The Patek Lab published a collaborative paper about legless leaping larvae found in gall midges. The paper received a considerable amount of press coverage, including from NPR All Things Considered, Science News, and the New York Times. The Journal of Experimental Biology also published a feature about it.
Farley, G. M., M. J. Wise, J. S. Harrison, G. P. Sutton, C. Kuo, and S. N. Patek. 2019. Adhesive latching and legless leaping in small, worm-like insect larvae. Journal of Experimental Biology 222: jeb201129. doi: 10.1242/jeb.201129.
Jumping is often achieved using propulsive legs, yet legless leaping has evolved multiple times. We examined the kinematics, energetics and morphology of long-distance jumps produced by the legless larvae of gall midges (Asphondylia sp.). They store elastic energy by forming their body into a loop and pressurizing part of their body to form a transient ‘leg’. They prevent movement during elastic loading by placing two regions covered with microstructures against each other, which likely serve as a newly described adhesive latch. Once the latch releases, the transient ‘leg’ launches the body into the air. Their average takeoff speeds (mean: 0.85 m s−1; range: 0.39–1.27 m s−1) and horizontal travel distances (up to 36 times body length or 121 mm) rival those of legged insect jumpers and their mass-specific power density (mean: 910 W kg−1; range: 150–2420 W kg−1) indicates the use of elastic energy storage to launch the jump. Based on the forces reported for other microscale adhesive structures, the adhesive latching surfaces are sufficient to oppose the loading forces prior to jumping. Energetic comparisons of insect larval crawling versus jumping indicate that these jumps are orders of magnitude more efficient than would be possible if the animals had crawled an equivalent distance. These discoveries integrate three vibrant areas in engineering and biology – soft robotics, small, high-acceleration systems, and adhesive systems – and point toward a rich, and as-yet untapped area of biological diversity of worm-like, small, legless jumpers.