Ant jaw snap reflex breaks record
The snap-jaw ant Odontomachus bauri closes its mandibles in just 0.13 milliseconds, reaching speeds of up to 64 meters per second. Sheila Patek from the University of California at Berkeley and her colleagues report that she should thus master the fastest movement ever measured in the animal kingdom.
The extremely fast snapping mechanism of the animals is based on the fact that the necessary energy is stored beforehand in a strong sphincter muscle in the head like an elastic arch and the jaws are blocked in the open position. Only when they are snapped out by another muscle do the mandibles snap together.
The animals native to Central and South America not only use quick grabs to catch prey, but also to defend themselves. The researchers were able to distinguish between two jump variants: Either the ants attack an intruder with their mandibles, in which they are catapulted backwards and somersaulting through the air almost simultaneously – up to forty centimeters wide, but only a few centimeters high. It also occasionally throws the attacker into the air. On the other hand, if the ants try to flee, they snap their mandibles against the ground and now fly several centimeters high, but only a few distances. However, you are in the air long enough to avoid the tongue of a lizard, for example, which, after all, darts out in fractions of a second. In addition, the researchers speculate that the simultaneous emergence of several individuals could confuse unwanted guests at the above-ground ant nest.
The researchers filmed the snapping mechanism with high-speed cameras that take 50,000 pictures per second. They captured the jumps at 3000 frames per second. Würzburg researchers had already taken Odontomachus bauri in front of the lens with this frame rate and derived "only" about a third of a millisecond for the snapping.