Scientists have discovered a new animal with the fastest appendages in the world. In a new study, they describe Dracula ants as the fastest-moving animal, thanks to their mandible speeds of over 200 mph.
The discovery pushes trap-jaw ants and mantis shrimp aside. The Dracula ant, referred to scientifically as Mystrium camiliae, is the fastest-moving animal on record due to the extreme force it creates when interacting with prey or defending itself.
The study was led by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Andrew Suarez, postdoctoral researcher Fredrick Larabee of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Adrian Smith of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University, Raleigh. They published their findings in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
“These ants are fascinating as their mandibles are very unusual,” Suarez said in a statement. “Even among ants that power-amplify their jaws, the Dracula ants are unique: Instead of using three different parts for the spring, latch and lever arm, all three are combined in the mandible.”
What distinguishes Dracula ants from trap-jaw ants is the way their mandibles work. Trap-jaw ants have extremely powerful jaws which snap closed while they are in an open position. However, Dracula ants use their mandibles by pressing their tips together. This action powers up their mandibles by creating internal stress, which is them released as one mandible moves against the another. The action resembles the way humans snap their fingers.
The researchers explained that the ants use this motion to fight other arthropods. They often use it to slam their prey against a place with no escape, like the wall of a tunnel, preventing them from escaping. The world’s fastest-moving animal then transports them to their nest, where their larvae feed on it, the researchers explained.
“Scientists have described many different spring-loading mechanisms in ants, but no one knew the relative speed of each of these mechanisms,” Larabee said. “We had to use incredibly fast cameras to see the whole movement. We also used X-ray imaging technology to be able to see their anatomy in three dimensions, to better understand how the movement works.”
The main finding of the study is that these ants’ snap-jaws are the fastest way to catch prey. The snapping of their jaws is the fastest animal movement recorded so far. The researchers also learned that when they compared the jaw shape of snapping ants to that of biting ants, only a small mutation in the shape of the jaw is required for them to evolve a new function.
The research doesn’t end here, however. The team will continue to examine Dracula ants to learn more about their mandibles.
“Their biology, how they capture prey and defend their nests, is still in need of description,” Smith said.