A new world record for the fastest moving animal parts has been claimed by an ant. The Dracula ant’s snapping mandibles are used to stun other insects. Is the stored spring energy they use to accomplish this something we could learn from and utilize?
The ants use this scary, high-impact motion, which is 5,000 times faster than a blink of an eye, to attack other arthropods, stunning them, smashing them against a tunnel wall or pushing them away, according to researchers, whose report was published in journal Royal Society Open Science. The poor prey is then transported back to the nest, where it is fed to the ants’ larvae.
Move over, trap-jaw ants and mantis shrimp: There’s a faster appendage in town. According to a new study, the Dracula ant, Mystrium camillae, can snap its mandibles at speeds of up to 90 meters per second (more than 200 mph), making it the fastest animal movement on record.
“The high accelerations of Mystrium strikes likely result in high-impact forces necessary for predatory or defensive behaviors,” the researchers wrote in a report of their findings in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
“These ants are fascinating as their mandibles are very unusual,” said University of Illinois animal biology and entomology professor Andrew Suarez, who led the research with Fredrick J. Larabee, a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; and Adrian A. Smith, of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University, Raleigh.
“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.”
Unlike trap-jaw ants, whose powerful jaws snap closed from an open position, Dracula ants power up their mandibles by pressing the tips together, spring-loading them with internal stresses that release when one mandible slides across the other, similar to a human finger snap, the researchers said. …
“Scientists have described many different spring-loading mechanisms in ants, but no one knew the relative speed of each of these mechanisms,” Larabee said. “We had to use incredibly fast cameras to see the whole movement. We also used X-ray imaging technology to be able to see their anatomy in three dimensions, to better understand how the movement works.” …
“Our main findings are that snap-jaws are the fastest of the spring-loaded ant mouthparts, and the fastest currently known animal movement,” Larabee said. …
The stored force needed to move a mandible at this speed is impressive and once the spring mechanism is fully understood, perhaps it could be the basis of a new spring powered car engine.
The spring driven car predates even the steam engine, at least on paper.
It was more than 500 years ago, however — sometime around the year 1478 to be more or less specific — when Leonardo drew out his plans for the world’s first self-propelled vehicle.
Unlike Henry Ford’s Model T in the early 1900s, Leonardo’s car wasn’t designed for mass-production. It wasn’t truly a passenger car, since it didn’t even have a seat. The vehicle was actually designed as a special attraction for Renaissance festivals, meant to instill wonder and awe in attendees. Like many of Leonardo’s sketches, however, the car remained on paper throughout his lifetime — we can only speculate that the machine was either considered too dangerous to operate or the inventor didn’t have adequate materials to build it.
“It was – or is – the world’s first self-propelled vehicle,” said Paolo Galluzzi, director of the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence, who oversaw the project.
Here is a model of one type of spring powered car:
The trick is to have controls that work to release the stored energy as needed. Can you imagine a gas station that winds your car’s springs?
The reason we don’t have this now comes down to energy storage.
… the mainspring 2824-2 in a wristwatch only contains 0.3 joules. One may basically view the energy as extensive and fill a volume with mainsprings. The energy stored in these mechanical devices will be 1530 joules per liter. It is just 1.5 kilojoules per liter.
This is tiny compared to the energy stored in gasoline – 35 megajoules per liter which is 20,000 times more concentrated energy than the energy in mainsprings. The energy stored in the same volume of batteries will be comparable to gasoline (because both of them are based on the chemical energy of electronic orbitals), just a little bit lower. Lithium-ion batteries have about 4 megajoules per liter, about 9 times lower than gasoline …
The metallic pieces start to break when one tries much higher tension. The old clockmakers have tried to take it to the limit. One can’t really reach the chemical energy density by realistic tension because the chemical energy means that the electrons in each atom are already strongly, qualitatively rearranged. A wound up spring means that they’re just “moderately” displaced – a smaller change of each atom.
Via StackEx (comments)
Do Dracula ant jaws store more force as spring action than is possible with the metals we use to make watch springs? Probably still not enough compared to chemical energy storage.