Pesky as they may be, ants are truly incredible insects. The tiny creatures can survive floods by joining together to morph into living rafts, predict earthquakes, lift up to 20 times their body weight, and even select the best tool to complete a job efficiently. Now, it appears that the elusive Dracula ant (Mystrium camillae) can snap its jaws shut at a mind-boggling speed of 90 meters per second (more than 200 miles per hour) – the fastest-known animal movement on record.
“They’re cruising around underground and if they encounter something like a centipede or a termite they can smack them with the mandibles to kill or stun them,” said Andrew Suarez, an animal biology professor at the University of Illinois, who led the study. “They can then sting it to further incapacitate it, and then they carry it back to the nest.”
Endemic to the tropics of Africa, Asia, and Australia, Dracula ants spend much of their time underground or on tree trunks, making them hard to study. The insects get their name due to their unique feeding habits, which involves a form of non-destructive parental cannibalism. The adult ants, unable to process solid food, feed their prey to their larvae. They then chew holes in the larvae and suck the blood. Though this arrangement, which researchers refer to as a “social stomach,” does leave the larvae with holes, it does not harm them.