Skip to main content

This Dracula ant's jaws could make it the fastest animal on earth

The Dracula ant is not much of a traveler. Located mostly in the tropics of Africa, Australia and Asia, the tiny creatures spend most of their lives burrowed into tree trunks or underground, to the endless frustration of scientists who would like to study them.
So, imagine the surprise of the researchers who recently discovered that Dracula ants might be the fastest animals on earth.
To be clear, you could easily beat the Dracula ant in a foot race. But one species, Mystrium camillae, has a pair of ingeniously designed mandibles that can snap at 200 mph, according to a study published Wednesday in Royal Society Open Science. That’s 5,000 times faster than you can blink your eye and 1,000 times faster than you can snap your fingers. It’s also three times faster than the mandibles of the trap-jaw ant, the previous fastest-moving insect on record.
The findings provide new insight into ant evolution and could help engineers design more powerful and efficient machines.
Frederick Larabee, an entomologist at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, had been studying ants with powerful jaws at the University of Illinois in 2014 when his colleague, Andrew Suarez, was lucky enough to collect two colonies of Dracula ants in Borneo.
“We had spent four or five years trying to get a single colony,” containing thousands of insects, Larabee said. “But we were never able to get more than a few workers.”
Once Suarez brought the colonies back to his Illinois lab, the researchers quickly realized that their equipment wasn’t powerful enough to study them.
“The ants were so fast that we couldn’t slow their motion down with the cameras we had,” Larabee said. “That’s when we knew we were onto something special.”
They transported the ants to Duke University, where they could film them with a camera that captured up to 1 million frames per second. (The camera at the University of Illinois could capture only 100,000 frames per second.) They also used X-ray imaging to study the mandibles in three dimensions.
They found that unlike trap-jaw ants, whose jaws snap close from an open position, this Dracula ant uses its mandibles much like a pair of snapping fingers. The ant presses two small appendages together, spring loading them with potential energy, until one slides past the other. The immense force generated by the pent-up energy can be used to stun or kill prey, which are then brought back to the nest and eaten. It takes just 0.000015 seconds for the appendages to accelerate from 0 to 200 mph.
By comparing the jaws of Dracula ants and trap-jaw ants, a genus of tropical ant whose mandibles reach speeds of 140 mph, researchers can see how similar functions evolved in different ways. Larabee and his team also plan to further study how the Dracula ant uses its mandibles in the wild.
Of course, records are made to be broken, and with the increasing availability of high-speed cameras making it easier to clock rapid animal movements, Larabee anticipates the Dracula ant won’t hold the speed record for long. “I suspect there are several other animals that are faster,” he said.
The New York Times
Douglas Quenqua © 2018 The New York Times


Popular posts from this blog

Lyon vs Barcelona: Lionel Messi and teammates get important draw in France

- Lyon vs Barcelona game in the Champions League round of 16 tie ended goalless on Tuesday night, February 19 - Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes of Lyon was superb for his club as he denied the likes of Lionel Messi and Dembele - Barcelona will have the chance in the second leg playing in front of their fans at the Camp Nou Lyon were on Tuesday night, February 19, forced to a goalless draw by visiting Spanish giants Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 encounter. The French club have never beaten the Catalan giants in their history, and Lyon players wanted to break this record, but Barcelona proved an hard nut for them to crack. Barcelona got the first chance of the game in the 5th minute when Gerard Pique sent a long ball to Dembele who was in a good position, but he failed to utilize the opportunity. Lionel Messi and Suarez also combined well three minutes later to beat Lyon defense, but goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was brilliant to deny them. Lyon's got their b…

Plateau governorship election is inconclusive - INEC

- Pateau state governorship election has been declared inconclusive - The commission said the total number of votes cancelled is more than the difference in the number of votes the two major candidates got - The total number of votes cancelled in the state is 49, 347, while the total margin between leading candidates is 44, 929 The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Monday, March 11, declared the governorship elections in Plateau state inconclusive. Professor Richard Kimbir, the Returning Officer for the election in the state announced this on Monday in Jos, after collating results from the 17 local government areas of the state, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports. Kimbir, who is the Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, said the total number of votes cancelled is more than the difference in the number of votes the two major candidates got, “hence was constrained to declare the polls inconclusive”. The returning officer said Simon Lalon…

Fulham vs Chelsea: Jorginho's goal gives the Blues a 2-1 win at Craven Cottage

Fulham vs Chelsea's Premier League game ended 2-1 in favor of the Blues at Craven Cottage - Gonzalo Higuain and Jorginho scored for Chelsea, while Calum Chambers netted for Fulham - Chelsea are still occupying sixth position on the Premier League standings with 56 points Fulham's unimpressive performance this season in the Premier League continued on Sunday, March 3, as they were beaten by Chelsea 2-1 at Craven Cottage. After sacking manager Claudio Ranieri, fans were of the hope that the players would redeem themselves by beating visiting Chelsea, but they could not. Chelsea also went into this game with the target of getting the maximum three points so as to restore their hopes of fighting for the top four teams in the Premier League. There were mutiny among Chelsea fans before the start of the match as some were livid with the decision of Maurizio Sarri to start goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. Maurizio Sarri's men took the lead in the 20th minute through Gonzalo Higuain…