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Cockroaches Use 'Power Boosters' To Chew Through Tough Materials, Researchers Say

Nov 12, 2015 03:28 PM EST
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Knawing through tough materials are now problem for coackroaches who turn on mandible boosters that give them super-charged chewing powers, according to researchers from the University of Cambridge.

An insect's jaw is a very important survival tool. Unlike other animals, insects have a pair of strong, horizontally aligned blade-like jaws, also known as mandibles, which are used for shredding food, feeding offspring, digging, transporting, and defense. An insect's mandibles are attached to their head capsule, which also contains their mouth muscles and vital organs for central nervous and digestive systems.

So how exactly to the indestructible insects make their way through otherwise impenetrable objects? After careful examination, researchers found cockroaches use a combination of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers located in their jaws. They employ slow twitch muscle fibers, which generates a relatively strong bite force, when they need to chew through tough materials such as wood that requires repetitive, hard biting. 

"Ours is the first study to measure the bite forces of ordinary insects, and we found that the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, can generate a bite force around 50 times stronger than their own body weight. In relative terms that's about five times stronger than the force a human can generate with their jaws," Tom Weihmann, lead author of the study from the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology, said in a news release

For their study, researchers measured the force of 300 cockroaches bite across a range of mandible opening angles. In doing so, researchers found cockroaches could exert short and weak bites, as well as long and strong bites.

"The weaker, shorter bites were generated by relatively fast muscle fibers, while the longer, stronger bites were driven by additional muscle fibers that take time to reach their maximum force," Weihmann explained, "these slower muscle fibers give the mandibles a force boost to allow them to exert up to 0.5 Newtons during sustained grasping or chewing."

Understanding how an insect's small head capsule withstands such powerful forces has implications for designing sophisticated technology, researchers noted. Their study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE

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