of the article, at least the names of some people involved. As well, several other sources are out there, if you Google them.

  7. Bill   September 13, 2013 at 4:40 am

    care to elaborate? this hunk of metal just happend to be lying around with the right axle size and gear ratio so they (who exactly) used it on a car? I find this hard to believe given the amount of designe that goes into a gear to get it to work right
    Please site your sources

  8. Cy Gene   September 13, 2013 at 3:47 am

    Actually the cogs and gears that are found in machinery and cars were never made by man. They happen by pure chance. No thought or design was used in the making of gears, they just happened and were selected for use in cars and such because they looked like they could do the job.

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