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Sharpshooter Insects Are Real Wizzes at Whizzing

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Sharpshooters survive by guzzling a lot of plant sap. But drinking all of that liquid nutrition presents a problem for these tiny insects: how do you move it all out? They’ve perfected a super-propulsive urination technique using a special catapult in their butt.

TRANSCRIPT

Not a cloud in the sky. So how is it raining under this grapevine?

That’s not rain … that’s pee!

It comes from this insect, a sharpshooter.

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And flinging pee rapid-fire like this is crucial to its survival.

The sharpshooter gets all its nutrition from the thin, watery liquid inside a plant, called xylem sap, which it sucks out with this tube-shaped stylet.

Both the brilliant blue adults and their translucent nymphs feed on the sap in grapevines and other plants.

The sap has so little nutrition that sharpshooters need to guzzle nonstop.

They consume more than 300 times their body weight a day.

That’d be like you downing over 80 bathtubs of cucumber water.

Yummmmmm.

The sharpshooter uses massive muscles in its head to suck out the liquid.

Taking all that liquid in presents a problem – how to move it out.

When you’re this small, gravity won’t just roll this effluent away.

Instead, surface tension makes the drops stick to the sharpshooter.

Gah!

And if it can’t remove those drops, the sharpshooter could get sick … or rot.

So, best to send that pee flying away as fast as possible.

And the sharpshooter has evolved the perfect tool for the job: an anal stylus – or butt flicker, if you will.

As the pee flows out of the sharpshooter, it accumulates. When enough of it collects, kapow! The flicker catapults the drop away with tremendous power.

They even do it while doing it.

Here’s something incredible: Each drop of pee actually travels faster than the speed at which the butt flicker launched it.

It’s called superpropulsion.

Scientists at Georgia Tech filmed sharpshooters peeing in slo-mo.

The researchers noticed that after the sharpshooter forms a pee droplet, it gets compressed.

Like what happens to a water balloon that hits the ground and flattens.

A force builds in that compression, which then springs the balloon back into shape and away from the surface.

The same goes for the drop of pee!

It picks up speed as it returns to its orb shape.

So, why would researchers want to study insect urination?

Learning how sharpshooters eject liquid could help our own tiny devices do the same and be more reliable. Things like hearing aids or phones.

Everyone has something they’re good at, right?

The sharpshooter, it’s a whiz at whizzing.

Hey Deep Look! It’s Laura. Check out our recent weevil episode, these furry insects with stupendous snoots.

On a related note – it’s un-beweevilby expensive to produce our videos.

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