Insect Gear

The only functional gears ever found in nature belong to a small insect. The gears lock the insect’s back legs together giving it a synchronized and powerful jump. The electron microscope picture of the gears is stunning:

The original paper is here and you can find a summary with more pictures of the gear in action here.


Popular Science also discussed this last week. Very interesting how evolution works sometimes. Apparently, these are not the same style of gears we typically use.

At first glance they appeared very close in principle and function to a cork puller, and the more I drink the more I agree.

Next up: the only universal joint found in nature: "bacterium flagellum is the main organelle for motility in bacteria. ... (a universal joint)" And speaking of mechanics, the New Scientist issue of August discussed how brain synapses release their chemical neurotransmitters according to mechanical wave principles, not electromagnetic waves as was previously thought. So you can rightfully now say "she has a brain like a coiled spring or a steel trap!"

But are there any example of insect wheels in nature?

Fascinating, but as the researchers point out, these skeleton cogwheels serve merely to synchronize the insects' legs.

They don’t provide any mechanical advantage, which would be needed for them to qualify as gears in the mechanical sense.

A true gear requires an axle, which I suspect is an organic impossibility.

Here's a great read from 15 years ago on the subject. Funny too.

Thanks, that was excellent even if it proved my conjecture wrong.

I'm no expert on biology, but I vaguely remember from a fitness class I took many years ago that muscles work like mechanical ratchets when contracting. Gear-like fibers successively climb up one another.

To me it is not surprising that living creatures would evolve along the lines of our best ideas in mechanical engineering. This example is less about a gear and more of a lever - a more generalized tool.

The wheel? A tumbleweed? Pollen?

A wheel is just a series of levers, and a sphere is a three dimensional wheel.

"But are there any example of insect wheels in nature?"
Well.. No.. But, there is a rolling spider!

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