Meet the Issus nymph, a bug with a jump so fast it outpaces its own nervous system. Recently, a duo of scientists discovered that it sports the first mechanical gear ever found in a living creature. But gears are only one of the bug’s many marvels. “Put them all together,” says Gregory Sutton, co-discoverer at the University of Bristol, “and you’ve got the design for a jumping robot.”
Two gears step in for the Issus’s brain to keep the insect’s bulleting legs in sync during takeoff. With teeth shaped like cresting waves, the gears are unlike anything man-made. And stranger still, the bug doesn’t keep its cogwheels forever. The gears disappear when it finishes its final moult and enters adulthood; researchers don’t yet know why.
To keep its brain and nerve cord from liquefying during the sudden acceleration of a jump, the Issus has them strapped against its body with pegs of exoskeleton. “This isn’t the smartest animal in the world,” says Sutton, “but what it’s got is plastered down.”
To achieve its split-second acceleration, the Issus flicks its legs open with a pair of powerful springs. Arched and layered like two composite bows, the springs are made of resilin – Nature’s springiest material – coated with a stiff skeletal shell. The combination gives the bug its extreme bounce with little or no slack.
Learn more about the Issus nymph in the video above…
– William Herkewitz