Thursday, 19 September 2013

Microscopic Marvels: Mechanical Gears in Young Planthoppers

Tiny young hoppers have mechanical gears that help them to jump high and far. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

Joel Kontinen

Contrary to what humans have believed for ages, the ancient Greeks did not invent the mechanical gear. They were beaten by a tiny planthopper Issus coleoptratus.

According to Science News,

Those cogs in young Issus coleoptratus planthoppers touch at the upper parts of the legs, says neurobiologist Malcolm Burrows of the University of Cambridge in England. And when the planthopper leaps, gear teeth on one leg catch the teeth on the other in sequence. Meshing cogs get legs quickly moving in sync, enabling energy-efficient leaps, Burrows and Gregory Sutton at the University of Bristol in England say in the Sept. 13 Science.”

Evolution is supposed to be blind and mindless, but somehow it seems that designing these gears is anything but an accidental innovation:

Insect gear teeth are microscopic marvels, with up to a dozen along a curving strip not more than 400 micrometers long. Teeth in the insect’s hard outer covering stick out 30 micrometers at the most, each tapering to a point.”

What is interesting is that these gears only appear in young planthoppers. Obviously, older hoppers don’t need them.

This machinery definitely speaks of design in nature.


Milius, Susan. 2013. Young insect legs have real meshing gears. Science News (12 September).