Trap ants 134 miles/hour snap shutting jaws help in escaping predators

The most amazing weapon the Odontomachus or trap-jaw ants have is their jaws. The spring-loaded jaws of these insects possess the ability to snap shut at a speed of 134 miles/hour or 60 meter/second. Also, they are capable of generating forces measuring more than 300 times of their total body weight.

The trap-jaw ants are known for being predators of different small insects including termites. Their deadly jaw-snap makes catching those insects much easier for them. That’s not all; according to a new research, these insects can also use their jaw snap for throwing themselves into the air.

Researchers involved in the study said that these special jaws can have both offensive and defensive functions. During fierce combats, these jaws can help the ants to toss opponents away. On the other hand, when the ants are under attack, they fling themselves into the air like popping popcorns and disorient the attackers.

A new study has tried to find out how these jaws would function when the trap-jaw ants try to escape their predator i.e. antlions. As their name suggests, antlions are insects that prey upon ants; they build dens in the sand and then wait for ants or other smaller insects to enter those dens.

The most prominent feature of the antlions is the big, menacing jaw they have. They use their jaws for grabbing their victims, pulling them in the sand and finally injecting digestive fluid into the body cavity of their prey.

When trying to catch trap-jaw ants, the antlions fling sand grains at them with the aim of decreasing the stability of the ants’ pit walls. This in turn makes the process of catching the Odontomachus much easier as they enter the antlion dens more quickly.

Researchers Andy Suarez and Fred Larabee have been wondering whether the trap-jaw of Odontomachus can help these ants to defend themselves against antlions. For finding a suitable answer to their question, Fred and Suarez dropped a bunch of trap-jaw ants onto a group of antlions.

The researchers began by harvesting the antlions and then allowed them to set up pitfall traps. Next, they put some ants around the pits. They found that around half of the times, the trap-jaw ants succeeded in running away from their predator’s den. The antlions ate up 36 percent of the ants while 15% made use of their special jaws for throwing themselves into the air and run away from the antlion dens.