Sticky Explanations

Pea aphid on alfalfa

Pea aphid on alfalfa

Thank you, Ed.  Thank you, National Geographic. A smart fellow who communicates clearly, a great publication with a long history of communicating important information with good writing and excellent photography; now we have an explanation for:

How Falling Aphids Land on Their Feet Like Cats

by Ed Yong

Cats are famous for landing on their feet after a fall, but they aren’t the only animals that do so. The tiny pea aphid can also right itself in mid-air, and it does so in a way that’s far simpler than a falling feline.

Pea aphids face many dangers, including parasitic body-snatchers and predators. And since they spend their time sitting on plants, they could be inadvertently eaten by hungry grazing mammals. The aphids have no aggressive defences to deploy. Instead, they escape by falling. If they smell the breath of a grazer, they’ll release their hold on their plant, and tumble to safety.

Moshe Gish from the University of Haifa was studying this behaviour when he noticed that the aphids always rotate their bodies during their descent to land on their feet. To test this ability, he teamed up with Gal Ribak from the Israel Institute of Technology. They placed aphids on fava beans hanging over a layer of petroleum jelly, and threatened them with a ladybird—one of their natural predators. The aphids fell off and the jelly preserved the outline of their impact. Up to 95 percent of the insects landed on their feet.

Read the whole post here.

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