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Biomechanics of jumping in the flea
Gregory P. Sutton, Malcolm Burrows


It has long been established that fleas jump by storing and releasing energy in a cuticular spring, but it is not known how forces from that spring are transmitted to the ground. One hypothesis is that the recoil of the spring pushes the trochanter onto the ground, thereby generating the jump. A second hypothesis is that the recoil of the spring acts through a lever system to push the tibia and tarsus onto the ground. To decide which of these two hypotheses is correct, we built a kinetic model to simulate the different possible velocities and accelerations produced by each proposed process and compared those simulations with the kinematics measured from high-speed images of natural jumping. The in vivo velocity and acceleration kinematics are consistent with the model that directs ground forces through the tibia and tarsus. Moreover, in some natural jumps there was no contact between the trochanter and the ground. There were also no observable differences between the kinematics of jumps that began with the trochanter on the ground and jumps that did not. Scanning electron microscopy showed that the tibia and tarsus have spines appropriate for applying forces to the ground, whereas no such structures were seen on the trochanter. Based on these observations, we discount the hypothesis that fleas use their trochantera to apply forces to the ground and conclude that fleas jump by applying forces to the ground through the end of the tibiae.


  • Supplementary material available online at http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/content/full/214/5/836/DC1

  • G.P.S. was funded by the Marshall Sherfield Commission and the Human Frontiers Research Program. We thank Cambridge colleagues for their many helpful suggestions during the course of this work and for their comments on the draft manuscript.

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