The beetle that also invented the wheel

Marc Abrahams - Improbable Research

When the Australian patent office granted a 2001 patent to Mr. John Keogh for inventing the wheel (an action for which they shared an Ig Nobel Prize), little acknowledgment was given to those animals who regularly reinvent themselves a wheels.

One of those animals is celebrated in a new study:

"Wind-Powered Wheel Locomotion, Initiated by Leaping Somersaults, in Larvae of the Southeastern Beach Tiger Beetle (Cicindela dorsalis media)", Alan Harvey and Sarah Zukoff, PLoS ONE 6(3): e17746. The authors, at Georgia Southern University and the University of Missouri, report: "Wheel locomotion, in which the animal's entire body rolls forward along a central axis, has been reported for only a handful of animals worldwide. Here we present the first documented case of wind-powered wheel locomotion, in larvae of the coastal tiger beetle Cicindela dorsalis media. When removed from their shallow burrows, larvae easily can be induced to enter a behavioral sequence that starts with leaping; while airborne, larvae loop their body into a rotating wheel and usually either ‘hit the ground rolling' or leap again."


This drawing from the study shows the animal's gymnastic twists. The accompanying caption explains "Sequence of events: a) being prodded; b–c) coiling and rolling backwards until pygopod (tail) contacts sand; d) straightening out, pushing off sand into the air, rotating forward; e) landing on sand; at this point larva either begins wheeling, returns to extended position (a), or proceeds to f) when pygopod or head contacts sand, straightening out, pushing off sand into the air, rotating backward; when larva lands on sand, proceeds to either (a) or (c)."

Several videos, online as part of the study, document the action. See especially the video called S4. Ed Yong has written up the study, and put a nice extract of one of the videos online.

(Thanks to investigator Dany Adams for bringing this to our attention.)

This post originally appeared on Improbable Research.


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