Animals are usually predator or prey but sometimes even predators find
themselves prey of another species I’m an entomologist University of
Illinois and the Smithsonian natural history museum and I’m going to tell you about what happens when two fierce insect predators meet face to face Ant lions are ambush predators commonly found throughout Florida they dig pits in sand and bury themselves
the bottom. The walls of these pits are unstable the ant lion flings sand at the prey making them tumble to the bottom of the pit where the ant lions pulls its victim
under the and to eat it alive the ants that I study, trap-jaw ants are lone huntresses they subdue their prey by using their powerful sting and their ultrafast snapping jaws. Their
mandibles naps are among the fastest animal movements ever documented What I wanted to know was whether
this powerful adaptation for prey capture could also be used during encounters with ant
lion predators to help the ants survive first I collected ant lions and let them
dig pits an experimental arenas then I introduced trap-jaw ant workers
into these pits and recorded the outcome. I found that
half of the time the ants escaped by running out of the pit but running didn’t always work and
sometimes they end up trapped at the bottom on the edge in being eaten in this situation their mandible snap
provides an impressive means of escape they snap their mandibles against the
walls of the pit and all the force of the the strike is reflected back at them propelling them up and safely out of the pit.
Mandible power jumps help them escape 15 percent of the time.
After observing this I wondered if taking away their mandible
powered escape mechanism really would diminish their other surviving could they compensate by escaping in other
ways? So I did a second experiment where I glued the mandibles shut and compare
their survival to other non-glued control ants I found that mandible snaps doubled
their odds of escaping. This is a striking example of how something that evolved for one purpose, prey capture, can become essential in a
completely different context I hope my work has shown you something
new and exciting about the natural world and the insects that are a part of it.