The Ants are Armed

We do not have a witty quip nor opening for this, so let’s just rip off the Band-Aid and get right into it- scientists have discovered that ants have sharp metal enforced “teeth”. Scientists have recently found that ant “teeth”, more commonly referenced as mandibles, are a smooth mix of proteins and metal (mostly zinc, but some have been observed with different metals) which allow ants to have sharper “teeth” than even humans. For the record, our teeth are mostly bone and therefore are primarily calcified (containing calcium), making them jagged instead of having a smooth finish. The difference in use is like using a carving knife vs a butter knife to carve a chicken- one way is going to be much easier and more efficient than the other way. The lack of available studies on things like ant teeth is not due to a lack of samples or supply, it has more to do with the size. Compared to human teeth, ant mandibles are much more resilient and wear resistant as they are able to cut materials using significantly less force than a human would, of course taking the size and relative jaw strength into consideration. We have seen some advantages, so, what are the disadvantages of having sharp metal-enforced teeth? The potential to break is going to be much higher on longer, sharper teeth than it is for stockier and more jagged teeth is one of the major disadvantages to mandibles vs “traditional” mammal teeth. The other thing to consider is the diversified use of insect teeth. A rabbit and an ant will both need their teeth to pierce a nut, sure. But if a rabbit’s teeth break, they will eventually grow back (kind of like a fingernail), but an ants’ will not. Even when compared to a carnivore, a cat can still kill with its claws and does necessarily need all of its teeth, but an ant that loses function of its mandibles will prove to be a death sentence for the ant. An ant uses its mandibles not only for chewing and eating, but for carrying and moving materials, self-defense and digging. However, like with most scientific discoveries, we usually come to find that the more we know the more we realize we don’t know. What do we still not know about ant/insect mandibles? The “how”. We don’t know how the metals are incorporated into the mandibles; we just know that they are there. This also means that we are not 100% sure of how the mandibles work- not necessarily how they move but more so how they process impact and remain as sharp as they do throughout the lifecycle of an ant. How do mandibles resist impact? Do mandibles recover from minor fractures? Do mandibles recover at all? There are some theories on how that works, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

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