An insect’s small size gives it the gift of relatively greater strength. The newly discovered South African cockroach Saltoblattella montistabularis takes advantage of this fact plus several other features, as Washington State University entomologist Carol Anelli describes here:

This is very cool for several reasons.

It is a wingless cockroach, described for the first time only two years ago, and the first existing roach known to jump. It achieves this feat with modified hind legs that possess long femurs invested with enlarged muscles. These long femurs—akin to the longest bone in the human body—help give grasshoppers their great jumping ability.

Grasshoppers also have a special rubber-like protein called “resilin,” and it is also found in these roaches, between the femur and the tibia of the hind, jumping legs. Recent research suggests that, like grasshoppers, these roaches store energy via resilin in advance of the jump, then release it suddenly to catapult forward. In fact, the researchers found several anatomical adaptations in these roaches that are not found in other related roaches but are found in grasshoppers.

According to their results, this roach is capable of jumping 48 times its body length, outperforming locusts at 20 body lengths—very cool! The researchers speculate that the evolution of jumping in these roaches reflects their native habitat. They need to jump accurately between grass and sedge stems. Unlike other roaches, they also have bulging eyes that presumably help them land accurately.

Read more about Carol Anelli’s work on the physics of insects in “Living the right-sized life.”