Rapid movements of limbs and appendages, faster than those produced by simple muscle contraction alone, are generated through mechanical networks consisting of springs and latches. The latch plays a central role in these spring-loaded mechanisms, but the structural details of the latch are not always known. The mandibles of the trap-jaw ant Odontomachus kuroiwae closes the mandible extremely quickly to capture prey or to perform mandible-powered defensive jumps to avoid potential threats. The jump is mediated by a mechanical spring and latch system embodied in the mandible. An ant can strike the tip of the mandible onto the surface of an obstacle (prey, predator or ground) in order to bounce its body away from potential threats. The angular velocity of the closing mandible was 2.3×104 rad s−1 (1.3×106 deg s−1). Latching of the joint is a key mechanism to aid the storage of energy required to power the ballistic movements of the mandibles. We have identified the fine structure of two latch systems on the mandible forming a ‘ball joint’ using an X-ray micro-computational tomography system (X-ray micro-CT) and X-ray live imaging with a synchrotron. Here, we describe the surface of the inner section of the socket and a projection on the lip of the ball. The X-ray live imaging and movements of the 3D model show that the ball with a detent ridge slipped into a socket and over the socket ridge before snapping back at the groove edge. Our results give insight into the complex spring-latch systems that underpin ultra-fast movements in biological systems.

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