Champion Jumper

Minuscule gymnast sticks the landing almost every time.

Among the wonders of the natural world that few people have ever noticed : a semiaquatic springtail in motion.

There are about 9,000 known species of springtails -small flea like invertebrates - around the world. Many live in dark, humid habitats, but they can be found on all seven continents; some even migrate over snow.

They roam the earth by flinging their bodies into the air, sometimes rotating 500 times per second, like circus performers shot out of self-contained cannons.

But good luck getting a look at their trapeze show - most springtails are '' as small as a grain of sand,'' said Victor Ortega Jimenez, a biomechanics researcher at the University of Maine who has studied the creatures.

But a series of videos of these high-octane jumps, released by Dr.Ortega Jimenez and colleagues in an article published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals an element of bodily control that is almost graceful.

The visuals aid in a detailed explanation of how springtails jump through the air and nearly always end up on their feet.

Dr.Ortega Jimenez said a sprintail's control largely comes from its most distinctive and enigmatic feature, the collophore, a tube sticking out of its abdomen.

This tube interacts in  nuanced ways with the forces around the animals, such as drag, surface tension and gravity.

The secret to their agility is that the springtail uses its collophore to pick up a tiny drop of water as it takes off. The water provides a stable point from which to control its trajectory. [ Oliver Whang ]


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!