There are plenty of fast-moving animals on Earth. For instance, the mantis shrimp is notorious for having the fastest punch in the entire animal kingdom, smacking the air at speeds of about 50 mile per hour. Meanwhile, the trap-jaw ant moves its mandibles at an incredible maximum speed of 140 miles per hour, as noted by National Geographic.
But this is nothing compared with the almost unbelievable performance of another ant species, the rare and mysterious Dracula ant. According to Science Alert, the ominously named Dracula ant can snap its jaws shut at breakneck speeds of 200 miles per hour. That’s 5,000 times quicker than the blink of an eye.
This astounding ability was recently discovered in one species belonging to the Dracula ant group, namely Mystrium camillae — a shy and elusive subterranean predator that ranks among one of the weirdest ants in nature. Native to the Southeast Asian tropics and to Australia, this peculiar ant indulges in a bizarre behavior described as “nondestructive cannibalism,” in which it sucks the blood of its own young, as reported by Live Science.
As it turns out, this particular Dracula ant, which is no bigger than the tip of a human finger, is also the fastest moving animal on the planet. A new study just published in the journal Royal Society Open Science revealed that Mystrium camillae holds the record for the fastest known animal appendage and the fastest known biological maneuver.
The discovery was made by a team of scientists led by Andrew Suarez, a professor of animal biology and entomology at the University of Illinois. The researchers studied these Dracula ants in the lab with X-ray imaging technology and used incredibly fast cameras to record the movement of their jaws.
The team uncovered that it only takes 0.000015 seconds for Mystrium camillae to go from zero to 200 miles per hour.
The secret to their astounding agility lies in a mechanism that spring-loads the mandibles by pressing the tips together. This amplifies the power of their snapping jaws by creating pressure that is later released when one mandible slides across the other, states Phys.org, citing University of Illinois officials.
The entire process works in a similar way to how we snap our fingers. The difference is that the ants do it 1,000 times faster than the human hand.
“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.”
In the new study, the entomologists advocate that this species of Dracula ants evolved their unique type of amplification system to accommodate their underground lifestyle. Unlike trap-jaw ants, which hunt in open spaces, Mystrium camillae does all of its foraging in tight tunnels dug inside wood logs or underneath the soil, “where the ant cannot open its jaws widely as seen in trap-jaw ants,” the authors argue in their paper.
Going forward, the scientists plan to examine how this Dracula ant species, also known as the snap-jaw ant, wields the power of its mighty jaws in the great outdoors.