Dracula Ant Sets Record for Fastest Known Animal Movement

CC BY 2.0. Adrian Smith

The jaws of this super ant go from 0 to 200 mph in 0.000015 seconds.

It's really easy to overlook the little creatures that we share the planet with. We marvel at the speed of cheetahs, the social intelligence of elephants, the prowess of lions – but what about the talents of all the tiny things in the world? Case in point, the mighty force of nature known as Mystrium camillae, the Dracula ant.

Ants in general are seriously worthy of admiration – they build castles, they assemble into escape rafts, they can carry 50 times their own weight, and other feats that go way beyond what we mere humans can do.

And now the Dracula ant lays claim to a new world record. According to recent research, it has the fastest animal movement known to science – it can snap its mandibles at speeds of up to 90 meters per second (more than 200 miles per hour).

"These ants are fascinating as their mandibles are very unusual," says University of Illinois animal biology and entomology professor Andrew Suarez, the study leader. "Even among ants that power-amplify their jaws, the Dracula ants are unique: Instead of using three different parts for the spring, latch and lever arm, all three are combined in the mandible."

While other so-called "trap-jaw" ants have fierce jaws that slam closed from an open position, Dracula ants are different in that they rev up their mandibles by pressing the tips together and then spring-loading them to release when one mandible slides across the other – snap your fingers, it's like that. Except that the ants are snapping their jaws 1000 times faster than we can snap our fingers. And to what end are these agile ants snapping their mighty mandibles?

"The ants use this motion to smack other arthropods, likely stunning them, smashing them against a tunnel wall or pushing them away," Suarez says.

Imagine that kind of power in the hands (mandibles?) of a larger creature – we'd be in complete awe. But as it stands, the impressive speed of the little ants is still worthy of great praise. As the organism boasting the world record for fastest moving appendages, may we all start listing the Dracula ant right up there with cheetahs and elephants when it comes to impressive animals.

See more about the research in the video below.