Beetle outjumps flea to claim world record

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The Independent Online

The Flea, scourge of pets and damned by their owners, could at least claim to be the world's greatest jumper. Now even that accolade looks doomed.

A beetle that spends much of its life encased in "cuckoo spit" has taken its title. The spittle bug, or froghopper, outperforms the flea in the high jump, a Cambridge University scientist has found.

Using a high-speed video camera, Malcolm Burrows, an entomologist in the zoology department, found that the six-millimetre-long insect can leap to heights of 70cm (28ins), equivalent to a human hurdling a 210-metre skyscraper.

"Fleas are considered to be the champion jumpers, but here I show that froghoppers are in fact the real champions and that they achieve their supremacy by using a novel catapault mechanism for jumping," Dr Burrows writes in the journal Nature.

There are two ways of leaping. Kangaroos and other long-legged creatures use the leverage of their limbs, whereas the short-legged flea uses the sudden release of pent-up energy to accelerate. Dr Burrows found that the froghopper uses a similar catapault mechanism to accelerate to speeds up to 4,000 metres per second.

Froghoppers exert a force more than 400 times their body weight, compared to a flea's jumping force of 135 times its body weight. A good human jumper exerts a force of about three times body weight.