The trapjaw ant’s lightning-quick bite should tear their heads apart.  Here’s why it doesn’t.

The trapjaw ant’s lightning-quick bite should tear their heads apart. Here’s why it doesn’t.

Moving at speeds thousands of times faster than the blink of an eye, the spring-loaded jaws of a trapjaw ant surprisingly capture the insect’s prey and can also launch the ant into the air if it aims its chompers at the ground. Now scientists have revealed how the ant’s jaws can be closed with blisters without being crushed by the force.

In a new study, published Thursday (July 21) in the Journal of Experimental Biology (opens in a new tab)a team of biologists and engineers studied a species of jawed ant called Odontomachus brunneus, native to parts of the United States, Central America and the West Indies. To build up power for their lightning-quick bites, the ants first spread their jaws apart, forming a 180-degree angle, and “buckle” them against locks inside their heads. Enormous muscles, attached to each jaw by a tendon-like cord, pull the jaws into place and flex to build up a store of elastic energy; this bending is so extreme that it distorts the sides of the ant’s head, causing them to bend inward, the team found. When the ant strikes, the jaws lock and the stored energy is released at once, crushing the jaws together.

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