Scientists in Cambridge, England have solved a riddle which the Mind of Mankind has been itching to know for three centuries, which is, how do fleas jump up to 38 times their body length. According to a really excellent New York Times article, complete with a suspenseful video of a flea in pre-leap mode, scientists now have shown that it’s tiny flea springs built into the tarsi (flea feet) which store up 100 times more energy then their flea muscles can provide.
They found this out by transporting 10 fleas from the Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital — an 87-mile trip which takes one hour and 43 minutes, according to Google Maps — and bringing them back to the lab. There they put them in a box and they periodically shined really, really bright lights on them to make them jump. And they filmed it a total of 51 times.
The research has been a question waiting to be answered ever since, in 1664, British physicist Robert Hooke studied a flea betwixt the glass slides of his microscope and wrote some of the most famous words in flea research:
“These six leggs he clitches up altogether, and when he leaps, springs them all out, and thereby exerts his whole strength at once.”
Still unanswered is the question of how the flea actually stores the energy in its tarsi. And for that next, crucial step of flea research, the good Dr. Sutton has sobering news indeed:
“If you’re half a millisecond off, you’re done, and we have no idea how they do it… It’s one step at a time — we’re just going have to take on the next problem and solve that.”