Legendary Leapers: 12 of Nature’s Highest Hoppers

Extremely elastic muscles, spring-like leg mechanisms and sticky feet are among the biological advantages that enable these 12 record-jumping species to leap up to 100 times their own body length. From tiny spiders to elegant impalas and even crustaceans, each of these agile animals is impressively athletic.

Copepods

(image via: wikimedia commons)

If you were asked to identify the highest jumper in the animal kingdom, you might imagine that it was a grasshopper or a tree frog. But scientists have discovered that the gold medalist in high jumping comes from an unexpected place: the ocean! Copepods are tiny one- to two-millimeter-long crustaceans that can accelerate to a speed of 500 body-lengths per second when jumping to avoid becoming the prey of mackerel, herring, jellyfish and other predators. That means these little creatures have the strongest leg muscles in the world.

Bharal

(image via: wikimedia commons)

This medium-sized sheep found in the high Himalayas has developed the ability to leap across rocks in an attempt to escape its main predator, the very speedy snow leopard.

Red Kangaroo

(image via: wikimedia commons)

With legs that work like a rubber band, red kangaroos can leap over 9 meters – that’s 30 feet – in a single leap. The red kangaroo is the largest mammal native to Australia, and the males reach around 5 feet in length.

Rabbits

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Among the best-known animal leapers, rabbits can leap many times their body length, though the extent of that leaping varies depending on the breed. Domestic rabbits are even trained to leap over obstacles in rabbit show jumping competitions all over the world.

Hares

(image via: polandeze)

Hares are larger and have longer ears than their rabbit brethren, and haven’t been domesticated. These fast-moving animals can run at speeds up to 45 miles per hour and have been known to leap up to 12 feet in a single bound.

Tree Frog

(image via: adam baker)

Frogs have unusually stretchy muscles that enable them to jump more than ten times the length of their own bodies. Scientists captured their jumps on high-speed cameras and then slowed down the footage to examine exactly how they can pull off jumping as much as seven feet. Before the frogs jump, they stretch most of their hindlimb muscles, and increase their length, which enables them to produce more force.

Klipspringer

(image via: mister-e)

The highest jumpers among all mammals, relative to body size, klipspringers are African antelopes that can reach an astounding 25 feet into the air. It’s not just height that makes their jumps so impressive, it’s also precision. Klipspringers walk and jump only on the very edges of their tiny hooves, enabling them to land on projecting rocks no larger than silver dollars.

Impala

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Renowned for their speed, African impala can leap 13 feet into the air, and up to 30 feet forward in a single jump. At the appearance of a predator, these elegant and agile deer-like animals take off in large numbers, their jumps often appearing beautifully choreographed.

Kangaroo Rat

(image via: usfws headquarters)

Kangaroo rats may look quite a bit like ordinary rats, but don’t underestimate their ability to jump: they can travel up to 9 feet in one leap. Small rodents native to North america, kangaroo rats have large hind legs that can quickly propel their small bodies through the air. They can also change direction mid-leap.

Froghopper

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Amazingly, froghoppers can jump 100 times their own body length; before the discovery of the copepod’s abilities, this little insect held the world record for nature’s highest jumper. Also known as spittlebugs, froghoppers can jump up to 28 inches, and this feat is all the more impressive considering that they’re heavier than other champion insect jumpers, like fleas.

Jumping Spider

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Whether creeping up on prey or escaping their own predators, the 5,000 species belonging to the jumping spider family are able to perform agile leaps. You’ll know a jumping spider when you see one – not only because of this unnerving ability to jump much higher than you’d expect, but also because of its distinctive row of four eyes, with the two center eyes much larger than the other two.

Flea

(image via: wikimedia commons)

The ability of a flea to launch itself onto the body of a host animal is what makes it such an effective parasite. Scientists have learned that fleas can perform these feats due to spring-like mechanisms in their legs. Fleas drive their feet into the ground, gripping it with spines, and then suddenly release this ‘coiled spring’ to catapult into the air.

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