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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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ScienceShot: Locust Legs Show Super Strength
12 April 2012 2:00 am
A cockroach crunched underfoot may not seem like a model of strength, but scientists have discovered that bug skeletons are tougher than we think. Insects and spiders shield themselves in slick external skeletons made of cuticle, one of the most common natural composites on the planet. Composed mostly of a carbohydrate called chitin, insect cuticle differs from keratin-based human cuticle, the tough skin at the base of our fingernails. Researchers knew little about how this ubiquitous material holds up under pressure, so they plucked hind legs from living locusts and bent them until they snapped. They also nicked the tube-like legs to test their resistance to defects. Cuticle's flexibility, combined with its high tolerance for cracks, meant that a remarkable 5.56 kJ m-2 (kilojoules per square meter) of energy was needed to rip the material apart, the team reports online today in The Journal of Experimental Biology. This is more energy than is needed to tear cast iron, and makes cuticle one of nature's toughest composite materials: it's sturdier than bone, and on par with bone-based antlers and keratin-sheathed horns. Locusts need such strong legs to withstand high-impact jumps and deliver defensive kicks—something else to fear if they take the world by swarm.
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