Trap-Jaw Ants Can Escape by the Skin of Their Teeth

The trap-jaw ants, or Odontomachus, are a species of carnivorous ants that are mostly found in travel all over the world. They live in the tropics as well as the subtropics of the entire world. These ants have a pair of very large mandibles that point straight out. These mandibles, like jaws, can open a total of one hundred and eighty degrees.

Fastest Moving Jaws in the World
The mandibles are usually locked into place by an internal mechanism that can snap shut on the ant’s prey. Sensory hairs are located on the inside of the mandibles and this is what causes such a sharp snap. An innocent tickle to any one of these hairs and the trap-jaw ant now has a snack. The trap-jaw ants’ mandibles are extremely quick and powerful, thus giving this tiny ant its superior name. The mandibles are so strong that any prey caught in between them are either killed or maimed.

These tiny ants actually have the fastest moving mandibles in the entire animal kingdom. One study showed that the trap-jaw ants jaws travel at a speed of 78-143 miles per hour within 130 microseconds. That’s 300 times the body weight of the ant itself. These ants can also use their jaws to catapult themselves away from intruders or backwards to escape something that’s threatening the ant.

An assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Sheila Patek, believes the key to the powerful jaws is a latch mechanism, much like a bow and arrow. Throwing a bow doesn’t do much, but once there’s some sort of elastic energy, or a latch, the bow soars. Just a snap of the powerful jaws and not only does the ant have something to eat, but it can launch itself up to 3.3 inches. It is known that a group of these ants will start jumping all at once, making it more difficult for predators to get hold of them.

Research Shows they Use Jaws for Offense Too
Trap-jaw ants are not a special group of ants. They have evolved several times over in the ant family. Therefore, all trap-jaw ants have the spring-loaded mandibles; the mechanism itself evolved over time and has used a different set of structures to get the trap-jaw function. These ants would be the worst kind to have at your picnic.

Researchers Andy Suarez and Fred Larabee wanted to see if the trap-jaw ants used their formidable mandibles for more than just eating and defense. They gathered up a group of antlions, which are an insect that builds a sand trap for other insects, preferably ants, to fall into. When an insect falls in, the antlion grabs it for a meal.

Researchers allowed the antlions to set up their traps and then placed trap-jaw ants in the area. The researchers learned through fast-action camera shots, that when many of the ants fell into the trap, they used their jaws to defend themselves. However, others catapulted themselves out to travel away from the trap.