Tiny giants of Nature

FM Bureau | 01-July-2014

Detailed News

By FM Bureau

No words can explain the wonders of mother nature. One of the most amazing phenomenons on earth may be the life of the tiny ant. Thats the strengthiest living being on earth which can easily lift and carry a weight 5,000 times its body weight. Scientists have recently found that ants can provide clues to advancements in engineering.

The ability of the ants to carry many times their own body weight is well documented, but the new research on heavy-lifting ants reveals that the neck joint of a common American field ant can withstand pressures up to 5,000 times its own body weight.

Writing in the Journal of Biomechanics, researchers from the Ohio State University said that the ants strength far exceeded their initial estimates.

Carlos Castro, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the university, says that ants lift loads with their mouthparts, transfer them through the neck joint to the thorax, and distribute over six legs and tarsi that anchor to the supporting surface.

Ants are impressive mechanical systems - astounding, really, says Carlos Castro. 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.

While an ant carrying a huge leaf on top of its tiny frame provides sound analytical evidence that the insects can carry weight far in excess of their own, Castro and his colleagues reached their conclusions through a more mechanical 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, Castro said. That may sound kind of cruel in this case, but we did anesthetize them first.

For the research, Castro and his team chose the Allegheny mound ant (Formica exsectoides), a common ant not particularly known for its ability to lift. The ant specimens were imaged with an electron microscope and a micro-CT scanner, then they were refrigerated to induce anesthesia before being glued into place on a specially designed centrifuge that measured the force necessary to deform the neck and eventually separate the head from the ants body.

The concept is similar to a spinning carnival ride where passengers are pinned to the wall of the ride by centrifugal force as the floor drops out from beneath them.

The researchers said they hope that their understanding of the mechanics of the ants anatomy and its ability to withstand force will be of use in future robotics designs.

The experiments revealed that the neck joints could withstand loads of about 5,000 times the ants body weight, and that the ants neck-joint structure produced the highest strength when its head was aligned straight, as opposed to turned to either side.  The neck joint [of the ant] is a complex and highly integrated mechanical system. Efforts to understand the structure-function relationship in this system will contribute to the understanding of the design paradigms for optimized exoskeleton mechanisms, says former Ohio State student Vienny N Nguyen in her 2012 masters thesis on this research.

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