This unique configuration gives the mandibles a kind of spring-loaded dynamic. When the Dracula ant wants to bite or grab, it presses the tips of its mandibles together, building up internal stresses. When the stress hits a critical point, the mandibles snap open and shut at an incredible speed.
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The action is similar to how humans snap their fingers, Suarez said. It’s a fundamentally different process than the bite used by the trap-jaw ant, a previous speed record holder. Trap-jaw ants and other similar insects bite down with their mandibles starting in an open position.
In any case, hours of observational data indicated that the Dracula ant’s powerful jaws are made for fighting, Suarez said.
“The ants use this motion to smack other arthropods, likely stunning them, smashing them against a tunnel wall or pushing them away,” he said. “The prey is then transported back to the nest, where it is fed to the ants’ larvae,” Suarez said.
The research was published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science, with funding from the National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, and National Geographic Society.
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In a surprisingly intriguing video posted from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, research co-authors Fred Larabee and Adrian Smith debate the new speed record, which is evidently a Very Big Deal in the entomological circles.