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      Resilin and chitinous cuticle form a composite structure for energy storage in jumping by froghopper insects

      1 , , 2 , 1
      BMC Biology
      BioMed Central

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          Many insects jump by storing and releasing energy in elastic structures within their bodies. This allows them to release large amounts of energy in a very short time to jump at very high speeds. The fastest of the insect jumpers, the froghopper, uses a catapult-like elastic mechanism to achieve their jumping prowess in which energy, generated by the slow contraction of muscles, is released suddenly to power rapid and synchronous movements of the hind legs. How is this energy stored?


          The hind coxae of the froghopper are linked to the hinges of the ipsilateral hind wings by pleural arches, complex bow-shaped internal skeletal structures. They are built of chitinous cuticle and the rubber-like protein, resilin, which fluoresces bright blue when illuminated with ultra-violet light. The ventral and posterior end of this fluorescent region forms the thoracic part of the pivot with a hind coxa. No other structures in the thorax or hind legs show this blue fluorescence and it is not found in larvae which do not jump. Stimulating one trochanteral depressor muscle in a pattern that simulates its normal action, results in a distortion and forward movement of the posterior part of a pleural arch by 40 μm, but in natural jumping, the movement is at least 100 μm.


          Calculations showed that the resilin itself could only store 1% to 2% of the energy required for jumping. The stiffer cuticular parts of the pleural arches could, however, easily meet all the energy storage needs. The composite structure therefore, combines the stiffness of the chitinous cuticle with the elasticity of resilin. Muscle contractions bend the chitinous cuticle with little deformation and therefore, store the energy needed for jumping, while the resilin rapidly returns its stored energy and thus restores the body to its original shape after a jump and allows repeated jumping.

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          Design and mechanical properties of insect cuticle.

          Since nearly all adult insects fly, the cuticle has to provide a very efficient and lightweight skeleton. Information is available about the mechanical properties of cuticle-Young's modulus of resilin is about 1 MPa, of soft cuticles about 1 kPa to 50 MPa, of sclerotised cuticles 1-20 GPa; Vicker's Hardness of sclerotised cuticle ranges between 25 and 80 kgf mm(-2); density is 1-1.3 kg m(-3)-and one of its components, chitin nanofibres, the Young's modulus of which is more than 150 GPa. Experiments based on fracture mechanics have not been performed although the layered structure probably provides some toughening. The structural performance of wings and legs has been measured, but our understanding of the importance of buckling is lacking: it can stiffen the structure (by elastic postbuckling in wings, for example) or be a failure mode. We know nothing of fatigue properties (yet, for instance, the insect wing must undergo millions of cycles, flexing or buckling on each cycle). The remarkable mechanical performance and efficiency of cuticle can be analysed and compared with those of other materials using material property charts and material indices. Presented in this paper are four: Young's modulus-density (stiffness per unit weight), specific Young's modulus-specific strength (elastic hinges, elastic energy storage per unit weight), toughness-Young's modulus (fracture resistance under various loading conditions), and hardness (wear resistance). In conjunction with a structural analysis of cuticle these charts help to understand the relevance of microstructure (fibre orientation effects in tendons, joints and sense organs, for example) and shape (including surface structure) of this fibrous composite for a given function. With modern techniques for analysis of structure and material, and emphasis on nanocomposites and self-assembly, insect cuticle should be the archetype for composites at all levels of scale.
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            Storage of elastic strain energy in muscle and other tissues.

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              Improved stability of Drosophila larval neuromuscular preparations in haemolymph-like physiological solutions.

              Neuromuscular preparations from third instar larvae of Drosophila are not well-maintained in commonly used physiological solutions: vacuoles form in the muscle fibers, and membrane potential declines. These problems may result from the Na:K ratio and total divalent cation content of these physiological solutions being quite different from those of haemolymph. Accordingly haemolymph-like solutions, based upon ion measurements of major cations, were developed and tested. Haemolymph-like solutions maintained the membrane potential at a relatively constant level, and prolonged the physiological life of the preparations. Synaptic transmission was well-maintained in haemolymph-like solutions, but the excitatory synaptic potentials had a slower time course and summated more effectively with repetitive stimulation, than in standard Drosophila solutions. Voltage-clamp experiments suggest that these effects are linked to more pronounced activation of muscle fiber membrane conductances in standard solutions, rather than to differences in passive muscle membrane properties or changes in postsynaptic receptor channel kinetics. Calcium dependence of transmitter release was steep in both standard and haemolymph-like solutions, but higher external calcium concentrations were required for a given level of release in haemolymph-like solutions. Thus, haemolymph-like solutions allow for prolonged, stable recording of synaptic transmission.

                Author and article information

                BMC Biol
                BMC Biology
                BioMed Central
                30 September 2008
                : 6
                : 41
                [1 ]Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, UK
                [2 ]Department of Psychology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
                Copyright © 2008 Burrows et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 29 May 2008
                : 30 September 2008
                Research Article

                Life sciences
                Life sciences


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