Trap-jaw ants are showing signs of a novel behavioral repertoire. Instead of just using their powerful and large jaws, they have begun jumping by using their legs.
A certain species of trap-jaw ants have started exhibiting novel antics. Instead of only using their jaws, they have taken to hopping and skipping. Thus the focus has shifted from the mouth to the legs of this curious insect.
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This shows that the trap-jaw ant is the only type of ant that can jump via its legs or its jaws. Actually any jumping in ants is a virtually unknown phenomenon.
From 326 genres, only three have a tendency of jumping. Three more jump using their jaws. But this is the first time that a special species has started using both jaws and legs to jump. It is a highly odd behavior and has the scientists enthused.
"Jumping behavior in ants is incredibly rare," says Magdalena Sorger, a recent Ph.D. graduate at North Carolina State University and sole author of a paper reporting the discovery.
"Out of 326 genera of ants, only three genera jump using their legs. Another three genera are known to jump using their jaws. But now we know that one species of jaw-jumping ant uses its legs as well. That's extremely interesting."
Odontomachus often catapult themselves through the surrounding medium via their powerful jaws. And they do this through two methods. They either snap their jaws against the ground to escape predators.
They land on their rear ends and do not know where they will land in the first place. Then they have another tendency of bouncing. They use their jaws against an object placed before them and go flipping backwards. Here too they land in a random manner.
However, while in Borneo, researchers found that O. rixosus, another species, exhibited strange and hitherto unseen jumping behavior. This sort of behavioral pattern has never been reported previously.
This is the leg jump. It is mainly employed as an escape mechanism. The jaw is not used and instead the legs are the main propelling agents. And this time, much to the surprise of the scientists who studied them, the ants knew where they were going to land.
While no such scheme was seen in the outdoor environment, the experts are sure that this mechanism is also used to catch prey. The ants seem to have a knack for it. The ants used the behavioral pattern when running away from any commotion too.
It is indeed very strange and surreal that this single species ought to have developed two entirely different means of jumping. Both the jaws and the legs are equally adept at catapulting the ants through the air. There must be an evolutionary benefit that the ant species gets from this behavior otherwise it would have long since been extinguished.
"I can't rule out that these leg-jumps may be used for prey capture, but I did not see that in the field," Sorger says. O. rixosus only exhibited the leg jumping behavior when fleeing a disturbance.
"It's odd, evolutionarily, that this species would have developed two ways of jumping - driven by the jaws or the legs," Sorger says. "I'm hoping to better characterize the physiological mechanism that powers the leg jumps, and to determine what evolutionary advantage this species derives from the leg jumps. In theory, the advantage must be significant."
Video of the ant's jumping behavior can be seen in the video below.
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This study is titled "Snap! Trap-jaw ants in Borneo also jump using their legs." It got published on Dec. 1 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. This study is all set to change our views about specific ant behavior.