The bite of the quick-jawed ants should tear their heads off. Here’s why that doesn’t happen.

Moving at speeds thousands of times faster than the blink of an eye, an ant’s spring-loaded jaws capture the insect’s prey by surprise and can also release the ant into the air if it aims its force at the ground. Now, scientists have revealed how an ant’s jaw can close very quickly without being shattered by force.

In a new study published Thursday (July 21) in the newspaper Journal of Experimental Biology (Opens in a new tab)a team of biologists and engineers studied a type of jaw-trap ant called Odontomachus brunneusIt is native to parts of the United States, Central America, and the West Indies. To build strength for lightning-fast bites, the ants first extend their jaws apart, forming a 180-degree angle, and strike them against the latches inside their heads. enormous muscles, connected to each jaw by a tendon-like cord, pull the jaws in place and then flex to build up a store of elastic energy; The team found that this flexion is so severe that it twists the sides of the ant’s head, causing it to bend inward. When an ant strikes, its jaw opens and that stored energy is released at once, smashing the jaws together.

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