Scientists barely managed to capture on camera an incredible example of convergent evolution. They detected and started monitoring rarely seen ants known as Myrmoteras, a genus of trap-jaw ants from South-East Asia.
These small predators are anything but slow as they are capable of snapping their jaws shut on their preys at a speed of up to 50mph, even faster than the blink of an eye.
Rarely Seen Ants, Deadly Fast Predators
The research on these fascinating ants was led by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Frederick Larabee. Scientists looked to find out exactly how this particular species of ants started dominating its local patch of fauna and flora.
To do so, the team used a microscope, a machine capable of micro-CT or micro-computed tomography, and some movie camera equipment. This latter came equipped with a macro lens camera capable of shooting 50,000 frames per second.
Thanks to the equipment, the team was able to establish the speed with which these rarely seen ants can snap shut their jaws, the staggering 50mph or 80km/h.
The researchers also analyzed the data to determine what helped the ants reach this speed. In doing so, they noted that the tiny predators’ mandibles are latched into place at a 280-degree angle. This is also tensed and possesses a seemingly considerable stored energy.
As the latch slips, this energy is released and causes the jaws to snap shut in half a millisecond. However, the head of the ant is a more complex structure than believed, as it helps trigger quite a mechanism.
One that is bad news for springtails, which are the natural prey of this species of ants.
“What’s interesting is that the arrangement of the muscles and how the jaws are locked open are completely different from other trap-jaws ants that have been studied,” states Larabee.
The lead and his team were also faced with the hard task of finding enough of the Myrmoteras to study. They are elusive and rarely seen, and also seemingly hard to maintain alive in the lab.
Study results were released in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
Image Source: Wikimedia