In 2013, using high-speed video, scientists were finally able to see what makes a young Issus coleoptratus so unique. They've known for years about the interlocking gear-like structures on the plant-hopping insect's legs, but until they were able to see the bug in action in slow motion, they didn't fully understand how the wave-shaped gears meshed. These interlocking gears allow the insect to launch itself with one smooth, explosive motion.
"To the best of my knowledge, it's the first demonstration of functioning gears in any animal," said study researcher Malcolm Burrows, an emeritus professor of neurobiology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
A small insect with serious moves:
- Once locked and loaded, the adolescent planthopper accelerates to nearly 400 times the force of gravity, much more than a human could withstand. The Issus coleoptratus is among the animal kingdom's fastest accelerators.
- The researchers believe the Issus coleoptratus, which lives mostly on European climbing ivy, evolved its lightning-fast reflexes in order to flee from dangerous situations.
- The insect doesn't keep these gears throughout its life, however. They disappear during the molting process as the Issus coleoptratus reaches adulthood.