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Published on Apr 6, 2012
Science has brought us closer to solving the mysteries of distant galaxies, and the origin of our universe, but there are still many unanswered questions closer to home. Important questions like, why do insects cross their legs when they die? This believe it or not is still kind of a mystery! While there doesn't appear to be a definitive answer, some entomologists have offered theories. Brian Farrell, an entomologist at Harvard University suspects it is simply rigor mortis, the post-death stiffening that occurs due to chemical transformation of muscle tissue. He believes this this forces the bugs legs to contract as much as possible in the direction of the least resistance. In other words, in death it's easier for insect limbs to bend than to break - or straighten. However, post-muscle stiffness might not be the only part of the answer. Jeffrey Shultz, an entomologist at the University of Maryland, hypothesizes that a lot of insects cross their legs when they dry, post death, not when they actually die. The key, Shultz says, may lie in a structure called the arthrodial membranes. Arthrodial membranes, also known as the soft cuticle, are pliable because of their water content. When an insect dies, this cuticle would dry and contract, flexing the bug's joints into the cross-legged position. A good way for someone to test this theory would be to observe insects dying in water. So pay attention the next time you find a dead cockroach floating in your sink - you might be able to solve a scientific riddle!