The Evolution of Agriculture in Ants with Dr. Ted Schultz

The Evolution of Agriculture in Ants with Dr. Ted Schultz


– You’ve probably heard of ant farms. But have you heard of ant farmers? How have ants evolved to
actually grow and harvest their own food? We’ll find out today when
we speak with entomologist Dr. Ted Schultz. I should grab some lunch
while I’m out here. (upbeat music) Wow! (chuckling) Welcome everyone. We are live from Q?rius to
bring you another episode of Smithsonian Science How. With us today is Smithsonian
entomologist Dr. Ted Shultz to talk to us about farming and ants. Thank you so much for joining us, Ted. – It’s really great to be here. – So Ted, we’re really
excited to learn about farming and ants, it’s something
that I don’t know how many people know that ants actually farm, but before we explore that big idea, we really wanna know
why ants are important in the first place, I’m sure
many of our viewers think that they’re just household pets. So let’s ask our viewers what they think. Tell us why you think ants are important. Are they important because
they have high bio diversity, live a long time, are really abundant, provide ecosystem services,
or are super independent? Tell us what you think by
picking the correct answer on the poll that appears to
the right of your video screen. (upbeat music) So Ted we’re both
watching the polls come in and we see that 87% of our
viewers think that they provide ecosystem services. How’d they do? – Well that’s a really
good answer and it’s true. There are a lot of species of ants. There’s something like
14,000 described, another, we think there’s 20,000 altogether. There are key numbers of most ecosystems, and if you went into
a particular ecosystem and you had the magical
power to remove all the ants, the ecosystem would fall
apart, they have intimate relationships with lots
of different plants and animals and insects. – [Maggy] And they’re a diverse group too. I’m seeing a lot of
different types of ants on the screen here. – [Ted] Oh yeah, they
are amazingly diverse. 20,000 species that do all
kinds of different things. – [Maggy] So what makes
them so successful? – Well that’s a good question
and I think the key answer is they’re social organisms. There are other social
organisms, some bees are social, some wasps are social,
all termites are social, there’s even social naked mole rats. (Maggy chuckles) But ants are arguably the most
successful social organisms because they have the most species. – [Maggy] Is there a special word for the super social behavior? – [Ted] Eusociality which
means true sociality. – So what’s unique about
the social behavior of ants, especially when you compare
them to other nonsocial animals? – Well, all social
organisms have a division of reproductive labor where you have workers that don’t reproduce and you have a queen, or in the case of termites,
a queen and a king, that do reproduce, but what
makes ants special is that in many lineages of ants,
they’ve taken sociality to the next level. – [Maggy] What does that mean? – [Ted] Well, they all go
through complete metamorphosis, but–
– As we’re seeing right here? – As we see in this image,
but the queen lays eggs, some of them can develop into workers and they can develop into
workers that all look the same in the primitive ants, or they
can develop into workers that are normal sized and soldier workers, and in other cases they can develop into a lot of different sized workers. – [Maggy] Do you have an example
that you can show us here? – Yeah, I’ve got a tray
of leaf cutter ant, all from the same colony. – [Maggy] Those are all
from the same colony, so those are all really–
– And this is the range of the sizes of workers from
very tiny to big soldiers, and in the middle is the queen and a male. – Wow, she’s huge! – Yeah, the queens are extremely large. – So the queen, I mean, is that
a queen in this picture too? – [Ted] Yeah what you’re
seeing in this picture is a fungus garden that has
lots of worker ants on it, and over on the right, the
queen, who is much larger than even the largest
soldier ant in the colony. – [Maggy] So soldier ants,
what’s their role in the colony? – Well, as you might expect from the name, in a lot of ant species, the
soldiers are the defenders, so if I’m down in the
tropics and I’m digging up a leaf cutter nest, for
instance, all the soldiers which have big heads and big
mandibles will converge on that spot like white
blood cells in an organism and attack me. – [Maggy] (chuckles) Like this? I wouldn’t wanna meet
him if he was my size. – [Ted] Yeah that’s a very aggressive ant. (Maggy chuckles) Other soldiers I mean are
wimps and do other jobs. They, in some ants, the
soldiers crush seeds and run away when intruders come. – [Maggy] So we’re seeing,
I think ant intruding, what is this, other colonies? – [Ted] So in the cases
where soldier are defending, they defend against me, they
defend against ant eaters, but they also defend, as you can see here, they can defend against
army ants because the way army ants make their
living in many cases is they go into nests, they take the babies, the larvae and the pupae,
and they take them away and they eat them. Some ants have taken this
behavior, this brood robbing behavior to the next level
and they take away pupae as you see in this picture, that pupae– – That white.
– That cocoon. And they take them back
to the nest, their nest, but they don’t eat them. Instead, they raise them up
and they use them as slaves. – Oh my goodness.
– Yeah. – Wow, that’s really
sophisticated behavior. – It’s very sophisticated. – That’s not something I
expected from something that I used to think were really
just household pests. So, where does farming come in? This is your specialty. Do all ants farm?
– No. – Grow their own food? – No, only a small subsets
of ants farm and those are the ants that I mostly study. All ants are social, and
because they’re basically kind like super organisms
and they divide up the work, they can do some very complicated things, like raid other nests or take slaves, but I think the most
complicated thing that ants do or certainly one of
the most complicated is they grow gardens for food,
they are true farmers. – [Maggy] So you mention leaf cutter ants, are leaf cutter ants part of
that fungus farming group? – Yeah, leaf cutter ants
are some of the most highly evolved of fungus farming ants. You can see on the screen
right now leaf cutter ants cutting up leaves. But also in the fungus farming
ants there are primitive fungus farmers that don’t cut leaves. – [Maggy] You showed me specifically how a leaf cutter colony operated earlier this week in your ant lab. Let’s actually have a look
at that and show our viewers. – Okay. – So this is really,
really cool, what is it? – Well what you’re looking
at here is one of my pet leaf cutter colonies. (chuckles) Each of these plastic boxes is a chamber. Most of the chambers are
filled with fungus gardens, but these two chambers up
here are foraging chambers. – [Maggy] They are really busy. – We just federal them some
leaves, so they’re actively cutting up the leaves and
carrying them through these tubes to the different fungus
gardens, and when they get those cut up leaves to the fungus garden, they take them in, they
cut them up into tiny, tiny pieces so that
ultimately what’s left is kind of a leaf mulch, then
they add that leaf mulch to the edge of the growing fungus garden. – What do they do with the fungus? – Well they eat it. Ants absolutely need
the fungus for survival. If they didn’t have the
fungus, they would die. It’s their sole source
of food for the adults and the larvae. All fungus growing ants
depend on their garden fungi for their food. – This is an incredibly
relationship here between the leaf cutters and the fungus. Thanks so much for sharing this, Ted. – Sure. – Ted, that was really
neat to be in your ant lab and see that happening and
we’re actually seeing it here now on the set of Science How. These guys are really
processing all of those leaves so quickly, I can see them hard at work. How much vegetation can
they actually go through? – Well, although this
may be hard to believe, in South America, leaf
cutter colonies are basically the ecological equivalent of
a large herbivorous mammal. – [Maggy] Like a cow? – [Ted] Like a cow. So if you were to, for instance, take out, if you could take out all
the ants in that colony and weigh them, they would
weigh as much as maybe a cow. And if you could measure
how much vegetation, fresh vegetation they’re
harvesting every day would be as much as a cow
eats, and they also live a very long time, they can
become over 15 years old. – All right let’s get to some
of our student questions, we have a lot of them coming. This question comes in,
well they’re going so fast, they’re going off my screen. So this one comes from Canyon Ridge. What is a leaf cutter ant? Can you describe one of them? – Yeah, it’s a fungus
farming ant and not all fungus farming ants are leaf cutters, but in particular, it
harvests fresh vegetation, in some cases leaves,
in other cases grasses, depending on the species and
feeds those to its fungus, it grows the fungus on
that fresh plant material. – So this question comes in by
video, so let’s have a look. – Hi I’m Daniel and I
was wondering how ants are more social than humans? – Well that’s a really good question. Humans are social. We live together in cooperative
social groups just like ants and we can live together
in extended family groups and our offspring, you
know our sons and daughters can stick around even
to the age of 30 or more and just help us out with
raising maybe their younger brothers and sisters,
that’s very much like ants. The thing about ants is,
the workers do not have the option of leaving of
starting their own families, they are incapable of
reproducing themself, so the queen reproduces, the workers help and that’s different from humans. – Great question, Daniel. This question comes from Gavin
from Southeastern Academy. What happens to the worker
soldier ants when the queen dies? – Well what happens in most
cases, when the queen dies, the colony dies. The queen is essential for
the survival of the colony. – Great question. This one is coming in
from Kyle and Parker. What climate do ants mostly live in? – Well the largest number
of species is by far in equatorial regions so
there’s lots and lots and lots of species in Africa, Asia,
South America, Australia, in the humid tropics, but
ants do spread north and south into the temperate zones, so
ants are important players in almost all ecosystems. – Ted, we’re looking right here
at some of your study sites, I know you were recently
in Brazil and Paraguay. Where else do you do your
research and what do you do? – So because fungus farming
ants are all in the new world and because they are largely
South American tropics and Central American tropics,
I spend a lot of time in South America, and to many
South American countries, particularly Brazil, and I
was recently in Paraguay, and surprisingly even in
the fungus farming ants, almost 50% of them are known
only from one collection of specimens that are
in a museum somewhere. We know nothing of their biology. So I spent a lot of time
trying to learn more about the biology of of the species. – So you’re actually
looking for living ants to be able to better
understand the biology. – I am and I spend a lot
of time locating nests and in these primitive
small fungus growing ants, the nests are very small
and very hard to find, and then I spent a lot of
time digging up the nests and collecting the fungus
gardens and the ants. – Very interesting. So I wanna hear more about
what you wanna learn from this, but I think it’s another
great opportunity to ask our viewers what they think
you can learn from studying living ants.
– Okay. – Viewers, here’s another
opportunity to tell us what you think. What do living ants show you? Social behavior, personalities of ants, pest control options, or
evolutionary patterns. You can respond using
the window that appears to the right of your video screen. (upbeat music) Ted, it’s really fun watching
these results come in. It looks like we have a
smattering of answers, but most people think social behavior and evolutionary patterns. What do you find? – Well both of those are absolutely true. Good answers, really good answers. When I go out into nature
and I study these ants, I ask questions like,
how big are the colonies? Are the workers all the
same size or do they have regular workers and soldiers
or maybe even other sized ants? How many, what’s the nest
architecture, how many chambers do they have? What are they bringing
in that they’re planting their fungus on? And all of those, by
studying these modern ants, I can understand evolutionary patterns that have occurred over time. – So over time, how long
are we talking here? How long have ants been farming? – Based on all the evidence,
we know they’ve been farming for about 55 million years. – 55 million years?
– Yeah. – [Maggy] That’s a really long time. – [Ted] Yeah and compared to
humans who have been farming for maybe 10,000 to 12,000 years. Here’s an example on the screen right now of a fungus garden of a
primitive fungus growing ant. This particular species likes
to hang the fungus garden from the ceiling. – Oh wow, so that looks a
lot different from the garden that we saw in your lab. – Yeah, it is different, yeah. – So what kind of evidence
do you have that actually tells you that they have been
farming for 55 million years? Is there anything in the fossil record? – Yeah, I mean, surprisingly, there are a lot of ways
that allow us to reconstruct the past. The best thing would be a time machine, unfortunately, we haven’t
invented time machines yet. I’m first in line for when they do. – I’ll be second. (chuckles) – But there are fossils, so
there are a lot of fossils of ants but for fungus farming
ants, there’s only fossils in Dominican amber. – [Maggy] Is that what we’re seeing here? – [Ted] Yeah, so this is
an example of two pieces of Dominican amber and as you can see, those pieces are very small. – [Maggy] So teeny, I
mean that’s a quarter– – [Ted] And even smaller,
the ants inside of them. But I can look, that’s what
one of those ants looks like, I can look back in time by looking back into that piece of amber
under a microscope. – [Maggy] So how old is that amber? – Well the amber is
unfortunately only about 15 millions years old,
that sounds like a lot, but the fungus growing ants
are 55 million years old, so we have to rely on
other sources of evidence to understand what
happened all that time ago. – What evidence is that? – Well we spend a lot of time
constructing phylogenies. These are evolutionary
trees or family trees of insects and ants. This on the screen is a
family tree of phylogeny of all insects and if you look
down at the bottom most part, you see that beetles and
moths and butterflies are each other’s closest relatives. They’re more closely related to each other than they are to ants, bees and wasps. And so as you move to
the left on this tree, you’re moving back in
time and you’re looking at their shared common ancestors, and that shared common ancestor
of all three of those groups must have evolved complete metamorphosis. This is metamorphosis where
you go through a larva, a pupa, and an adult, which
other insects don’t have. – So you’re really taking
the DNA from living species that are on earth today
and you’re putting them on a family tree to better
understand their evolution through time. – Yeah, we’re using DNA
sequences and computer algorithms to construct family trees of species. – So what does the family
tree for fungus farming ants look like? – [Ted] It looks like this, so in this, this is a phylogeny for
fungus farming ants. Moving to the left,
you’re going back in time. At the most extreme right,
the tips of the branches are living species of fungus growing ants, or more accurately, they’re
DNA sequences of living species and as we move to the left,
species that are closely related coalesce into their common ancestors, and as we move farther to the
left, those common ancestors coalesce into other common
ancestors and we can work our way all the way back to 50
to 55 million years ago to the common ancestor of
all fungus farming ants, the ant that first began
to practice agriculture. – Wow, so these DNA sequences
can help you understand the evolutionary pattern
all the way back through 55 million years.
– Yes. – And I saw the ant
heads on that phylogeny, on that family tree too. Are we looking at just
fungus farmers here? – These are just fungus
farming ant and you can see there’s a wide diversity of them. The last few are leaf cutter ants, the most recently evolved ones. – So when you’re looking at
that tree, does it help you understand anything about
the crop they’re growing? I mean, we grow corn and tomatoes. These ants are growing fungus,
but is it all the same? – It’s not all the same
and that’s the thing I’m most interested in is
the associations and the symbiotic evolution between
the ants and the fungi that they grow and when
I look at that tree, and because I know what
fungi they’re growing, I can see that the
pattern’s very non-random. Closely related groups
of ants are cultivating closely related groups of fungi. What you’re seeing on the screen right now is the fungus garden of a lower primitive fungus growing ant that is growing, that they are constructed on
the bottom of a rotten log in Amazonian Brazil. – [Maggy] Wow, that’s really cool. – [Ted] Here’s another
example of a garden chamber that we removed the fungus
from and another garden chamber that still has the fungus garden in it. – So Ted, not only do these
ants grow their own fungus, but you showed me in your
ant lab when I visited that they actually tend
to it and keep it healthy. Wanna show the visitors? – Yeah, I sure do. – All right, let’s take another look. How do they keep the garden healthy? – Well, it’s a big job,
because there are a lot of microbes, bacteria, and other fungi that are constantly trying
to eat the garden fungus, so every square centimeter
of this garden is visited by an ant every few seconds. – [Maggy] Wow, they’re very diligent. – They’re extremely diligent. What they do is, if they
encounter some bad mold or bacteria, they try to pluck it out. If they can’t do that, they
apply antibiotics to it to control it, and those
antibiotics originate either in glands on the
ant’s bodies or from bacteria that are growing on
the bodies of the ants. In all the highly evolved
fungus growing ants like these leaf cutters,
the fungus is also dependent on the ants. We know that the fungus
is not found outside of associating with ants. – So Ted, as you’ve just
described to us the fungus and the ants are living in this symbioses, but then we have another player, bacteria, which is also another living organism. I mean, how does that
live in the presence of the fungus and the ants? – The ants have glands
that nourish the bacteria to promote their growth on their bodies so that they can use these antibiotics and maybe other things
that we don’t know about. Oh, for instance, in this
picture, underneath the chin of that ant that’s
looking straight at you, you can see a patch of this
white actinomyces bacterium. Actinomyces are a kind of
bacterium that humans also get antibiotics from. Here’s an electron micrograph of that ant, and on the left you can see
what that bacterium looks like, its filamentous. – So those really are very
complex and sophisticated practice going on here
with the fungus, the ants and the bacteria all
living together to promote healthy ants and a fungus crop. – Yeah, the closer we look at
the system, the more and more complicated it gets and
the more microorganisms we discover that are
part of this symbiosis. – So in the video segment,
you started to mention that some of the fungus actually
cannot survive without the ants. – Well that’s true and
that’s also very interesting. All fungus farming ants
need their fungi to survive, they can’t live without it. But in the primitive growing
ants, the fungi that they grow are able to live without the ants, but in the more highly
evolved fungus growing ants, including the leaf cutters,
something has changed and their fungi cannot live without them, so in that case you have a
truly mutualistic symbiosis in which both the ants and the
fungi depend on each other. – This is a really
interesting relationship and something I never expected from ants. It sounds like we really
have a thing or two to learn about their farming practices,
even though I would think that they might wanna deviate
from their fungus diet for like a Snickers bar
or something like that. (chuckles) – I don’t know, we offer them things and they never take them, so,
they stick with their fungi. But yeah, if you think about
it, these ants have been practicing agriculture
for 55 million years, and they could just sort of
decimate all of the trees in their neighborhoods, but they don’t. Somehow they’re practicing
sustainable agriculture. They’ve also been using
antibiotics for 55 million years. And the microorganisms that
are the target of these antibiotics seem like could
have evolved resistance and maybe they even have, but somehow, the ants are able to
come up with antibiotics that continue to work in this system. Humans have been practicing
agriculture for a much shorter time, and we have
trouble with our pesticides. Pests evolve resistance. And the same with medicine,
we’ve been using antibiotics for only 75 years and our
diseases evolve resistance. So I’d like to believe that
humans could learn something about agriculture and maybe
even medicine for man’s. – Thank you so much for
sharing that with us, it sounds like we do have a
little to learn from them. So we have a ton of questions
coming in from our viewers. Let’s get to some of them. – Okay. – This question comes from
the students watching here in Q?rius, the Tacoma Education Campus, how did ants evolve,
where did they come from? – Well ants are basically
ground dwelling, wingless, in the case of the workers, wasps. They come from a group
of wasps that are called hunting wasps that, as far as we know, it’s still kind of a
question we’re asking, but they’re clearly
stinging wasps that evolved eusociality in which the
workers have no wings. – Ellie and Dylan from Canyon
Ridge would like to know where queens come from. – Well, if you think about solitary wasps, wasps that are not social, each
individual is like a queen. I mean, they’re queens, they
have wings, they lay eggs, so the real question to ask
is where do workers come from? In ants, they invented this
new thing called workers. – And Peyton and Riley
ask a related question. Are there king ants? – Well king ants would be the
males that I just described that go out and mate. Unfortunately for them,
they don’t spend the rest of their lives with the
queen, they just die. – Great questions coming in. Ted, we have another
question coming in by video, so let’s have a look. – Hi I’m Gigi and I was
wondering if farming ants eat anything other than
the fungi they grow. – Yeah, actually, I kind of
oversimplified in that video. They have to eat their fungus to survive, and that’s true for the
larvae and the adults. But adults, if they’re wandering
around and they discover a piece of fruit or something, they will drink the fruit juice from it, and they’ll share it
with their next mates. Like all ants, they have a social stomach and they can store things in
that stomach and regurgitate it to their fellow workers. – Frank wants to know,
and kind of related, how they actually make their gardens. – Well it starts out with
the queen, she has to carry a bit of her mother’s
garden with her in her mouth when she starts her new nest. She spits it out and she
takes care of that garden until her first babies turn into workers and start taking care of it,
and then it gets slowly built, and then more rapidly built from there. So basically they’re bringing
in new leaves and things and adding it to the garden
and expanding the garden. – Ted, how did you get your
start as an entomologist? What made you interested
to pursue this career? – Well when I was a kid, I
spent a lot of time outdoors and I loved animals, I love
to collect lizards and snakes and frogs and toads and I
also like to collect insects, and I really like to
try to keep them alive. And I learned more about
biology, but then years went by when I was doing other
things, and then when I was much older, I decided,
I’m gonna study biology. And there’s been no
looking back since then. – Ted, if some of our viewers
watching today are interested in ants and entomology,
where can they learn more? – Well, you know, we have
barely scratched the surface of discovery of the natural world. Contrary to what a lot of people think, it’s mostly unknown. We only know a very
small amount so anybody, this generation, your
generation, going into biology could make, will make a huge difference in our knowledge base, so go to a museum. Go to a public library
and check out books. Take a biology class and
by all means, go outdoors and look around, even if you
live in the middle of a city, there are thousands of insect species that you could be watching. – Ted, thank you so much
for sharing all this wonderful information. – You’re welcome, it was great. – Viewers, thank you
so much for all of your awesome questions and for being here today on Smithsonian Science How. If you wanna learn more
about ants, you can visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum and Natural History’s website,
The Hidden Life of Ants, and you can also visit antweb.org. If you missed part of this
program or wanna see it again, it’ll be archived later this
evening at qrius.si.edu, and we hope to see you next
time on Smithsonian Science How. Thanks so much for being here. (soft music)

Two Giant Killer Hornet Colonies Fight to the Death


[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: The Samurai scouts
bring news that there’s an army on its way. [BUZZING] They rally the troops. But it’s too late. The Bamboo Battalion is on them. The Rock Samurais are ambushed
at their own entrance. When times are tough,
giant killer hornets turn on their kind. It’s like on like,
giant on giant. Claws, stingers, and mandibles,
all weapons deployed and heads will roll. Disabling the enemy is
the primary strategy. Beheading and severing
limbs, the mandibles are the ultimate weapon of war. It’s impossible to
determine who’s winning until the pillaging starts. The marauding Bamboo
giants enter the fortress. They’re conquered
the Rock Samurais and they’ve struck gold. The precious nursery of
developing princesses is ransacked, next year’s
queens killed and cannibalized in their chambers. The sentry can do nothing
but witness the devastation of her precious family.

The Smart Way Warthogs Keep Insects at Bay

The Smart Way Warthogs Keep Insects at Bay


NARRATOR: Meet the warthog. They love to roll
around in the mud. Known as wallowing,
it keeps their skin free from ticks and parasites. A mud bath might look messy. But pigs are actually
meticulously clean animals. The wallow also helps them cool
off in the heat of the day. But in the very hottest
months on the savanna, these warthogs face a dilemma. The intense African sun
dries out all the mud, leaving them exposed
to swarms of insects. It’s insufferable, even
with their tough hide. But a handful of smart warthogs
have figured out a solution. They enlist a helping hand– banded mongooses. They’re voracious insect eaters,
spending most of their day on the hunt for food. They patrol the savanna in
gangs of over 20 strong. And with so many mouths
to feed, mongooses need to find a lot of insects. As an insect magnet,
perhaps a warthog could provide a decent snack. Only, its long legs make this
dining table a little too high for a mongoose. So some clever warthogs
have learned to lie down when the gang is around. It sends a very clear message– the mongoose spa is
open for business. Now in range, the mongooses
clean the ticks and lice from all those hard-to-reach places. Pure bliss. It’s the perfect partnership. The warthogs are kept healthy. The mongooses get a
meal, eating their fill without nipping their patrons. Mutually beneficial
relationships like theirs are almost
unheard of between mammals. It’s a brilliant solution
for a nagging problem, one that hints pigs might well
be smarter than we realize.

The Strike of the Monster Ant

The Strike of the Monster Ant


In the known history of life, evolution
has repeatedly taken the jaws of an ant and produced weapons of extreme speed
and devastating power. These trap-jaw ant’s stalk the
undergrowth with their spring-loaded mandibles open and ready to snap on
unsuspecting prey. What’s remarkable is that spring-loaded
trap-jaws have evolved at least five times in ants. But with each independent
evolution the ants use a different anatomical structure to act as a latch,
spring, and trigger. For example ants in the genus Odontomachus lock their
mandibles open while loading an internal spring. Then they use a fast-acting
trigger muscle to unlock their mandibles and release the stored energy. Their jaws
shut in as little as a tenth of a millisecond and reach speeds up to 150
miles per hour. Ants the genus Myrmoteras are rare trap-jaw ants from
Southeast Asia. They’ve evolved their trap jaws independently of other ants,
but very little is known about their biology. The aim of my research was to
generate the first mechanical description of Myrmoteras trap-jaws. To
measure their speed I use a high-speed camera filming at 50,000 frames per
second. I found that their strikes occur in about half a millisecond, which is 700
times faster than the blink of an eye. But relative to Odontomachus strikes Myrmoteras mandibles are only half as fast at about 60 miles per hour.
While filming, I noticed the lobe on the back of their head compressing during
the loading phase prior to a strike. This structure, likely, is acting as a
spring storing elastic energy used to power their fast mandibles.
Next, I made micro CT scans of the ants heads to study their internal anatomy.
The large muscle is composed of slow contracting fibers and is responsible
for loading the spring inside and on the back of the head.
The smaller muscle is composed of fast contracting muscle fibers that can
release the strike. The anatomical structures Myrmoteras use to lock,
load, and release their jaws are completely different from those used by
other trap-jaw ants. Trap-jaw ants like these have redefined what we knew about how
fast animals to be. Evolution has invented spring-loaded
jaws in ants multiple times. And by studying the mechanisms behind these
movements we can better understand the relationship between structure and
function, and how nature has come up with multiple solutions to the same problem