back to article Not just you in the night: Tiny bugs use superpropulsion to eject huge volumes of pee

Scientists have discovered that the tiny insects commonly known as sharpshooters use superpropulsion to ensure they can efficiently eject the huge volumes of urine they produce each day. Sharpshooters eat plant sap, which is mostly water and light in nutrients. To consume enough to survive, they might need to emit 300 times …

  1. ParlezVousFranglais

    Turning this from academic theory into a useful practical application sounds like a piece of piss to me...

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Not until they employ the fans of the method and adapt it for solids to be used in a resonant strategy.

      Then you have a liquid shit storm.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      ...or taking it.

    3. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      How do you get a piece of piss?

      Do you deposit it on a glass and then wait for any liquid to evaporate?

      1. Fred Daggy Silver badge

        Saturday night palsy

        Yes, at the pub. Every Saturday night, once "the seal is broken".

        And also the next morning following the night before's slightly dodgy kebab and or curry.

    4. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

      Sh*t and awe

      Think of the military applications. Create something like a rail gun with the crews waste product as ammunition. Wipe out the opposition.

  2. RichardBarrell

    My first thought was of spacecraft. If you could expel liquid at about 3500m/s ish then you could have a liquid propelled rocket that competes on Isp with chemical rockets that expel fire. ;)

    I'm sure the scales are WAY off for that, but it's an amusing thought.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Be warned that my comment is based upon a limited understanding of liquid fuelled rockets.

      Due to the quadratic portion of the E=MV^2 equation, speed is vastly more important than mass. That leads to situations where Hydrogen + Oxygen engines run as hydrogen rich as they can get away with for a desired exhaust velocity because the hydrogen molecules get a lot more speed than the oxygen or water molecules due to their lower mass.

      With that in mind, a propulsion system like the one you describe would have to focus on liquids and quantities which have exceptionally high resonant frequencies which I believe means very small amounts of the liquid which, in turn, leads to it being a low thrust, high efficiency engine along the lines of nuclear engines or xenon thrusters. Not useful for leaving a planet but has potential once in orbit.

      All that being said, if the engine can be made incredibly tiny, then it's thrust to weight might actually line up well against chemical rockets, just running 10,000 of them rather than 32.

      1. that one in the corner Silver badge

        The mighty machine manoeuvres majestically moonwards, momentum mounting, multiple modules of MegaPee Motors modulating in musical mayhem.

        1. Snapper

          You missed the obvious 'Micturition' in your marvellous missive!

      2. ArrZarr Silver badge

        Correcting something I said here.

        Chemical engines have a maximum heat that the nozzle is designed to take.

        That defines a maximum rate of combustion.

        The heavier molecule (e.g. Oxygen) is regulated to manage the rate of combustion.

        The lighter molecule (e.g. Hydrogen) is run rich.

        Running the lighter molecule too rich means you need more fuel on the rocket and can over-saturate the heat energy provided by combustion.

        Running the lighter molecule too lean means you're losing efficiency by putting more heat energy into the M rather than the V^2.

    2. steelpillow Silver badge

      "The Makeshift Rocket", Poul Anderson, 1963.

      In this case, it was beer barrels....

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "I'm sure the scales are WAY off for that, but it's an amusing thought."

      Upvoted for the idea :-)

      But, or should that be butt?, scaling up or down with liquids rarely works well. Just look at the difficulties experienced by modellers in the TV and film industry when it was actual models, not CGI. Scaled down ships could look ok, but the water never quite "worked", even with all their cameras trickery and film playback speed adjustments. Same with fire and explosions. What works on a tiny scale with a miniscule nozzle, a tiny drop of pee and some frequency adjustment isn't likely to translate when trying to eject a football[*] sized "droplet" :-)

      The round one, not the faux one that's more sort of ovoid and rarely kicked so not really a "foor"ball :-)

      PS. Did these researchers just discover biological inkjet printer nozzles? Didn't Canons Bubblejet technology use piezo crystal to eject the ink droplet? Or was that heat and HP did the piezo thing?

  3. 45RPM Silver badge

    Rupert Murdoch does something similar to eject huge volumes of *hit.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Nah, that's just diarrhoea. Non-stop diarrhoea.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Rupert is a mere amateur

      compared to the fart mouth that is Tuckums. The amount of shit and urine he spews on a daily basis is enough to sink a battleship.

  4. Nifty Silver badge

    "Ballistic motions"... Are we sure that some humans don't have superpropulsion?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Cuury and Guiness

      Just feed these bugs with lots of the above, and as a fellow commentard says, strap 32,000 of them to a rocket, and bingo....

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Cuury and Guiness

        Nah, pickled Red Cabbage or Sauerkraut.

        1. cookieMonster Silver badge

          Re: Cuury and Guiness


          It’s Guinness, two or three pints, then Cabbage for dinner, then back to the pub for another three or four pints of Guinness.


          Next morning, Stand Back.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Cuury and Guiness

            "Next morning, Stand Back."

            Just remember to avoid the peanuts at the bar. Or worse, make sure to avoid sweetcorn. Unless you like pebble-dashed walls.

      2. Snapper

        Re: Cuury and Guiness

        to save time you could superglue them!

        After all they ain't coming back.

        Or are they.....

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "energy-constrained xylem-sap"

    That's their problem right there. Should have stayed with phloem.

    1. Sceptic Tank Silver badge

      Xylem? Phloem? Red Bull...

      How does that insect know what it's drinking? I personally had to quickly consult Wonkypedia.

  6. Eclectic Man Silver badge


    Sounds like a contender for the next lot of Ig-Nobel prizes to me.

    And possibly coming to an ink-jet printer near you in the next few years, as an insect a few millimetres long is just about right as a model for the nozzle, or do ink jets use even smaller droplets?

    1. MOH

      Re: Ig-Nobel?

      Fine until the insect tries drinking sap that isn't manufacturer-certified and finds it's suddenly unable to expel any more urine, with disastrous consequences

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ig-Nobel?

      Possibly came to an ink-jet printer near you many years ago. They use drops in the 10pl-or-so range, and it's common to use a waveform which causes resonances in the firing chamber in order to eject drops efficiently. Imagexpert make development equipment for this sort of thing.

      Anon as I'm in the industry.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ig-Nobel?

        Would that not perforate the paper?


        (joking aside, that DID actually work on a dot matrix - just leave out the linefeed part of a cariiage return a few times)

      2. H in The Hague

        Re: Ig-Nobel?

        "Imagexpert make development equipment for this sort of thing."

        Thanks - some interesting reading on their site about the inner workings of inkjet printers.

    3. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: And possibly coming to an ink-jet printer near you...

      Yep, the Pissoelectric effect

  7. Ball boy Silver badge

    Read the article - it's worth it...

    ...just for the phrase "Many insect species may be described as ‘frass-shooters,’ ‘butt-flickers,’ and ‘turd-hurlers’ that innovated unusual strategies to launch away both liquid and solid excrements" ('Discussion', about half way in)

    Never thought I'd read a science paper that mentions turd-hurling but there we go. Mind you, I think I've worked for one or two turd-hurlers in my time!

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: Read the article - it's worth it... - ASIDE

      In his book 'How to argue with a racist', the geneticist Adam Rutherford uses the phrase "bat-shit crazy". Academia has come a looong way since when I was a minion PhD student.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Read the article - it's worth it...

      > ‘frass-shooters,’ ‘butt-flickers,’ and ‘turd-hurlers’

      Instead of using "Anonymous Coward" to identify posting without an account, thereg should just randomly choose one of the above for each post.

      - Frass-shooter

    3. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

      Re: Read the article - it's worth it...

      Frass-shooting, butt-flicking, turd-hurler.

      I'm going to remember that for the next time I hit my thumb with a hammer.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Read the article - it's worth it...

        ...or discuss your pay rise with a recalcitrant boss?

  8. Fr. Ted Crilly Bronze badge


    Now they are just taking the piss...

  9. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    County Hell

    "they might need to emit 300 times their body weight in waste water every day." - On the first day of March it was raining, It was raining worse than anything that I have ever seen, I drank ten pints of beer and I cursed all the people there ...

    1. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

      Re: County Hell

      "emit 300 times their body weight in waste water every day"

      I'm getting on in years so that seems about normal.

  10. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    If there was an award for editors who know their readers' tastes the best, this article would surely win it.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      You like the taste of piss and use an icon of a pint? You must be a yank![*] :-)

      Yes, yes, I KNOW the US has some some excellent craft breweries, but your average everyday folk still drink Bud and Coors.

  11. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Memory is a strange thing

    sharpshooters temporarily tune the frequency of their "anal stylus" to the frequency of their pee droplets

    For some reason I'm now thinking of Stylophones.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Memory is a strange thing

      "For some reason I'm now thinking of Stylophones."'re not allowed to mention that now. Remember who was the "face of Stylophone" was back in the day.

  12. chivo243 Silver badge

    First thought..

    Monkeys flinging poo... Don't give them any more brilliant ideas!

  13. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    That's convenient...

    [Oh no, a discovered pun, too late].

    Students learn all about Q Factor when covering the subject of resonance, now they are going to have to learn about P Factor too.

  14. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge


    I forget where I read this, but someone collected insects in a box and s/he became curious about an occasional ticking noise coming from the box. Upon further investigation it turns out that these creatures fire their feces considerable distance, meaning that their home is clear of muck, but not so good for neighbouring insects. This phenomenon might also involve resonance when considering creature-size and distance flung.


    Edit 2: I see someone else has already mentioned this.

  15. bertkaye

    I'm pretty sure there's a Pixar comedy in this. Bugs II: Taking the Piss

  16. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    "anal stylus"

    What a useful phrase. It nicely describes LLM chatbots as well.

    1. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

      Re: "anal stylus"

      After a party night at college you would occasionally see a message written in the snow, with a "penile stylus" I assume.

      I don't think a message written with a "anal stylus" would be quite as legible.

  17. Mitoo Bobsworth

    Drinkers rejoice

    If this can be developed for humans, think of the time saved not standing in front of the urinal - although pub owners may have to spend a bit on reinforcement.

    1. Ken Shabby

      Re: Drinkers rejoice

      As would your bits, don’t fancy their chance of survival.

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