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Invertebrate of the Year: Top-Gear Planthopper

7 January 2014

The School of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Dr Gregory Sutton and Dr Heather Whitney's paper has been declared by Science to be the 'Invertebrate of the year' paper.

Insect jumps are blindingly quick – with one species, the planthopper issus coleoptratus, requiring less than a millisecond to accelerate from stationary to a velocity of 5.5 m/s (Burrows 2009).  When generating such fast movements, the time difference between the extension of the two hind legs is never more than 70 microseconds.  To achieve this level of synchrony, the nymphal planthopper uses a pair of protrusions on its legs which enmesh and rotate together like a pair of mechanical gears.  Strangely, this gearing mechanism is only used by the nymphs to ensure synchrony; the insects lose the gear teeth during their final moult, and thus and the adults synchronize their legs differently.  The synchronization mechanism of nymphal planthoppers is the first observation of true mechanical gearing in a biological structure.  These gears are not designed, they are evolved. The biological gears represent high speed and precision machinery evolved for synchronization in the animal world.  


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