Jumping Jehoshaphat! Ants Use Jaws to Jump Free of Danger
A recent study by University of Illinois graduate student Frederick J. Larabee and his adviser, Andrew V. Suarez, revealed that trap-jaw ants, named for their powerful spring-loaded mandibles, use their fearsome jaws not only to trap prey but also escape danger. While these ants generally use their jaws to snap shut on their prey, the two researchers noticed that when they snapped them on something solid the jaws recoiled, sending them springing back into the air.
While this action was previously identified as an escape maneuver by Dr. Suarez and Sheila N. Patek 10 years ago, the possibility of the jump being used as a defensive maneuver against predators had not yet been studied. Mr. Larabee discovered this while performing an experiment with ant lions, in which he dropped ants into ant lions’ pits and watched what happened to the poor test subjects. He noticed that when he dropped in the trap-jaw ants they often were able to catapult themselves out of the pits using the force of their bite on solid ground.
Have you ever seen an animal perform some similar surprising feat to escape danger or trap prey? Tell us your story.