What’s the fastest animal in the world? You might guess a cheetah, a sailfish, or a peregrine falcon. According to new research, however, all of those are wrong. The fastest animal in the world is an ant. Specifically, the ‘Dracula ant’ native to Southeast Asia and Australia, which can move its mandibles over 200 miles per hour.
A team of researchers was studying the Dracula ant—scientific name Mystrium camillae—in order to understand how its mandible mechanism works. Plenty of ants have mandibles that quickly snap shut, but the Dracula ant’s appeared to work differently. Thanks to the research, the scientists have been proven right: The Dracula ant uses a completely novel method to snap its jaws shut.
The previous speed record-holder—at least for ants—is the trap-jaw ant, which uses a combination of highly specialized muscles to prime its jaw before using a different set to snap it shut at speeds around 50 miles per hour.
The Dracula ant actually presses the tips of its jaws together, increasing the force while they’re locked in place. Then, the jaws slip past each other, slamming closed at around 200 miles per hour. The whole process works similarly to how you might snap your finger. Once that jaw starts to close, it becomes—briefly—the fastest moving body part in the animal kingdom.
So what do Dracula ants use that high-powered jaw far? The researchers aren’t quite sure yet. They still need to do follow-up experiments to observe the ants in their natural habitat, but they have some ideas. Likely, they use their jaws to hunt prey, employing the tremendous forces involved to stun or kill them before carrying them back to the nest. They may also use their jaws in combat when attacking or being attacked by other ants.
Source: University of Illinois
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics