22 July 2008
"Catapulting" trap-jaw ants
"It is the speeding bullet of the natural world. The trap-jaw ant snaps shut its mandibles at speeds of 35 to 64 metres per second, about 2300 times faster than the blink of an eye.
That makes it the fastest recorded strike in the animal kingdom, says Sheila Patek at the University of California, Berkeley, US, and colleagues. The previous record holder, the mantis shrimp, punched at a relatively sluggish 23 metres per second.
The ant, Odontomachus bauri, cranks its mandibles open with a pair of huge muscles in its head, and holds them cocked with a latch called the clypeus. Releasing the latch unleashes the stored energy, much as a crossbow releases its energy when fired.
The tiny terror uses its mandibles for more than just biting. If a predator threatens, the ant can strike its jaws on the ground and catapult itself to safety. Vertical jumps can reach over 8 centimetres, and horizontal jumps can throw it almost 40 cm."
(Text credit to Arbroath. The "catapulting" begins in the video at about the 0:40 mark. Filmed in slow motion, and quite startling in its efficacy.)