To examine the effects of variation in body form on the mechanics of terrestrial locomotion, we used a miniature force platform to measure the ground reaction forces of the smallest and, relative to its mass, one of the fastest invertebrates ever studied, the American cockroach Periplaneta americana (mass = 0.83 g). From 0.44-1.0 ms-1, P. americana used an alternating tripod stepping pattern. Fluctuations in gravitational potential energy and horizontal kinetic energy of the center of mass were nearly in phase, characteristic of a running or bouncing gait. Aerial phases were observed as vertical ground reaction force approached zero at speeds above 1 ms-1. At the highest speeds (1.0-1.5 ms-1 or 50 body lengths per second), P. americana switched to quadrupedal and bipedal running. Stride frequency approached the wing beat frequencies used during flight (27 Hz). High speeds were attained by increasing stride length, whereas stride frequency showed little increase with speed. The mechanical power used to accelerate the center of mass increased curvilinearly with speed. The mass-specific mechanical energy used to move the center of mass a given distance was similar to that measured for animals five orders of magnitude larger in mass, but was only one-hundredth of the metabolic cost.

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