Pygmy mole crickets don't just walk on water, they jump on it

Dec 03, 2012
This is a pygmy mole cricket. Credit: Burrows et al., Current Biology

Pygmy mole crickets are known to be prodigious jumpers on land. Now, researchers reporting in the December 4th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, have found that the tiny insects have found an ingenious method to jump from the water, too. Their secret is a series of spring-loaded, oar-like paddles on their back legs.

"Pygmy mole have solved the most difficult task of jumping from the surface of water," says Malcolm Burrows of the University of Cambridge. "For small insects, water can be a deadly, sticky trap: water grabs and holds an insect, offering it as an appetizing snack for an alert fish. Pygmy mole crickets turn the of water to their advantage and use this property to enable jumping."

Burrows came across this unique cricket behavior one day while sitting by the side of a pond in South Africa eating his lunch. He heard some odd noises coming from the direction of the pond and, after getting a closer look, discovered some insects jumping from the water toward the bank. He did what any good scientist would do: he caught a few and took them back to the lab, where he and colleague Gregory Sutton could catch their talents on high-speed film.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Pygmy mole crickets are known to be prodigious jumpers on land. Credit: Burrows et al., Current Biology, 2012.

That's when he discovered the insect's oar-like paddles on its legs, which are spring loaded with a protein called resilin that Burrows says is "the perfect elastic." As those oars penetrate the water, they fan out. The crickets then "grab" a ball of water, sending it downward as their bodies soar in the opposite direction and to safety.

This curious bug strategy might even have some practical use.

"If we want to make small that move under water, this is how we would have to design propellers or oars," Burrows says. "We would also have to use a material as good as to impart , restore shape, and reduce drag."

In the meantime, the discovery is yet another example of amazing animal feats.

"This is an animal that has to do many things with its legs: dig burrows in the ground, jump rapidly to escape predators on land, and get itself out of water before it is eaten or drowns. It has solved a hugely difficult problem with a multifunctional mechanism that can propel jumps on land and ."

Explore further: In stickleback fish, dads influence offspring behavior and gene expression

More information: Burrows et al.: "Pygmy mole crickets jump from water." Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.10.045

Related Stories

Pond skating insects reveal water-walking secrets

Oct 31, 2012

This month's special issue of Physics World is devoted to animal physics, and includes science writer Stephen Ornes explanation of how s effortlessly skip across water leaving nothing but a small ripple in their wake.

Recommended for you

World's first microbe 'zoo' opens in Amsterdam

15 hours ago

The world's first "interactive microbe zoo" opened in Amsterdam on Tuesday, shining new light on the tiny creatures that make up two-thirds of all living matter and are vital for our planet's future.

Study shows how chimpanzees share skills

17 hours ago

Evidence of new behaviour being adopted and transmitted socially from one individual to another within a wild chimpanzee community is publishing on September 30 in the open access journal PLOS Biology. This i ...

Little blue penguin back at sea after hospital stint

22 hours ago

Wildbase Recovery Community Trust ambassador and Rangitikei MP Ian McKelvie joined Massey University veterinary staff to release a little blue penguin back into the sea at Himatangi Beach this morning.

User comments : 0