Like a bear trap

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Photo credit: Alex Wild (myrmecos.net)

Strange and oddly shaped mouth parts a certainly not rare in the animal kingdom and ants have their share of strangely appearing mouth parts as well. One species which undoubtedly breaks a record is the trap-jaw ant Odontomachus bauri. Named after its jaws, which close like a snap, this ant species has one of the fastest predator strikes currently known in the animal kingdom. Dr. Sheila Patek and her colleagues have clocked the movement of the closing mandibles with 35 to 64 meters per second (78 to 145 miles per hour), which means the time it takes the ant to strike is a mere 0.13 milliseconds (that is about 2,300 times faster than the blink of an eye) and each jaw generating forces exceeding 300 times the insect’s body weight.

Trap jaw-ants use their jaws to capture prey, eject intruders or, more oddly, “jump” to safety when threatened by striking their jaws against the ground to propel themselves into the air. These “jumps” cast the ants up to heights of 6.1 to 8.3 centimeters, but only 3.1 centimeters horizontally, which is enough to confuse enemies and escape. The full research article of Dr. Patek’s study has been published in PNAS.

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