Nature has created many miraculous things, but humanity has added a few original inventions of its own. Or has it?

University of Cambridge scientists recently determined the existence of something never before thought to exist in nature: a natural cog mechanism with an observable function. The mechanical gears are found in a European hopping insect genus called issus, which has opposing cogs with interlocking teeth in its hind legs. The intermeshed joints allow the insect's legs to synchronize when jumping. "In issus, the skeleton is used to solve a complex problem that the brain and nervous system can't," said lead author Malcolm Burrows* in a University of Cambridge news release. "This emphasizes the importance of considering the properties of the skeleton in how movement is produced."

Called the "first observation of mechanical gearing in a biological structure," the issus reminds us that even our most original ideas probably lurk somewhere in nature's archives. We simply need to look more vigorously. "We usually think of gears as something that we see in human designed machinery, but we've found that that is only because we didn't look hard enough," said paper co-author Gregory Sutton.

*Correction: The original version of this article misspelled the lead author's name.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.