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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Resilin and chitinous cuticle form a composite structure for energy storage in jumping by froghopper insects

Malcolm Burrows1*, Stephen R Shaw2 and Gregory P Sutton1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, UK

2 Department of Psychology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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BMC Biology 2008, 6:41  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-41

Published: 30 September 2008

Abstract

Background

Many insects jump by storing and releasing energy in elastic structures within their bodies. This allows them to release large amounts of energy in a very short time to jump at very high speeds. The fastest of the insect jumpers, the froghopper, uses a catapult-like elastic mechanism to achieve their jumping prowess in which energy, generated by the slow contraction of muscles, is released suddenly to power rapid and synchronous movements of the hind legs. How is this energy stored?

Results

The hind coxae of the froghopper are linked to the hinges of the ipsilateral hind wings by pleural arches, complex bow-shaped internal skeletal structures. They are built of chitinous cuticle and the rubber-like protein, resilin, which fluoresces bright blue when illuminated with ultra-violet light. The ventral and posterior end of this fluorescent region forms the thoracic part of the pivot with a hind coxa. No other structures in the thorax or hind legs show this blue fluorescence and it is not found in larvae which do not jump. Stimulating one trochanteral depressor muscle in a pattern that simulates its normal action, results in a distortion and forward movement of the posterior part of a pleural arch by 40 μm, but in natural jumping, the movement is at least 100 μm.

Conclusion

Calculations showed that the resilin itself could only store 1% to 2% of the energy required for jumping. The stiffer cuticular parts of the pleural arches could, however, easily meet all the energy storage needs. The composite structure therefore, combines the stiffness of the chitinous cuticle with the elasticity of resilin. Muscle contractions bend the chitinous cuticle with little deformation and therefore, store the energy needed for jumping, while the resilin rapidly returns its stored energy and thus restores the body to its original shape after a jump and allows repeated jumping.