Trap-jaw ants exhibit previously unseen jumping behavior

December 1, 2015, North Carolina State University
A species of trap-jaw ant, Odontomachus rixosus, has been found to exhibit a previously unseen jumping behavior, using its legs rather than its powerful jaws. The discovery makes this the only species of ant that can jump with either its legs or its mandibles. Credit: Magdalena Sorger

A species of trap-jaw ant has been found to exhibit a previously unseen jumping behavior, using its legs rather than its powerful jaws. The discovery makes this species, Odontomachus rixosus, the only species of ant that can jump with either its legs or its mandibles.

"Jumping behavior in 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 . 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."

It's long been known that all Odontomachus species are capable of hurling themselves through the air using their jaws, and they can do this in two ways.

They can "escape jump" to flee a threat by snapping their jaws against the ground, which throws them into the air. When they do this, they often land on their backs and appear to have little control over where they land. They can also do a "bouncer defense jump," using their jaws against whatever's in front of them to propel themselves backwards. But, as with the escape jump, they often land haphazardly.

But while doing fieldwork in Borneo, Sorger observed a type of jumping behavior in O. rixosus that had never been previously reported in any Odontomachus species.

The new behavior, which Sorger calls a leg-jump, appears to be used primarily - if not exclusively - as an escape mechanism. But it differs from other Odontomachus jumping behavior in that the jumps are powered by the ant's legs and it allows the ant to aim for a specific landing site. Video of the ant's jumping behavior:

"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 when fleeing a disturbance.

"It's odd, evolutionarily, that this species would have developed two ways of jumping - driven by the 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 derives from the leg jumps. In theory, the advantage must be significant."

The paper, "Snap! Trap-jaw ants in Borneo also jump using their legs," will be published Dec. 1 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Explore further: Trap-jaw ants jump with their jaws to escape the antlion's den

Related Stories

Trap-jaw ants spreading in southeastern United States

June 18, 2014

Trap-jaw ant species are active hunters with venomous stings and jaws powerful enough to fling themselves through the air. According to new research, they are also spreading into new territory in the southeastern United States. ...

Frogs' amazing leaps due to springy tendons

November 16, 2011

Some species of frogs and many other animals are able to jump far beyond what appear to be their capabilities. The trained contestants in the frog-jumping competition in Calaveras County, Calif., come to mind, but even ordinary ...

Timid jumping spider uses ant as bodyguard

March 11, 2014

A timid jumping spider uses the scent of ants as a secret weapon to save itself from becoming the somewhat soggy prey of the predatory spitting spider. The downside to this plan is that jumping spiders are also a favorite ...

Pygmy mole crickets don't just walk on water, they jump on it

December 3, 2012

Pygmy mole crickets are known to be prodigious jumpers on land. Now, researchers reporting in the December 4th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, have found that the tiny insects have found an ingenious method ...

Recommended for you

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.