This recently discovered cockroach doesn’t scurry around like its kitchen cousins. It does them one better — or maybe we should say 50 times better — with the ability to leap 50 times its own length.
Wired reports that this South African cockroach studied by zoologist Mike Picker of the University of Cape Town is the only one of the more than 4,000 cockroach species to abandon scuttling almost entirely as its primary mode of movement.
In fact, Wired notes, that the “leaproach” as it’s nicknamed can outperform grasshoppers by more than double in terms of length of leaping ability relative to body size:
To find out how the leaproach’s legs worked, the researchers set up a high-speed camera to document its every movement ([below]). Combined with microscope photographs, the videos reveal that the leaproach’s knees are crucial to its jump.
At the knee is a wad of elastic protein called resilin. When the leaproach’s leg muscles contract, the resilin coils up like a flexed rubber band and stores the energy of flexing leg muscles.
When the moment to jump arrives, the leaproach extends its legs, activating the spring-loaded knees. A fraction of a second later, it zips through the air with an acceleration 23 times greater than that of Earth’s gravity.
Check out this slo-mo footage of a leaproach jumping about a foot in length:
The researchers point out that unlike other jumping insects, the leaproach doesn’t have wings to stabilize itself, but it is an accurate jumper none the less:
[...] the leaproach spreads out its appendages like a falling skydiver, presumably to influence where it lands. Specialized antenna sockets also give the critter a more aerodynamic shape, and Picker said a pair of “extreme” bulging eyes helps them pinpoint landing spots.
“They’re extremely accurate, and they don’t just sit around,” he said. “They’re always moving, moving, moving, jumping, jumping, jumping.”
Wired reports that leaproach, scientifically named Saltoblattella montistabularis, was discovered in 2006 but only has been recognized as a new species since 2010.