Nature Gets Another A+

We humans are sooooo smart. Like, we invented the gear and all. This is what separates us from the animals.

Without gears, my drawbridge would be incapable of rising up, and I’d be out of a job. Without gears in my car’s transmission, I wouldn’t even be able to drive to the job. I also couldn’t take a bicycle. And on and on.

Gears are nifty. Whether you realize it or not, you can’t get through a day without a gear doing something or other for you. When’s the last time you used a can opener? Way to harness the world, mighty humans!

Um… except that we didn’t invent gears after all. Nature came to the same conclusion about the niftiness of gears long before we ever did. And we only found this out in 2013.

May I introduce you to Issus coleoptratus? Call him planthopper for short. He’s an insect that’s found in Europe and North Africa, and in his adolescent form, he has natural gears in his hind legs. The gears even have tapered teeth just like the gears we humans invented, and for the same reason: to prevent wear and tear.

These gears allow both of his hind legs to act in unison, so that he always hops in a straight line. That’s a useful tool for a planthopper to have. And the cool thing about these gears is that they’re only engaged when he’s planning to hop. It’s really quite fascinating to contemplate. Learn more about it by reading this article.

And this amazing design is left behind when the bug becomes an adult. Apparently adolescents can shed and regrow gears multiple times, but adults can’t, so if one of the teeth on their gears were to break… disaster. Nobody likes a hop-less planthopper.

So there you have it. Yet more evidence that nature is AWESOME, and that we humans need to be a lot more humble.

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2 thoughts on “Nature Gets Another A+

  1. Angiportus Librarysaver

    For reasons I won’t go into here, I’d describe nature as having grades all over the map–much like me in my earlier school years. The insect you mention seems one of the better results. But that just evolved, while with people, gears are the result of a thought process, which raises their standing some in my book. And it was a human being, not nature–and a young one too–whom some clickbait tells me just designed sutures that can change color to warn us early if there’s an infection. That one I could have used, a few years back.
    I used to make gears. The outfit I worked for would get long rods of splined steel that I’d just slice up to order with a saw that automatically measured and advanced while I did other things. I later wondered why bridges like yours don’t seem to ever have belt drives, and decided it must be a matter of scale. If I’m wrong, do fill me in on the reason. But I was not that surprised to see hydraulic ones.
    There was one time when the august personages at Scientific American magazine could have benefited from consulting even my humble self–they did a special edition on geology, and the cover had an image of a planet powered by gears–and they were meshed so they could not possibly turn.
    Someone should have sent those people some planthoppers.

    1. I’ve definitely never seen a belt drive on a bridge. I have no idea why, now that you mention it, but I’m sure scale has a lot to do with it. That, and any slippage at all would be a disaster. I think everyone should be sent a planthopper just once in their lives, but they probably wouldn’t see the miracle of it.

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