Single frames from high-speed cameras helped scientists study the leap of the larvae of a gall midge. (Journal of Experimental Biology)

Single frames from high-speed cameras helped scientists study the leap of the larvae of a gall midge. (Journal of Experimental Biology)

The larva bends itself so that its top and bottom stick together like Velcro. (JEB)

The larva bends itself so that its top and bottom stick together like Velcro. (JEB)

A field of goldenrod, the plant preferred by the leaping gall midge

A field of goldenrod, the plant preferred by the leaping gall midge

Gall made by larvae in goldenrod

Gall made by larvae in goldenrod

Images from a microscope show the surfaces of the tiny larva. (JEB)

Images from a microscope show the surfaces of the tiny larva. (JEB)

Leaping Maggots!

Posted: November 1, 2019

How can a tiny, worm-like larva with no arms, legs, or wings leap into the air? Mike Wise is a scientist at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. He and some colleagues believe they have found the answer.

Dr. Wise studies plants and how they defend themselves from hungry insects. He was working on galls (swellings) on goldenrod plants a few years ago. The galls form around maggot-like larvae of flies.

He had spent an hour pulling out each rice-sized maggot. He put them into a little dish on his desk. He looked down. All of them were gone!

His eye caught a little orange larva jumping across the desk. “I looked on the floor and there had been some that had jumped all the way to the wall,” he said. What was the trick?

He brought bunches of goldenrod to the lab of Sheila Patek, a biologist at Duke University. She studies small, very fast things. “These creatures do stuff that engineers can only dream of,” she says. So people in her lab filmed the leaping larvae in action.

This is what they saw: The wormy creatures start by curling into a loop. A patch of hair on their heads sticks to a patch of hair on their rear ends. Then the larvae push fluid through their bodies to stiffen up the part that’s on the ground. They keep doing that until there is enough force to unstick the hairs. That launches them into the air. She found that these squishy worms can jump over 30 body lengths!

Sarah Bergbreiter is a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University. She believes that the way these larvae jump could become a model for a new kind of robot. She says, “The idea that a soft robot could kind of develop this appendage that’s useful for the moment, is pretty cool.”

All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. — John 1:3