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The trap-jaw ant is a unique member of the animal kingdom. Despite their small size, the ants have incredibly strong jaws which are capable of snapping shut in much less time that it takes to blink an eye. The ants use their mandibles, which are permanently held open, like multi-purpose tools for a variety of functions. This unique trait has made the trap-jaw ant a topic of interest for scientists in several disciplines, since replicating it may prove useful for things like robots.
Generally, all ants in the genus Odontomachus are considered trap-jaw ants. One species in particular, O. bauri, is particularly renowned for its fast moving jaws, and it has a wider range than other species since it is more tolerant to weather extremes. The entire genus is widely distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, living in colonies like other ants. The ants are rather large when compared to other ants, and they also live a highly predatory lifestyle.
However, unlike other ants, trap-jaw ants have a very unique and powerful tool at their disposal. They are able to snap their jaws shut at speeds which have been recorded around 62 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hours). This tremendous speed creates a powerful force, which means that the ants can deliver an intense bite. The ant not only has the fastest bite of any animal, but also the fastest moving body part. Their jaws also snap shut at the slightest provocation, making them rather evocative of a trap snapping shut.
When a trap-jaw ant is threatened by an unwanted visitor, its powerful jaws can deliver a fairly clear message. The ants also use their jaws to cripple prey, making it easier for the ants to collect food. Finally, the trap-jaw ant is actually able to jump with the power of its jaws. By striking the ground with its jaws as it closes them, a trap-jaw ant can jump many times its own height, far exceeding the jumping abilities of most other animals.
Given the powerful sting of a trap-jaw ant's bite, most people would prefer to remain out of range of the animals. However, entomologists have studied the creatures in an attempt to learn more about how they evolved. Specialists in robotics are also intrigued by the ants, since the powerful grip and lightning reflexes of their jaws could prove very useful if they can be copied.