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What is the Trap-Jaw Ant?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The trap-jaw ant is a unique member of the animal kingdom. Despite their small size, the ants have incredibly strong jaws which are capable of snapping shut in much less time that it takes to blink an eye. The ants use their mandibles, which are permanently held open, like multi-purpose tools for a variety of functions. This unique trait has made the trap-jaw ant a topic of interest for scientists in several disciplines, since replicating it may prove useful for things like robots.

Generally, all ants in the genus Odontomachus are considered trap-jaw ants. One species in particular, O. bauri, is particularly renowned for its fast moving jaws, and it has a wider range than other species since it is more tolerant to weather extremes. The entire genus is widely distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, living in colonies like other ants. The ants are rather large when compared to other ants, and they also live a highly predatory lifestyle.

However, unlike other ants, trap-jaw ants have a very unique and powerful tool at their disposal. They are able to snap their jaws shut at speeds which have been recorded around 62 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hours). This tremendous speed creates a powerful force, which means that the ants can deliver an intense bite. The ant not only has the fastest bite of any animal, but also the fastest moving body part. Their jaws also snap shut at the slightest provocation, making them rather evocative of a trap snapping shut.

When a trap-jaw ant is threatened by an unwanted visitor, its powerful jaws can deliver a fairly clear message. The ants also use their jaws to cripple prey, making it easier for the ants to collect food. Finally, the trap-jaw ant is actually able to jump with the power of its jaws. By striking the ground with its jaws as it closes them, a trap-jaw ant can jump many times its own height, far exceeding the jumping abilities of most other animals.

Given the powerful sting of a trap-jaw ant's bite, most people would prefer to remain out of range of the animals. However, entomologists have studied the creatures in an attempt to learn more about how they evolved. Specialists in robotics are also intrigued by the ants, since the powerful grip and lightning reflexes of their jaws could prove very useful if they can be copied.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Chmander — On Sep 20, 2014

In relation to the last paragraph, I've always found it interesting how scientists and those in similar fields attempt to use the "abilities" of other animals and life forms for their own purposes. Not that I find anything wrong with this. In fact, I actually find it to be pretty interesting.

However, all of this questioning and research leads me to wonder how they plan to execute these methods, something which still remains a mystery.

Considering how the last paragraph talks about specializing in robotics, perhaps they can use the fast reflexes and dangerous determination to improve the robots their building. Speculation or not, it's definitely something to think about.

By Viranty — On Sep 19, 2014

Correct me if I'm wrong, but a few summers ago, I believe I saw some trap jaw ants, although I'll try to describe them the best that I can. The ants that I saw were huge, and black. Not to mention that they had very large pincers. In this case, the only difference is that when I picked one up, though it tried to bite me, it wasn't very painful, and its jaws didn't snap in the blink of an eye. Perhaps it was a similar species, though not quite the one being discussed here.

By Krunchyman — On Sep 19, 2014
While I have never seen a trap-jaw ant, let alone up close, this is a very interesting article that gives some great insight on just how dangerous ants can really be. On another note, it was only touched upon very briefly, but how dangerous are they to humans? I know that it says most people would prefer to stay out of their range, but on the other hand, ants can be very dangerous if one isn't careful.

On a final note, if humans were as determined and dedicated as ants, imagine everything that they'd be able to accomplish. We're more than three times the size of an ant, and yet they're a force to be reckoned with, and they can also take down humans and other animals rather quickly. For example, when some ants bite their victim (such as the fire ant), they send out scents and signals to the other ants, as a means to attack you. Overall, despite their small size, ants aren't ones to be trifled with.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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