Nature Invented Gears on Insect Legs, Long Before We Did

We humans thought we were pretty clever when we invented gears, imagining that they were never present on earth before that time (which was, incidentally, around 300 B.C.E. by Greek mechanics in Alexandria, Egypt.) But it turns out, a tiny three-millimeter hopping insect had us beat.

Biologists at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. have discovered that this little guy, Issus coleopatrus, has an intricate system of gears on its back legs that lock them together so both appendages rotate at the exact same instant. That enables them to make impressive leaps.

It’s believed to be the first functional gearing system ever found in nature. The researchers used electron microscopes and high-speed video to show the gears and how they work. The finely toothed gears allow the bug to cock its back legs in a jumping position and then push forward.

They include 10 to 12 tapered teeth, fitting together just like our mechanical gears, complete with filleted curves at the base – another thing we thought we invented, to reduce wear over time. Nature is amazing, huh? Learn more at Smithsonian Mag.