Yes, ants do have muscles. Ants have a muscular system which supports their bodies, helps with different bodily functions, and ultimately allows for locomotion. It is through muscles that ants are able to move, respire, digest, and excrete waste.
In this article, we’ll discuss the ant muscular system and the different functions of ant muscles. Before that however, let’s briefly describe what muscles are exactly.
What Are Muscles?
Muscles are a specialized body part in animals which exert force to produce movement or locomotion. These muscles consist primarily of muscle tissues which contract to produce said force.
Muscle tissues are made up of muscle cells which consist of fine contractile fibers called myofibrils, which in turn are composed of repeating sections of sarcomere, the basic structural unit of a muscle.
Types of Muscles
There are three types of muscles: skeletal, smooth, and cardiac.
- Skeletal / Striated Muscles: Skeletal muscles are muscle tissues attached to the skeleton. They produce the voluntary movement of the different parts of the body.
- Smooth Muscles: Smooth muscles are involuntary muscles utilized by different systems for the application of pressure to organs and vessels. These muscles are essential for the body as they’re involved in complicated and vital tasks such as digestion and electrolyte balance.
- Cardiac Muscles: As implied by the name, cardiac muscles are those found in the heart. These muscles perform involuntary and coordinated contractions, which enable the heart to constantly pump blood throughout the body.
The Ant Muscular System
The ant muscular system is different to that of humans and other vertebrates. Due to their small size, ants have limited space for muscles and thus their muscles are in turn, reduced in size.
Ant muscles have less fibers per muscle and to achieve graded muscular contractions (varying amounts of force), each of these fibers are capable of variable response. In contrast, vertebrates produce such graded muscular contractions through the stimulation of a varied number of fibers.
Similarly, the quantity of nervous tissue in ants is limited, and therefore, they have fewer motor neurons which control the muscles.
Lastly, unlike humans and other vertebrates, ants only have striated or skeletal muscles. That said, these muscles can be further categorized into the following:
- Visceral: Visceral muscles are gut muscles that surround ducts and tubes. They form layers of tissue enveloping internal organs such as the heart, gut, and reproductive tract and are what allows for key body processes such as peristalsis, the muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract.
- Segmental: Segmental muscles are muscles that allow for telescoping of segments which in turn allow for molting, breathing, and increasing internal body pressure. These muscles also allow for legless locomotion in ant larvae.
- Appendicular: Appendicular muscles refer to the muscles associated with limbs and appendages. These are what allow ants to move their mandibles and legs.
- Flight: Flight muscles are of course those associated with flight. While not available in most ants, these muscles allow alates (reproductive ants) to fly.
Functions Of Ant Muscles
While ant muscles have a number of differences from human and vertebrate muscles, they ultimately have similar if not the same functions. These functions are as follows:
The ant thorax is packed with muscles that power the ant legs and allow ants to move from location to another. Through these muscles ants are able to walk, climb, jump, and swim.
Flight muscles are also found in the alates of certain ant species. These flight muscles control the wings of these alates and allow them to participate in dispersal flights.
Aside from legs and wings, muscles also control the movement of the ant mouthparts called mandibles. These mandibles contain teeth and help with moving objects, processing of food, and hunting or defense.
The ant digestive system is facilitated by different muscles that control the flow of food throughout the ant body. For instance, the ant mouth itself is a muscular valve where food enters.
From there, the food is then sucked into the pharynx by the muscles located between the head capsule and the anterior wall of the pharynx. These muscles are called cibarial muscles which contract to create a suction called the cibarial pump.
After the pharynx, the food is then transported from the esophagus to a food-storage organ called the crop via peristalsis or the rhythmic contractions of the visceral muscles. The food then stays in the crop until it’s ready to be processed.
When it’s time to proceed, sphincter muscles then help move the food to the remaining regions of the digestive system where the food will be digested and eventually excreted.
Molting and Metamorphosis
Ants undergo complete metamorphosis to achieve their adult forms. To do so, ants undergo molting, a biological process in which they shed their exoskeletons to grow and develop. In fact, ants molt multiple times in their life cycle as they develop into mature adults.
The molting process involves the activation of hormones and secretion of fluids to create new exoskeletons for ant larvae. Once these exoskeletons are ready, the larvae then shed their old exoskeletons by contracting their segmental muscles to crack and split the old exoskeleton open. When it does, the larva then breaks out with a new exoskeleton and physical features.
Spiracles are tiny holes in the ant exoskeleton which allow for the passive diffusion of gas. These spiracles are connected to a network of tubes called trachea which branch out and distribute gas throughout the ant body. Essentially, spiracles are what allow ants to breathe and respire.
Ants control these spiracles through muscles which allow them to open and close the spiracles as needed. For example, ants open and close their spiracles in cyclic discontinuous gas-exchange cycles. They may also close them whenever they want to prevent water or other liquids out such as when they are submerged.
Why Are Ants So Strong?
Ants have been shown capable of carrying 100 times their own weight while even the world’s strongest man can only carry around 2.5 times. So what’s their secret, are ant muscles made of steel?
Well, ants don’t have special muscles that give them super strength and as discussed, their muscles aren’t necessarily much different than ours.
Instead, the secret to their strength lies within two factors:
- Ants are physically built to be strong. Their muscles, joints, and overall bodies are so compact and tightly put together that they’re capable of withstanding heavy pressure.
- The bigger factor is the relationship between size, weight, and strength. Since ants are small and light, their muscles don’t need to exert much force to support their bodies, which then allows them to freely apply their strength elsewhere.
Do Ants Have Hearts?
Ants have hearts in the form of a dorsal vessel, a long elongated tube which pumps circulatory fluid called hemolymph throughout their bodies. More specifically, the ant heart refers to the posterior region of the dorsal vessel located in the ant’s abdomen.
Do Ants Have Brains?
Ants do have brains. While small, their brains provide enough processing power to allow them to process visual stimuli, learn and memorize important information, and lastly, orient and move themselves accordingly.
Summary: Do Ants Have Muscles?
To summarize, yes ants do have muscles. Their muscles are striated and can be further categorized into 4 types: visceral, segmental, appendicular, and flight.
Each of these muscle types provide a wide range of functions from locomotion and mandible movement to helping with important bodily processes such as digestion, molting, and respiration.