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If you were running at top speed, you would probably slow down or stop to avoid bashing into a looming obstacle. But scuttling cockroaches careen into walls headfirst, and this head-butting approach seems to work to the insects' advantage, new research shows.
Small roaches with robust exoskeletons use their heads "like an automobile bumper," scientists reported in a new study. When a scurrying roach's head hits a wall, its body rebounds upward at an angle, enabling the insect to scale the vertical surface more quickly than if it had applied the brakes.
Animals - Terrain - Interplay - Senses - Brains
When animals navigate tricky terrain, an interplay between their senses and their brains helps them avoid obstacles and potentially fatal missteps. But the roaches' strategy suggests that some animals rely on their own body shapes to not only protect them from collisions, but also to channel that momentum into a successful escape maneuver, the study authors reported in the study, which was published online Feb. 13 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
The researchers tested 18 male cockroaches on paper-lined running surfaces that terminated in vertical walls, recording high-speed video at 500 frames per second and using motion-tracking software to analyze the roaches' transition from horizontal track to vertical wall.
Eye - Roaches - Wall - Scientists - Study
To the naked eye, it looked like all the roaches that scaled the wall did so seamlessly, the scientists noted in the study. But the slow-motion footage told another story: The roaches used two different strategies to climb the wall, one of which involved ramming the wall with their heads to "lift off" into a climbing posture.
Roaches that charge at walls get a head start in climbing them.
Roaches - Wall-climbers - Study - Author - Kaushik
And the head-ramming roaches were more efficient wall-climbers, the study's lead author, Kaushik Jayaram, a postdoctoral fellow in Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, told Live Science.
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