Maden don’t have the best image. Whoever thinks of the larvae often associates rotten food and decaying corpses with them. A new discovery could now increase the scary factor: A team led by biologist Matt Bertone from the University of Raleigh, North Carolina, reports on a species of maggot that literally jumps at you. Larvae can grow up to three times their body size and four times as wide Laemophloeus biguttatus, a species of flat beetle, hop. The researchers write about their find in “PLOS ONE“. However, insect phobics can breathe a sigh of relief: the larvae measure only about half a centimeter and prefer to live under the bark of dying trees.
Japanese discovered more jumping larva
Coincidentally, such a trunk was not far from Bertone’s laboratory. Here the entomologist collected various insect samples, knowing that the dead tree would soon be cut down by campus gardeners when he spotted the tiny larvae taking off. From the unusual behavior he can Video and put it on the YouTube video platform. A Japanese biologist then contacted him who observed the same behavior in larvae of the beetle species Placonotus testaceus had observed. Takahiro Yoshida, a beetle specialist from Tokyo Prefectural University, had not yet published his discovery of the new type of jumping; he and Bertone finally published together in “PLOS ONE”. Since the beetles are not closely related, the entomologists assume that other maggots are also able to hop.
Jumping insects are actually nothing unusual. The special feature of the larval jumps, however, lies in their execution: while other insects make long leaps by wedging two body parts together by applying force and then explosively unlocking this spring mechanism, the larvae proceed differently. The maggots claw the ground with their four little legs, which are located at the head end of their worm-like body, and build up potential energy by tensing. As soon as one of the feet loses contact with the ground, the rest of them follow in a flash and the larva is thrown into the air. Slow motion footage shows the jump from L. biguttatus impressive: the larvae curl up in flight, touching the head and foot end, which reminds the little creatures of high divers performing a dolphin jump. Encircled in this way, they describe a parabolic trajectory before they succeed in rolling skillfully when they land.
Small but nimble: the feathered winged bird
The dwarf beetle Paratoposa cakes is smaller than the larvae, but moves faster through the air relative to its body size. With a length of only 395 micrometers, the dwarf beetle is one of the smallest non-parasitic insects. As a so-called feathered wing, it has a pair of delicate wings, protected under the elytra, with which it can fly just as fast as relatives three times larger. A research team led by biologist Sergey Farisenkov from Lomonosov University in Moscow reports on the cause of its miniature turbo drive in “Nature“, lies in the lightweight design of the wings and in the unusual flapping of the wings. This emerged from the analysis of 13 high-speed images of the flying beetles. They discovered that the little beetle’s wings perform a figure eight or – depending on the viewing angle – an infinity symbol during one stroke cycle.
The research team, which also includes biologists from the University of Rostock, divided this unknown wing-beat cycle along a trajectory in the shape of a figure of eight into two performance phases and two relaxation phases. The latter are so far unique in the animal kingdom. They replace the conventional “clap and fling” mechanism with which other insects, such as wasps, expel air by clapping their wings and thus move forward. And the dwarf beetle is also amazing in terms of anatomy: its wings have no membrane. Images taken with a scanning electron microscope reveal what cannot be seen with the naked eye. In fact, the beetle’s wing blade resembles a feather. Individual bristles emerge from the petiole in a fan-like pattern, which are only about two microns thick and are relatively far apart compared to bird feathers. These bristles are in turn provided with fine hairs, which are also unique among insects. These hairs help the tiny creatures to save 44 percent of the wing weight.
When stretched out, a wing measures just under half a millimeter, making it longer than the beetle itself, but weighs just 0.024 micrograms, just one percent of its total body weight. Equipped with a membrane, like that of most other insects, the wings would weigh more than five times that, the study authors said. In addition, a membrane would probably have a braking effect on the demanding maneuvers of the dwarf beetles. The researchers write that it remains to be seen whether the sophisticated wing design, in which the wing covers, the so-called elytra, also play a stabilizing role, occurs in other dwarf insects. After all, it could explain their worldwide occurrence.