Trapjaw Ants

Trap-jaw ants are species of ants in which the mandibles (the jaw-like things that they grab prey or bite you with) are locked open and have a trigger that allows them to spring shut with great force. In one case, the jaws snap shut at speeds reaching up to almost 150 miles an hour. The principle is something like an archer drawing a bow: You pull and pull to load the bow, and when you suddenly release the bowstring, the energy is transferred to the arrow. This adaptation is cool on several levels:

^ The jaw speed — 150 miles per hour — is the fastest attack motion in the animal kingdom.

^ This trait has evolved at least four times in four different groups of ants. And although the final outcome is the same in all cases, the exact pathway by which the trait was obtained varies from one species to the next. Specifically, different parts have been modified to serve as the trigger in different ant species.

^ At least one species uses the great force generated by the snapping jaws for functions other than biting — for example, as a means of escape from predators. To escape, the ant points its head at the ground, releases its jaws, and is propelled rapidly away from whatever it's trying to escape.

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