While jumping is common in many insects, it’s a rare occurrence in ants. Out of 326 ant genera, only a handful are known to jump using their legs. There are, however, other ants that have learned to propel themselves and jump with their jaws.
In this article we’ll look at a list of the different ants that can jump and discuss how and why they do it.
Which Ants Can Jump?
There have been many shared anecdotal observations of jumping ants, many of which could actually be true, but as it stands only 6 of 326 ant genera have been confirmed capable of jumping. These genera are as follows:
Gigantiops (Forminicae). A monotypic genus found in northern South America known for their large eyes and well-developed ability to jump with their legs.
Harpegnathos (Ponerinae). A small genus found in Southeast Asia which, like the Gigantiops, are capable of jumping with their legs. They’re known for their morphological traits, foraging behaviors, nest architecture, and unusual reproductive behaviors.
Myrmecia (Myrmeciinae). Characterized by extreme aggressiveness and their deadly stings, ants of this genus are predators known for their jumping behavior when they’re agitated.
Odontomachus (Ponerinae). Ants of this genus are characterized by their odd-looking heads which bear strong, large, and elongated trap-jaw mandibles capable of opening 180 degrees and quickly maiming or killing their prey. But not only that, they also use these mandibles to jump away if they feel disturbed. And interestingly enough, recent studies have found that they’re also capable of jumping with their legs.
Anochetus (Ponerinae). Regarded as the sister genus of Odontomachus, they’re smaller yet very similar to the latter in terms of their mandibular structure. Likewise, they also use their mandibles to jump away from danger.
Strumigenys (Myrmicinae). A species-rich genus mainly found in the subtropics and tropics, these cryptic ants have long, forceps like trap-jaw mandibles which they use to propel themselves away from danger.
If you notice, the ants in the list can be categorized into two groups, those that jump with their legs and those that jump using their jaws. The only exception is the Odontomachus which showcases both jumping behaviors.
How Do Ants Jump?
As one could expect, the mechanics between leg and jaw jumping, seeing as they’re in opposite parts of the body, vary greatly. So let’s break them down individually.
It’s hard to imagine how it’s even possible for ants to jump with their legs. After all, they’re so thin and aren’t actually built for jumping in the same way that, for example, grasshopper legs are. Yet, somehow they work. How?
Well, research on the jumping ant H. saltator, describes how ants jump with their legs in the four phases that follows:
- Pre-jump Phase. In this phase the ant flexes the femoro-tibial joints of its mid and hindlegs while also raising the anterior of the front part of their bodies. That way, they increase the angle between the longitudinal body axis and the substrate, moving the center of gravity backwards towards the coxae of the hindlegs and resulting in less torque during takeoff.
- Takeoff Phase. In this phase, the ant then straightens the femoro-tibial joints of its mid and hindlegs at the same time to generate an acceleration that propels the ant upwards and forwards.
- Flight Phase. After takeoff, the ant then raises and moves its mid and hindlegs forward to shift the center of gravity back to forward. At the same time the ant’s front legs are partly stretched and directed slightly forwards all throughout. Eventually the flight phase concludes as the ant laterally stretches its mid and hindlegs to prepare for landing.
- Landing Phase. Finally, to commence the landing phase they stretch their front legs fully before impacting with the ground.
Another research, this time on the Gigantiops, shows how they use their abdomen when jumping. These ants begin their jump by rotating their abdomens forward on takeoff to provide additional thrust and increase maximum distance, height, and takeoff velocity.
Jaw jumping on the other hand, is a little more straightforward. Everything’s simply due to the strength of the jaw. For instance, research has found that the accelerations of the ant O.bauri jaw-strikes can yield forces that exceed their own body weight. So when trap-jaw ants strike the substrate, they generate enough force to propel themselves backwards and away for more than 20 times their body length.
Why Do Ants Jump?
Ants jump for a variety of reasons, but they mostly do it to flee from danger. For instance, both jaw and leg jumpers alike, jump away to safety when they perceive threats. This makes them extremely mobile and hard to capture.
Apart from jumping away to safety, leg jumpers in particular, jump for general locomotion or to capture prey. Leg jumping ants tend to have great eyesight which they make use of to detect their prey before jumping on them to attack.
Can Ants Fly?
Yes, ants can fly. Reproductive ants, specifically, grow wings at certain times of the year to participate in what’s called a nuptial flight wherein sexually mature ants swarm to reproduce and hopefully start their new colonies.
Can Ants Die From Falling?
Ants can’t die from falling. Their terminal velocities are so low that their falls don’t generate much impact. Additionally, their bodies are equipped with an exoskeleton which deforms, absorbs, and spreads the force of impact, allowing them to simply get up from a fall with no harm done.
Can Ants Swim?
Similar to jumping, only a select number of ants are capable of swimming. Ants, even those that can swim, simply aren’t adapted well enough for water. They’re small and thus very much limited by surface tension. Furthermore, their legs are generally not strong enough to generate enough force to propel themselves in water.
It’s interesting how among the vast number of ants on earth, only a few are capable of jumping. What’s more amazing though is how they can jump even though they’re bodies aren’t necessarily adapted for it. Who would think that such skinny legs would be able to allow some ants to propel themselves and leap from one spot to another? More so, how could one even imagine that ants can escape threats by striking the ground with their jaws?
The fact that ants have developed such behaviors, just shows how amazing ants and nature is in general. And who knows, maybe someday scientists will be able to discover more creative ways that ants can jump.