Insect Mechanical Gears Discovered In Nature: How Are Organic Gears Used? [PHOTO, VIDEO]

By Danny Choy on September 13, 2013 10:02 AM EDT

Insect mechanical gears
Insect mechanical gears were discovered in a baby Issus bug. The gears allow the bug to jump with precision. (Photo: Malcolm Burrows)

Scientists at Cambridge University stumbled upon the incredible discovery of insect mechanical gears while studying the Issus bug. For centuries, we have believed that mechanical gears were man's design. The latest discovery further suggests the virtually infinite variety in nature.

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According to the scientists, series of body structure analysis and high-speed video captures were conducted on a young Issus bug. The scientists discovered insect mechanical gears on each hind leg of the young specimen. Each gear on the Issus' leg is around 400 micrometres long, and there are between ten and 12 teeth on each leg. The gears interlock and rotate to help propel the bug in a jump.

"We usually think of gears as something that we see in human designed machinery, but we've found that that is only because we didn't look hard enough," said Zoologist Gregory Sutton.

"These gears are not designed; they are evolved - representing high speed and precision machinery evolved for synchronisation in the animal world," explained Sutton.

According to Cambridge scientists, the tooth of the insect mechanical gears are asymmetrical and are curved towards the point where the cogs interlock. Researchers claim man-made gears must be symmetric in order to work numerous rotational direction. As for the Issus bug, the insect mechanical gears only function to launch the creature forward.

Insect mechanical gears lock the hind legs together to ensure complete synchronization when the Issus bug moves. According to the high speed footage, the legs of the Issus always move within 30 micoseconds of each other, or 3/100,000th of a second. If the discrepancy were any greater, a leap would cause an Issus bug to spin out of control.

Unlike man-made gears, each gear tooth is asymmetrical and curved towards the point where the cogs interlock.

This is because man-made gears need a symmetric shape to work in both rotational directions, whereas the Issus insect mechanical gears are only powering one way to launch the animal forward.

"This precise synchronisation would be impossible to achieve through a nervous system, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extraordinarily tight coordination required," said Professor Malcolm Burrows.

"By developing mechanical gears, the Issus can just send nerve signals to its muscles to produce roughly the same amount of force - then if one leg starts to propel the jump the gears will interlock, creating absolute synchronicity.

"In Issus, the skeleton is used to solve a complex problem that the brain and nervous system can't. This emphasises the importance of considering the properties of the skeleton in how movement is produced."

Interestingly, Issus bugs will lose their gears once they reach adulthood. Scientists believe it could be the fragility of the breaks. if one tooth on the gear breaks, the whole mechanism is damaged.

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