Bugs: secret superpowers?
August 17, 2013 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I have sort of a bozo question about insects and physics. Why is it that when I shoo a wingless insect from, say, my arm, said insects falls the human equivalent of many storeys to the ground and doesn't die? Physics was never my forte, but this seems to defy some basic law, does it not?
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Scaling applied to Biology
posted by carsonb at 10:41 AM on August 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:42 AM on August 17, 2013

I agree with carsonb, this is due to the Square-cube law.
posted by RichardP at 10:46 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by Quilford at 10:47 AM on August 17, 2013

One consequence: if you drop a mouse off the Empire State it will bounce a little and walk away looking rather dizzy.
posted by katrielalex at 10:47 AM on August 17, 2013

The scaling issue/square cube law is also why an ant can lift an order of magnitude or two greater than its own weight, and why elephants have really big ears (←TIL).
posted by carsonb at 10:50 AM on August 17, 2013

Best answer: Poking around, J. B. S. Haldane's 1926 essay On Being the Right Size admirably covers how the Square-cube law affects animals:
You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.
posted by RichardP at 10:55 AM on August 17, 2013 [11 favorites]

See this video. An astronaut drops a hammer and a feather at the same time on the moon. Both hit the floor at the same time, because there is no air resistance to slow the feather. I'm sure if you dropped an insect on the moon, it would do a lot more damage.
posted by derbs at 11:01 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

"a horse splashes" is awesome.

When I saw this question my first thought was exoskeleton. Much wilder that they're gliding down.
posted by abecedarium radiolarium at 11:32 AM on August 17, 2013

Terminal velocity of a falling bug is not enough to terminate the bug when it hits.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:01 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's possible for humans to fall thousands of feet to the ground and not die. Parachutes. Same phenomena here.
posted by yohko at 9:46 AM on August 18, 2013

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