Watch Maggot-like Larvae Create a Fake Leg to Jump 'Explosively' Through the Air

Maggot-like larvae have no legs. However, they can catapult themselves up to 4.7 inches into the air using a fake leg, according to researchers.

Using gear including high-speed cameras, researchers have studied the larvae of the gall midge. These insects form galls, or growths, on the goldenrod plant, and jump out when disturbed if the chamber is broken.

In order for the legless bugs to leap out, they form into a loop, and turn a part of their body into what is comparable to a leg, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. To stop themselves from moving while they build up elastic energy, the larvae stabilize one end of their body on the ground, and slide over the other half until they meet. This creates a latch, which when released enables the creepy-crawly to shoot into the air. The team looked at variables including how the larvae prepare to jump, how far they travel, and how they latch.

This technique is so powerful that the speed and distances the maggots travel rival insects like fleas.

This is the first time an insect has been shown to use an adhesive mechanism to latch itself in place for an "explosively fast jump," study co-authors researchers Mike Wise of Roanoke College and Gregory Sutton from the U.K.'s University of Lincoln told Newsweek.

"Adhesive systems are often found in insect feet, used to walk on surfaces," explained Sutton. "This is an adhesive system where the animal sticks to itself—allowing it to stick its 'head' to its 'tail.'"

"It's exciting that this soft mushy animal is using an adhesive mechanism to create an artificial leg, which it subsequently uses to jump itself into the air," he said.

Wise said he was surprised a species that spends its whole larval and pupal existence inside a tiny gall chamber is able to perform such specialized movements. The behavior is likely an evolutionary hangover from ancestral species who left their galls as larvae to pupate, he said.

"Now, the jumping behavior only helps the larvae of this species if the gall is disturbed and opened by a natural enemy, or a caterpillar that just happens to be feeding on the leaf tissue that makes up the gall tissue. Being able to catapult away from the invader would help the larva survive," said Wise.

Study co-author Grace Farley of the Biology Department at Duke University told Newsweek the painstaking process of capturing and scanning electron microscopy images of the mechanism involved preserving the "very small and delicate" midges.

But the work provided an opportunity to rethink her preconceived notions of how insects travel, said Farley.

"Larvae can travel much further distances using much less energy when jumping, rather than crawling. We are beginning to see that jumping locomotion may be more prevalent in legless larvae that would be expected," she said.