Ambidextrous Mandibles in the Fire Ant Solenopsis invicta

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The elongation and sharp teeth of ant mandibles are considered important adaptations that have contributed to ants successful colonization of terrestrial habitats worldwide. In extant ant species, mandibles function as hunting and defense weapons, as well as multipurpose tools for excavating soil, cutting leaves, capturing and butchering prey, harvesting seeds, and transporting brood. This article reports that the mandibles in the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren, are functionally ambidextrous. Individuals opened and closed each mandible in synchrony or independently depending on the requirement of the task at hand. Upon completion of a task, individuals were without a preference in the orientation of mandible overlap—right overlap or left overlap. Orientation of mandible overlap before and after performing a task was also examined in nine other ant species. No overlap orientation preference was observed in any of these ant species, suggesting that ambidextrous mandibles are a universal trait in ants. These findings add an increment of knowledge to the diverse functions of ant mandibles.

Keywords: fine motor skills; functional morphology; grasping; handedness

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2009

More about this publication?
  • Annals of the Entomological Society of America is published in January, March, May, July, September, and November. Annals especially invites submission of manuscripts that integrate different areas of insect biology, and address issues that are likely to be of broad relevance to entomologists. Articles also report on basic aspects of the biology of arthropods, divided into categories by subject matter: systematics; ecology and population biology; arthropod biology; arthropods in relation to plant diseases; conservation biology and biodiversity; physiology, biochemistry, and toxicology; morphology, histology, and fine structure; genetics; and behavior.
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