Issus Coleoptratus: Insect With the Only Mechanical Gears in Nature

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The small hopping insect Issus coleoptratus uses toothed gears (magnified above with an electron microscope) to precisely synchronize the kicks of its hind legs as it jumps forward. (All images courtesy of Malcom Burrows)

This Insect Has The Only Mechanical Gears Ever Found in Nature

by Joseph Stromberg Smithsonian.com

To the best of our knowledge, the mechanical gear—evenly-sized teeth cut into two different rotating surfaces to lock them together as they turn—was invented sometime around 300 B.C.E. by Greek mechanics who lived in Alexandria. In the centuries since, the simple concept has become a keystone of modern technology, enabling all sorts of machinery and vehicles, including cars and bicycles.

As it turns out, though, a three-millimeter long hopping insect known as Issus coleoptratus beat us to this invention. Malcolm Burrows and Gregory Sutton, a pair of biologists from the University of Cambridge in the U.K., discovered that juveniles of the species have an intricate gearing system that locks their back legs together, allowing both appendages to rotate at the exact same instant, causing the tiny creatures jump forward.

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