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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Science Policy

Jumping without Using Legs: The Jump of the Click-Beetles (Elateridae) Is Morphologically Constrained
Published: Thursday, June 16, 2011
Author: Gal Ribak et al.

by Gal Ribak, Daniel Weihs

To return to their feet, inverted click-beetles (Elateridae) jump without using their legs. When a beetle is resting on its dorsal side, a hinge mechanism is locked to store elastic energy in the body and releases it abruptly to launch the beetle into the air. While the functional morphology of the jumping mechanism is well known, the level of control that the beetle has over this jumping technique and the mechanical constraints governing the jumps are not entirely clear. Here we show that while body rotations in air are highly variable, the jumps are morphologically constrained to a constant “takeoff” angle (79.9°±1.56°, n?=?9 beetles) that directs 98% of the jumping force vertically against gravity. A physical-mathematical model of the jumping action, combined with measurements from live beetle, imply that the beetle may control the speed at takeoff but not the jumping angle. In addition, the model shows that very subtle changes in the exact point of contact with the ground can explain the vigorous rotations of the body seen while the beetle is airborne. These findings suggest that the evolution of this unique non-legged jumping mechanism resulted in a jumping technique that is capable of launching the body high into the air but it is too constrained and unstable to allow control of body orientation at landing.