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Spittle Bug Named Highest Insect Jumper

A tiny insect called the froghopper, or spittle bug, has leapt over the flea as nature's most powerful jumper. Researchers say their experiment shows that the froghopper -- a tiny, green insect that sucks the juice from alfalfa and clover -- can leap more than two feet in the air. That's more than twice as high as the flea, and the equivalent of a man jumping over the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports on the study, which appears in the current issue of Nature.

Many small insects rely on a kind of catapult mechanism to jump. Using a camera that can take 2,000 pictures a second, Malcolm Burrows of Britain's Cambridge University discovered that the froghopper's catapult is a lot more efficient than the flea's.

His photgraphs show that a froghopper, a common farm pest, accelerates 10 times faster than its insect rival. That speed on such a small body subjects the bug to 400 times the force of gravity, or 400 Gs. Pilots diving through the sky in a fighter plane reach about 10 Gs, but they need a pressure suit to survive.

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Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience and health risks.