Jumping without legs may sound as absurd as flying without wings, but it turns out maggots are capable of leaping upwards of 12cm.
The tiny insects have been seen catapulting themselves distances of more than 40 times their size.
Researchers have filmed the so-called Asphondylia maggots jumping between 4.9cm and 12.1cm, even though they only measure 0.3cm long.
They make the ambitious move shortly after hatching from eggs laid on goldenrods, as they must make a swift exit from the plants before they become too damaged to keep harvesting the nutritious galls the maggots need to survive.
And they are only capable of such an impressive showcase of athleticism in August, though it is not known why.
Mike Wise, of Roanoke College in Virginia, said the feat “borders on the fantastical”.
He was keen to share his findings with his graduate school friend Sheila Patek at Duke University in North Carolina, where a team has spent three years examining the maggots and working to try and capture them performing on video.
Team member Grace Farley said: “We had to zoom in with the camera lens to see the animal clearly and then we had to operate within a small field of view on our computer screen.
“We really had to work as a team and communicate.”
The result – detailed in the Journal of Experimental Biology – was a slow-motion clip showing how the maggots make the jumps by curling their bodies up before springing themselves forward.
One end of their body is planted on the ground, the opposite side is slid underneath until they meet, before the upper portion compresses the lower section to produce an improvised leg about halfway up.
The makeshift limb swells as the maggot keeps pushing, and makes a final effort to allow its entire body to be propelled into the air like a crumb being flicked off your leg at a picnic.
Just as surprising as the fact that the maggots are capable of jumping is what allows them to do it – their bodies are covered in microscopic hairs.
The team suspects the hairs are so tiny that they are able to squash up close enough to another surface to latch on with molecular forces, attaching the two ends of the maggot together while it applies pressure in preparation for take-off.
The research has been studied by Greg Sutton of the University of Lincoln, who calculated that the amount of energy used to crawl was 28.75 times more costly than jumping.