Geometric latches enable tuning of ultrafast, spring-propelled movements

J Exp Biol. 2023 Jan 15;226(2):jeb244363. doi: 10.1242/jeb.244363. Epub 2023 Jan 26.


The smallest, fastest, repeated-use movements are propelled by power-dense elastic mechanisms, yet the key to their energetic control may be found in the latch-like mechanisms that mediate transformation from elastic potential energy to kinetic energy. Here, we tested how geometric latches enable consistent or variable outputs in ultrafast, spring-propelled systems. We constructed a reduced-order mathematical model of a spring-propelled system that uses a torque reversal (over-center) geometric latch. The model was parameterized to match the scales and mechanisms of ultrafast systems, specifically snapping shrimp. We simulated geometric and energetic configurations that enabled or reduced variation of strike durations and dactyl rotations given variation of stored elastic energy and latch mediation. Then, we collected an experimental dataset of the energy storage mechanism and ultrafast snaps of live snapping shrimp (Alpheus heterochaelis) and compared our simulations with their configuration. We discovered that snapping shrimp deform the propodus exoskeleton prior to the strike, which may contribute to elastic energy storage. Regardless of the amount of variation in spring loading duration, strike durations were far less variable than spring loading durations. When we simulated this species' morphological configuration in our mathematical model, we found that the low variability of strike duration is consistent with their torque reversal geometry. Even so, our simulations indicate that torque reversal systems can achieve either variable or invariant outputs through small adjustments to geometry. Our combined experiments and mathematical simulations reveal the capacity of geometric latches to enable, reduce or enhance variation of ultrafast movements in biological and synthetic systems.

Keywords: Alpheus heterochaelis; Elastic mechanism; Latch-mediated spring actuation; Snapping shrimp; Torque reversal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Crustacea
  • Decapoda*
  • Models, Biological
  • Movement*
  • Torque