In Depth

Scientists discover the Dracula ant is the world's fastest mover

Insect uses lethal speed of its spring-loaded mandibles to stun or kill prey

A new study of the Dracula ant has found that it is the fastest animal in the world.

According to a new study, the Dracula ant, Mystrium camillae, can snap its mandibles at speeds of up to 90 metres per second (over 200 mph), making it the fastest animal movement on record.

The ants can be found in Australia, tropical Africa and South-East Asia and “use the explosive motion to attack, stun and kill prey, which is then fed to their larvae”, says The Guardian. Scientists were able to understand the exact speed of the snapping motion only with the advent of high-speed video technology over the past 10 years.

“The high accelerations of Mystrium strikes likely result in high-impact forces necessary for predatory or defensive behaviours,” the researchers wrote in a report of their findings in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Researchers say the tiny blood-sucking creature powers its 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 ants use this motion to smack other arthropods, likely stunning them, smashing them against a tunnel wall or pushing them away. The prey is then transported back to the nest, where it is fed to the ants' larvae,” Suarez 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”, he added.

This particular species of ant are rarely encountered “as they live in large colonies underground, or inside tree trunks”, says science website Geek.com. Their name wasn’t derived from their snap-jaw, but “from their extremely unusual feeding habits”, the website adds. They practise a sort of “non-destructive cannibalism”, chewing holes into and feeding on the blood of the colony’s own larvae.

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