Ants use Velcro-like claws to trap prey 5,700 times their own weight

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Washington, July 4 (ANI): Azteca andreae, a South American ant, uses hook-like claws, similar to those seen in Velcro, to hunt prey thousands of times its own weight.

In the jungles of French Guiana, Azteca andreae lives symbiotically with the trumpet tree, called Cecropia obtusa, which hosts colonies of the insects in its hollow stems. The ants prey on plant-munching bugs extending the tree's life.

In the course of their work in the rainforest, researcher Alain Dejean at the French National Center for Scientific Research and his colleagues spotted the ants capturing a locust thousands of times the size of a lone ant, reports Live Science.

Their investigations revealed the ants accomplished this feat by using Velcro-like structures on themselves and the trees.

Velcro consists of pieces of fabric covered with little hooks that fasten onto strips covered with tiny loops.

The scientists found that the ants wait to ambush their victims by hiding side-by-side near the edges of the leaves' velvety undersides with their jaws open, with some 850 ants per leaf on average.

When the prey lands on the leaf, the ants pounce en masse, rushing forward upside-down by latching onto the downy surfaces with their claws, much as hooks fasten onto loops in Velcro.

This clinginess helps anchor the predators down for leverage, enabling ants in the first wave of the attack to hold onto targets so their partners can then spread the victims apart and carve them up.

Tests showed that each ant had a firm enough grip on the leaves to hold onto loads up to 8 grams, equivalent amazingly to more than 5,700 times their own weight.

These claws enable the ants to bring down locusts a little more than 4 inches long (10.5 centimetres) and weighing some 18.61 grams, or 13,350 times that of a lone ant. That would be equivalent to a roughly 934,500 kg by a group of hunters each weighing about 70 kg.

The findings appear online in the journal PLoS ONE. (ANI)

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