The energetics of ascent: Insects on inclines

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The Journal of experimental biology




Small animals use more metabolic energy per unit mass than large animals to run on a level surface. If the cost to lift one gram of mass one vertical meter is constant, small animals should require proportionally smaller increases in metabolic cost to run uphill. To test this hypothesis on very small animals possessing an exceptional capacity for ascending steep gradients, we measured the metabolic cost of locomotion in the cockroach, Periplaneta americana, running at angles of 0, 45 and 90 degrees to the horizontal. Resting oxygen consumption (VO2rest) was not affected by incline angle. Steady-state oxygen consumption (VO2ss) increased linearly with speed at all angles of ascent. The minimum cost of locomotion (the slope of the VO2ss versus speed function) increased with increasing angle of ascent. The minimum cost of locomotion on 45 and 90 degrees inclines was two and three times greater, respectively, than the cost during horizontal running. The cockroach's metabolic cost of ascent greatly exceeds that predicted from the hypothesis of a constant efficiency for vertical work. Variations in stride frequency and contact time cannot account for the high metabolic cost, because they were independent of incline angle. An increase in the metabolic cost or amount of force production may best explain the increase in metabolic cost. Small animals, such as P. americana, can easily scale vertical surfaces, but the energetic cost is considerable.