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Trap-Jaw Ants Use Their Powerful Jaws To Escape Predators [Video]

The powerful mandibles of the trap-jaw ant aren’t just useful when it comes to catching prey, they’re also beneficial when it comes time for the tiny insects to escape the clutches of their predators.

The trap-jaw ant gets its names from its mandibles, which are said to be the fastest-moving predatory appendages on the planet, according to a report on the United Press International (UPI).

The mandibles of a trap-jaw ant are capable of shutting closed at whiplash speeds of over 40 meters per second in order to maim or kill their prey and enemies.

Researchers from the University of Illinois have shown that they can also use their lighting-fast jaws as a means by which to escape, as the tiny creatures employ them as somewhat of a makeshift springboard in order to hurl themselves out of harm’s way.

In the study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, University of Illinois graduate student Fredrick Larabee and entomology professor Andrew Suarez found that the trap-jaw ant’s mandibles aided in its escape from antlion traps.

Antlions catch prey by digging pits in the sand and burying themselves in the center, according to a blog post on Discover Magazine, which went on to explain that the sides of the pits they create are unstable and when an ant drops in, they simply slide towards the bottom where the antlion lies in wait.

The researchers dropped trap-jaw ants into antlion pits, in a laboratory setting, in order to see if the ants would employ their Houdini-esque jaw-jumping maneuver in order to escape.  According to Larabee, as long as they were able to use their jaw’s, they not only would, but did.

The ants were able to jump out of the pits about 15 percent of the time in their encounters with antlions.  But when we glued their mandibles shut before dropping them in pits, they couldn’t jump at all.  It cut their survival rate in half.

Prior to jumping, the trap-jaw ants adopt an unusual body posture, said Suarez who depicted the posture as a lowering of the head to the point at which the head would make contact with the ground and the occasional raising of a leg prior to the deployment of the mandibles.  This pushing gesture differs from their striking pose, which is a stance the ant takes prior to utilizing its powerful chompers as a weapon to attack its enemies as well as its prey.

The differences exhibited in how the mandibles are employed serves as an example of how a trait or capability that evolved for one purpose can adapt to serve another.

What are your thoughts on the trap-jaw ant’s jaw-dropping maneuvers?

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