Tuesday, August 22, 2006

 

Ant jaws break speed record, propel insects into air, biologists find

A species of ant native to Central and South America is entering the annals of extreme animal movement, boasting jaws arguably more impressive than such noteworthy contenders as the great white shark and the spotted hyena.

Biologists clocked the speed at which the trap-jaw ant, Odontomachus bauri, closes its mandibles at 35 to 64 meters per second, or 78 to 145 miles per hour - an action they say is the fastest self-powered predatory strike in the animal kingdom. The average duration of a strike was a mere 0.13 milliseconds, or 2,300 times faster than the blink of an eye...

...O. bauri appears to be rather unusual among trap-jaw ants in that it definitely uses its jaws for functions other than prey capture, namely defense," said Suarez. "It remains to be seen if other trap-jaw ants have co-opted their high speed mandibles for other purposes."

While many examples of multi-functionality exist among other animals - bird feathers are used for both heat regulation and flight, for example - the researchers note that the spring-latch system for the jaws has evolved a remarkable four times in ants, at least, and perhaps twice in evolutionary history has the system been used for propulsion. These multiple independent origins of such structures - a rare occurrence in evolution - offer insights into how novel behaviors may evolve in biology...
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The above Berkeley news release is based on a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper (PNAS) "Multifunctionality and mechanical origins: Ballistic jaw propulsion in trap-jaw ants": Abstract

The news release contains a link to two short videos ('Escape Jump' and 'Mandible Strike') which are directly accessible here (requires Quicktime 7.1)

The Washington Post's 'Science Notebook' also carries a report: "Trap-Jaw Ant's Bite Sets Record"

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