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.
While the start of a new school year is always exciting, this year was even more so for some elementary school students in Auckland, New Zealand. They became the world’s first kids to be “taught” by a digital teacher. Before you start imagining a human-like robot walking around the classroom, Will is just an avatar that pops up on the student’s desktop, tablet, or smartphone screen, when summoned.
A collaboration between Auckland energy company Vector and AI company Soul Machines, the autonomous animation platform has been modeled after the human brain and nervous system, allowing it to demonstrate human-like behavior. The digital teacher is currently assigned to teach Vector’s “Be sustainable with energy,” a free program for Auckland elementary schools. Launched in 2005, the award-winning outreach program, previously taught by humans, is designed to educate kids about energy use, and the different forms of renewable energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal.
While birds may appear to flutter about in the world, magically finding their way to food and other members of the flock, the reality is, many species migrate to the same destination, time and again. Over the years, researchers have established that the animals use Earth’s magnetic fields as guides. However, how they sense these fields has been a mystery.
One theory suggested specific molecules in the birds’ eyes were receptive to magnetism, while another claimed it was the iron-rich cells on their beaks that helped with the complex navigation task. Now, two studies – one focused on zebra finches and the other on European robins — assert that the animal’s “sixth sense” for magnetic fields may indeed be due to a special light-sensitive protein called Cry4 found in their eyes.