The Jumping Trap Jaw Ant of Costa Rica

While driving home from ultimate on Saturday morning, I had the good fortune to listen to the CBC’s Quirks and Quarks. In particular, I listened to an interview (MP3) with Dr. Sheila Patek, an entomologist who was very excited to talk about Costa Rica’s trap jaw ant. The ant is notable for its incredibly fast and powerful mandibles, which it uses in a number of exciting ways:

The Trap Jaw Ant of Costa Rica has a pair of jaws that operate a lot like a mouse trap. When the two mandibles snap together, they generate a force about three hundred times stronger than gravity, and reach a speed up to 64 m/s. This makes them the fastest moving body parts we’ve found in nature. But the surprises from the ants don’t end there. These ants primarily use the jaws to capture prey, but they can also use them as an escape mechanism.

Happily, there’s video. In it, you can see the ants using their mandibles not only to catch prey, but also to jump up to eight times their body length to escape predators.

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