“Escape from the Jaws of Death” might sound like a title from a horror movie, but it’s what trap-jaw ants do on a regular basis using their spring loaded mandibles.
Don’t get confused , folks. We’re not talking about Ant Man here.
These insect’s mandibles or jaws (crushing antennae-resembling organs in the mouth region) are used to speedily hurl the ants backwards, allowing them to escape the even bigger jaws of hungry predators.
Researchers found the ant’s canny maneuvering doubled its chances of survival in the face of imminent death when other escape methods failed. The study conducted by Andrew Suarez and Fredrick Larabee at the University of Illinois, advances scientific understanding of adaptive escape behaviour in some animals by demonstrating that a trap-jaw ant trait that existed for one purpose has adapted for a different purpose.
The new study verifies that the mandibles do in fact aid the ants’ survival by allowing them to eject themselves from a dangerous predicament,” Larabee said.
Previously, scientists had appreciated the trap-jaw ant for its fierce jaws—capable of whipping shut at speeds of more than 144 kilometers per hour—to instantly maim a prey insect or an enemy ant. The jaws were also observed performing more routine tasks such as digging nests or tending to eggs and larvae.
According to Larabee, jaw-jumping behaviour has been observed in a range of organisms for more than 100 years—but this study demonstrates a secondary use of mandibles for escape purposes.
The trap-jaw ant’s escape behaviour has actually improved survival in this context. Evolution has selected this. It’s an adaptation.”
Ants are among the most diverse and successful organisms in terrestrial ecosystem and include more than 12,000 known species. Larabee first became curious about the interaction between trap-jaw ants and antlions while in central Florida working on another ant research project.
Hanging out at the research center, he grew fascinated by small pits in the sand that antlions had built across the property. Watching the antlions bury themselves at the bottom of their pits to for their victims became a form of entertainment.
Just take a look at it!