Pendulum-based measurements reveal impact dynamics at the scale of a trap-jaw ant [RESEARCH ARTICLE]
J. F. Jorge, S. Bergbreiter, and S. N. Patek Small organisms can produce powerful, sub-millisecond impacts by moving tiny structures at high accelerations. We developed and validated a pendulum device to measure the impact energetics of microgram-sized trap-jaw ant mandibles accelerated against targets at 105 m s–2. Trap-jaw ants (Odontomachus brunneus; 19 individuals; 212 strikes) were suspended on one pendulum and struck swappable targets that were either attached to an opposing pendulum or fixed in place. Mean post-impact kinetic energy (energy from strike converted to pendulum motion) was higher with a stiff target (21.0-21.5 µJ) than a compliant target (6.4-6.5 µJ). Target mobility had relatively little influence on energy transfer. Mean contact duration of strikes against stiff targets was shorter (3.9-4.5 ms) than against compliant targets (6.2-7.9 ms). Shorter contact duration was correlated with higher post-impact kinetic energy. These findings contextualize and provide an energetic explanation for the diverse, natural uses of trap-jaw ant strikes such as impaling prey, launching away threats, and performing mandible-powered jumps. The strong effect of target material on energetic exchange suggests material interactions as an avenue for tuning performance of small, high acceleration impacts. Our device offers a foundation for novel research into the ecomechanics and evolution of tiny biological impacts and their application in synthetic systems.
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