Pendulum-based measurements reveal impact dynamics at the scale of a trap-jaw ant.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

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 a strike converted to pendulum motion) was higher with a stiff target (21.0-21.5 µJ) than with 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.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Jorge, JF; Bergbreiter, S; Patek, SN

Published Date

  • March 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 224 / Pt 5

Start / End Page

  • jeb232157 -

PubMed ID

  • 33504588

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1477-9145

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0022-0949

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1242/jeb.232157


  • eng