That looks a bit like Velcro

Tiny scales help this midge jump without legs.

A scanning electron microscope image shows the one-micron projections on the adhesive patches of a leaping gall midge larva.

Grace Farley, Duke University

The three-millimetre larva of the goldenrod gall midge can “jump” 20 to 30 body lengths in a tenth of a second despite not having any legs.

It attaches its head to its tail, then squeezes internal fluids into its tail section, swelling it and raising the pressure like an inner tube. When the bond between the head and tail can no longer hold, the tension is sprung, launching the worm into a high, tumbling flight.

That’s impressive, if a little reckless, but it’s not new. It’s been in the scientific literature for 50 years.

What is new – and this image helps explain – is a better understanding of how they do it.

By capturing the process with a 20,000-frames-per-second video camera and scanning electron microscopes, researchers from Duke University, US, discovered rows of one-micron scales on patches of skin, which allow the head and tail to stick together even as the pressure builds.

They are similar to the sticky pads on a gecko’s feet, the researchers say, though it’s not yet clear if they work in exactly the same way.

You can read the full story in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The research was supported by US Army Research Laboratory.

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