Repeatedly over the course of ant evolution, when called for by particular predatory lifestyles, mouthparts have morphed into a sort of awful bear-trap mechanism. Mandibles are held open with tremendous pent-up energy and slam shut on hapless prey when triggered. This modification is called a trap-jaw, and slightly different versions of it are present in various groups of carnivorous ants.

The single trap-jaw to emerge in the ant subfamily Formicinae (the same group as the carpenter ants) belongs to Myrmoteras, a tropical Asian insect that hunts springtails in the leaf litter. Our lab hosts a few individuals of Myrmoteras iriodum, recently collected from Borneo, and I spent a few hours photographing one last week. You can see the best shots here.

Of all the ants I’ve photographed, Myrmoteras seems the least real. It appears to have sprung to life from the caricatured pages of a comic book.

More Myrmoteras photos here.

11 thoughts on “Myrmoteras”

    1. We’ve been feeding her springtails in the hopes of getting a colony out of her. She does seem to like some of the local ones, but no eggs yet.

      I’ve been noticing her pronotum is structured as you would expect for a non-claustral queen. Now that you pointed it out, Roberto, it really seems obvious.

  1. I really like the picture showing how small it is compared to a pencil- their formidible appearance made me think they were larger than they really were!

    1. This was hands-down one of the easiest ants I’ve ever shot. Myrmoteras, at least the ones we have, just like to hang out with their jaws open. And they’re mellow, too. No sudden movements.

  2. In the Philippines, Gary Alpert and I found that these ants like to nest between 2 dead leaves in the leaf litter. So, we had our crew first search for their nests by separating leaves before sifting the leaf litter. We found quite a few colony series this way. I suggest that you provide moist dead leaves to induce the queen to start her colony.
    They are indeed slow and methodical in their movements. Really cool ants!

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