To test whether jumping launches moths into the air, take-off by 58 species, ranging in mass from 0.1 to 220 mg, was captured in videos at 1000 frames s−1. Three strategies for jumping were identified. First, rapid movements of both middle and hind legs provided propulsion while the wings remained closed. Second, middle and hind legs again provided propulsion but the wings now opened and flapped after take-off. Third, wing and leg movements both began before take-off and led to an earlier transition to powered flight. The middle and hind legs were of similar lengths and were between 10 and 130% longer than the front legs. The rapid depression of the trochantera and extension of the middle tibiae began some 3 ms before similar movements of the hind legs, but their tarsi lost contact with the ground before take-off. Acceleration times ranged from 10 ms in the lightest moths to 25 ms in the heaviest ones. Peak take-off velocities varied from 0.6 to 0.9 m s−1 in all moths, with the fastest jump achieving a velocity of 1.2 m s−1. The energy required to generate the fastest jumps was 1.1 µJ in lighter moths but rose to 62.1 µJ in heavier ones. Mean accelerations ranged from 26 to 90 m s−2 and a maximum force of 9 g was experienced. The highest power output was within the capability of normal muscle so that jumps were powered by direct contractions of muscles without catapult mechanisms or energy storage.

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