Insect Impact

posted: 04/11/12
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As seen in "MythBusters: Bug Special"


Explanation: Zipping down the road on a motorcycle requires protective headgear, because if something hits you in the face while you're traveling at high speeds, it's going to hurt. But could colliding with an insect do that much physical damage?

MythBusters Tory Belleci, Grant Imahara and Kari Byron found out from a trauma specialist that the collision could, in fact, be fatal. The tracheal thyroid area on the throat is especially vulnerable to impact, and putting 76 pounds (34 kilograms) of pressure — the kind of weight a flying bug could wield — on it could potentially kill you once post-collision swelling sets in.

But is fatally crashing into an insect a likely scenario? To find out, Grant made a force sensor the MythBusters strapped to a mannequin. And since a mannequin can't steer a motorcycle, it sat in the sidecar while Tory steered the bike toward a series of bugs. A common fly registered 10 pounds of pressure on the force plate, and a cicada dealt a 37-pound (17-kilogram) blow — neither of which would be fatal.

Next, Tory ran headlong into a Goliath beetle, a 4-ounce (100-gram) African insect and one of the largest six-legged crawlers on Earth. That bulky bug tipped the scales at more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of force, exceeding the fatal limit.

However, since this species of beetle doesn't venture outside Africa, and it would have to hit you at such a precise spot, the team couldn't coax this myth beyond a plausible finding. If the insects aligned perfectly, in other words, a motorcyclist could potentially die - but it's highly unlikely.

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