After placing a dozen maggots in a petri dish, Michael Wise was surprised to see that only two were still there. The rest had made a break for it, and were jumping all over his lab.

Wise, a botanist at Roanoke College, had been studying gall midges—flies that lay their eggs inside silverrod and goldenrod plants. Once the eggs hatch, the developing larvae create abnormal swellings called galls. Wise would dissect these and collect the orange, rice-size maggots within. And he noted that they’d often start jumping: out of the galls, out of his hands, out of petri dishes. How, he wondered, could a legless animal jump at all, let alone so far or so quickly?

Fortunately, he knew exactly whom to call. Wise had gone to graduate school with Sheila Patek, a biologist at Duke University, who has studied the record-breaking punch of the mantis shrimp and the ballistic jaws of the trap-jaw ant. “A lot of people know that I study small, fast things, so I get a lot of requests to film random stuff,” Patek says. “I’m almost always up for it.”

[Read: Mantis shrimps avoid deadly fights by pummeling each other]

But many animal movements that people think are really fast “are not actually that fast,” she says. To film a fish’s strike or a grasshopper’s leap, you can get away with a high-speed camera that shoots at a paltry 1,000 frames per second. To film the gall-midge maggots, Patek had to break out her 20,000-frame-per-second hardware. “They jump at the same speed as fleas—insects that are using legs,” she says. “They’re really good.”

Despite the maggots’ speed, “I don’t think they have any aiming capability,” says Patek’s colleague Grace Farley. To film them, Farley placed one larva at a time in a petri dish and …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Science

      

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