With their amazing necks, ants don’t need ‘high hopes’ to do heavy lifting

With their amazing necks, ants don’t need ‘high hopes’ to do heavy lifting

Researchers have discovered that the neck joint of a common American field ant can withstand astounding pressures. Similar joints might enable future robots to mimic the ant’s weight-lifting ability on earth and in space.

via All Top News — ScienceDaily:

High hopes may help move a rubber tree plant (as the old song goes), but the real secret to the ant’s legendary strength may lie in its tiny neck joint.In the Journal of Biomechanics, researchers report that the neck joint of a common American field ant can withstand pressures up to 5,000 times the ant’s weight.”Ants are impressive mechanical systems — astounding, really,” said Carlos Castro, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at The Ohio State University. “Before we started, we made a somewhat conservative estimate that they might withstand 1,000 times their weight, and it turned out to be much more.”The engineers are studying whether similar joints might enable future robots to mimic the ant’s weight-lifting ability on earth and in space.Other researchers have long observed ants in the field and guessed that they could hoist a hundred times their body weight or more, judging by the payload of leaves or prey that they carried. Castro and his colleagues took a different approach.They took the ants apart.”As you would in any engineering system, if you want to understand how something works, you take it apart,” he said. “That may sound kind of cruel in this case, but we did anesthetize them first.”The engineers examined the Allegheny mound ant (Formica exsectoides) as if it were a device that they wanted to reverse-engineer: they tested its moving parts and the materials it is made of.They chose this particular species because it’s common in the eastern United States and could easily be obtained from the university insectary. It’s an average field ant that is not particularly known for it’s lifting ability.They imaged ants with electron microscopy and X-rayed them with micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) machines. They placed the ants in a refrigerator to anesthetize them, then glued them face-down in a specially designed centrifuge to measure the force necessary to deform the neck and eventually rupture the head from the body.The centrifuge worked on the same principle as a common carnival ride called “the rotor.” In the rotor, a circular room spins until centrifugal force pins people to the wall and the floor drops out. In the case of the ants, their heads were glued in place on the floor of the centrifuge, so that as it spun, the ants’ bodies would be pulled outward until their necks ruptured.The centrifuge spun up to hundreds of rotations per second, each increase in speed exerting more outward force on the ant. At forces corresponding to 350 times the ants’ body weight, the neck joint began to stretch and the body lengthened. The ants’ necks ruptured at forces of 3,400-5,000 times their average body weight.Micro-CT scans revealed the soft tissue structure of the neck and its connection to the hard exoskeleton of the head and body. Electron microscopy images revealed that each part of the head-neck-chest joint was covered in a different texture, with structures that looked like bumps or hairs extending from different locations.”Other insects have similar micro-scale structures, and we think that they might play some kind of mechanical role,” Castro said. …

For more info: With their amazing necks, ants don’t need ‘high hopes’ to do heavy lifting

All Top News — ScienceDaily

With their amazing necks, ants don’t need ‘high hopes’ to do heavy lifting

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