If you were a somersaulting beetle larva, where would you tumble? Well, for the Southeastern Beach Tiger Beetle, it’s the wide sandy beaches along the Atlantic Coast.
In a recently published paper, Wind-Powered Wheel Locomotion, Initiated by Leaping Somersaults, in Larvae of the Southeastern Beach Tiger Beetle (Cicindela dorsalis media), researchers Alan Harvey and Sarah Zukoff traveled to Cumberland Island National Seashore off the coast of Georgia to document the methods and performance ability of these somersaulting larvae.
The image below comes from Figure 1 of the paper and illustrates the common leaping and wheel initiation sequence of the tiger beetle larvae.
Leaping is difficult for soft-bodied legless animals, but has been reported in some juvenile nematodes and fly larvae. Wheel locomotion can be an efficient way for an animal to travel, but it is usually only efficient if the surface area is hard and flat.
Besides the C. dorsalis media larvae, there are a few other animals able to initiate wheel locomotion. They include the Namib wheel spiders (Carparachne spp.), which use gravity to cart wheel down sand dunes, and two species of caterpillar, which actively roll themselves along. The C. dorsalis media is unique in using the wind to help begin and sustain its wheeling sprint; as a result the beetle larvae are often propelled uphill, driven by winds blowing in from offshore.
The video above was taken at 10 times the normal speed and shows a C. dorsalis media larva somersaulting through the air.
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