Research

The Sharpshooter Insect

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The sharpshooter is a small, sap-sucking insect capable of consuming more than 300 times its body weight in fluid each day. To sustain that level of intake, the insect also has to have a robust mechanism for expelling excess fluid, and that particular talent has earned the insect the nickname of the “pissing fly”. Together a group of sharpshooters can expel enough fluid to imitate rain (top).

Individually, the insects form a droplet on hydrophobic hairs near their anus. Once the droplet is large enough, those hairs bend like a spring, and the droplet gets catapulted off the insect with an acceleration greater than 20g. That makes it among the fastest reactions in the natural world – more than twenty times the acceleration of a cheetah. Understanding this mechanism is valuable for engineers building robotics as well as for finding ways to counter the agricultural menace the sharpshooters present when it comes to spreading diseases among infected crops. (Image and video credit: E. Challita et al.; via WashPo; submitted by Marc A.)

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