September 16, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Understanding Jumping by Leaps and Bounds: Geared Insect and Leaping Plant

Two clever examples of leaping have been found in the living world, adding to the catalog of clever ways life gets around.

Geared for action:  The media were all abuzz with pictures and stories of the “flightless planthopper,” a tiny insect with a big leap.  What’s new and fascinating is that it’s the first example known in the animal kingdom of functional intermeshing gears; the paper was published in Science Magazine.  The photos and videos on Nature, Live Science and New Scientist show gear cogs that intermesh like something you’d see in human machinery.  The electron-micrograph close ups are especially stunning.

Surprisingly, only the young nymphs of the species have the gears.  In the final molts, the gears get stripped off, and the adults use friction to jump.  This does not mean the nymphs are better designed; adults can jump even better.  The authors of the paper said,

Their improved performance may be due to other factors, rather than a consequence of abandoning the gear mechanism. An inherent limitation of gears is that if one tooth breaks, their synchronizing action is degraded. In nymphs, a breakage could be repaired at the next molt, but this is not possible after the final molt to adulthood. Alternatively, the larger size of adults may mean that friction between the trochantera is a more effective synchronization mechanism.

New Scientist used the finding to comment on biological machinery in general:

For a disconcerting experience, consider how mechanical you are. Humans may be conscious beings with higher feelings, but really we’re just fancy machines with joints, motors, valves, and a whole lot of plumbing.

All animals are the same. Hundreds of gizmos have evolved in nature, many of which our engineers merely reinvented. Nature had rotating axles billions of years ago, in the shape of bacterial flagella. And weevil legs beat us to the screw-and-nut mechanism.

The insect Issus coleoptratus is another animal with an unexpected bit of machinery hidden in its body. Its larvae are the first animals known to have interlocking gears, just like in the gearbox of a car.

The gears apparently keep the legs in sync, allowing them to take off within 30 microseconds of each other.  “Infant plant hoppers, known as nymphs, can take off in just 2 milliseconds, reaching take-off speeds of almost 4 metres a second,” Nature wrote, posting a video of the action.  “For motions this rapid, some mechanical device is needed to keep the legs synchronized and to avoid lopsided jumps that might lead to the insects spinning out of control.”  See also Science Magazine ScienceShot.

Leaping spores:  The spores of horsetail plants have another unusual mechanism for getting around.  Seen under a high-powered microscope, the spores have four “legs” that respond to humidity changes, curling and uncurling.  An intriguinig video clip on the BBC News shows how the spores not only use them to walk, but to leap into the air.

A European biologist, fascinated with the Venus flytrap, was looking for other kinds of motion in plants when he found this.  Curling and uncurling like hair, the legs, or elaters as they are called, respond more rapidly because of a “special layered structure” in the legs.  As a result, the spores can leap into the air, to be carried aloft by winds.

The discoverer is now using this clever idea to design self-propelled objects.  “These, they say, could be used in agricultural settings, for example, using changes in humidity to power environmental monitoring probes or seed-dispersing devices.”  The director of the Royal Botanical Gardens commented, “we have so much more to learn from nature.”

These two examples show the two sides of biomimetics.  The horsetail spores inspired a scientist to recreate the technology for human applications.  In the planthopper gear example, what we thought was a human invention turns out to have been scooped by an insect.  Nature had it first.

As usual, the evolution-talk was superfluous and illogical.  New Scientist repeated the “nothing but” idea: humans and animals are nothing but machinery.  That’s self-refuting, because a scientist arguing the truth of a proposition is using abstract, non-physical thought, assuming truth exists outside of material nature.  Also, saying  “Such-and-such evolved to” is a logical fallacy in Darwinism.  Nothing evolves “to” do something.  In Darwinism, stuff happens, accidental mutation by accidental mutation.  Unguided processes cannot work toward a goal.  Adding millions of years doesn’t change that.

On the contrary: whenever we see functional design, we naturally infer that intelligence played a role in its origin.  Darwinism only provides after-the-fact just-so stories to try to rationalize a secular world view.  Who needs that?  Think design, and you make progress in science.

 

 

 

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