Trap Jaw Ants

I found the biggest ant I’ve ever seen in Costa Rica…it was a trap jaw ant, and it was (unfortunately) hanging out on a vine right at eye level on the trail. I have played with (smaller) trap jaw ants before in the lab. If you give them a little fruit fly, the moment it touches the trigger sensitive hairs between their mandibles (which are open at rest), their jaws snap shut with so much force that it flings their bodies into the air.

Here’s a video someone posted of that (it’s kinda hilarious):

And here is the ant I saw in Costa Rica! It must have at least been 2 cm.

Trap jaw ant

Trap jaw ant

Before you ask, no I did not test those jaws.

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6 thoughts on “Trap Jaw Ants

  1. I couldn’t see from the video whether the fruit fly stays in the jaws? It seems like a disadvantage to get flung in the air every time, surely must be a pain in the butt for the ant?

    • The getting flung into the air is an artefact of the way the jaws were triggered. In nature, the size of their prey makes it possible for them to clamp down on it. But the flinging away is a defense mechanism if there is a large predator, and it can be a startle response too. So in the video, they’re mostly just startling the ants and the ants are responding as if there is a predator. They can catch fruit flies on their own, but when I use a fruit fly to trigger their sensitive hairs, they fling away.

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