Increased muscular volume and cuticular specialisations enhance jump velocity in solitarious compared with gregarious desert locusts, Schistocerca gregaria

Steven Rogers, Jo Riley, Caroline Brighton, Gregory Sutton, Darron Cullen, Malcolm Burrows

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
348 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

The desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, shows a strong phenotypic plasticity. It can develop, depending upon population density, into either a solitarious or gregarious phase that differs in many aspects of behaviour, physiology and morphology. Prominent amongst these differences is that solitarious locusts have proportionately longer hind femora than gregarious locusts. The hind femora contain the muscles and energy-storing cuticular structures that propel powerful jumps using a catapult-like mechanism. We show that solitarious locusts jump on average 23% faster and 27% further than gregarious locusts, and attribute this improved performance to three sources: first, a 17.5% increase in the relative volume of their hind femur, and hence muscle volume; second, a 24.3% decrease in the stiffness of the energy-storing semi-lunar processes of the distal femur; and third, a 4.5% decrease in the stiffness of the tendon of the extensor tibiae muscle. These differences mean that solitarious locusts can generate more power and store more energy in preparation for a jump than can gregarious locusts. This improved performance comes at a cost: solitarious locusts expend nearly twice the energy of gregarious locusts during a single jump and the muscular co-contraction that energises the cuticular springs takes twice as long. There is thus a trade-off between achieving maximum jump velocity in the solitarious phase against the ability to engage jumping rapidly and repeatedly in the gregarious phase.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-648
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Volume219
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2016

Keywords

  • Jumping
  • biomechanics
  • grasshopper
  • locust
  • Phase change
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • Energy storage
  • Muscle force

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