Media ReleaseFrom: The Royal Society
Snap-jaw morphology is specialized for high-speed power amplification in the Dracula ant, Mystrium camillae
More than natural history trivia, animal speed can determine whether they catch food or are eaten by a predator. The fastest animal movements incorporate latches and springs into their appendages to overcome limits of muscle power. We examined the speed and anatomy of the Dracula ant, Mystrium camillae, who use a snap-jaw mechanism to quickly slide their mandibles across each other similar to a finger snap. Using high-speed video, we found that mandible snaps occur in as little as 23 μsec and reach speeds of 90 m/s, making them the fastest known animal appendage. We also discovered that snap-jaw mandible shape is specialized for bending, consistent with their use as a flexible spring. These results extend our understanding of animal speed and demonstrate how small changes in shape can result in dramatic differences in performance.