Brief Communications

Nature 424, 509 (31 July 2003) | doi:10.1038/424509a

Biomechanics: Froghopper insects leap to new heights

Malcolm Burrows1

There are two basic body designs for jumping that enable many animals to escape from predators, to increase their speed of locomotion or to launch into flight1. Animals with long legs (bush babies, kangaroos and frogs, for example) have a levering power that enables them to use less force to jump the same distance as short-legged animals of comparable mass, whereas those with short legs must rely on the release of stored energy in a rapid catapult action. Insects exploit both designs: bush crickets use the leverage provided by long legs2, fleas use stored energy to power their short legs3, and grasshoppers4 combine features of each. Fleas are considered to be the champion jumpers, but here I show that froghoppers (spittle bugs) are in fact the real champions and that they achieve their supremacy by using a novel catapult mechanism for jumping.

  1. Department of Zoology, Downing Street, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK