How much weight can an ant carry? Is she the strongest?

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Not content with having seen the dinosaurs perish and having survived the ice age, ants are reputed to be able to carry up to 1000 times their weight. To what do they owe this superpower? Are all ants capable of this feat? Are they really the strongest?

An unusual strength among insects

Nature is astonishing and the ant, which includes no less than 16,600 species recognized in 2023, will never fail to amaze us both with its social structure and its adaptation to its living environment. For those who like to observe nature, seeing what we take for fragile insects transport a dead insect larger than themselves without damage to their anthill is a source of astonishment as much as admiration. Studies carried out by Vienny Nguyen and his team at the University of Columbus in the United States have shown that an ant can carry up to a thousand times its own weight. While an ant weighing seven grams can boast of carrying up to 7 grams, a trained human being will only be able to carry forty to fifty kilos, for a few minutes and provided that he weighs at least eighty kilos.

By uniting to bring food to their colony, the ants can increase their strength tenfold and carry up to 2,000 times their weight. However, if the insect takes on too heavy a load, its exoskeleton suffers damage. Beyond 3,400 to 5,000 times its weight, its neck joint gives way and the ant succumbs.

Small size and unique morphology of their thorax are responsible for the ants’ prowess

An insect above all, the ant has a rigid envelope – exoskeleton – on which its muscles are anchored. The unique morphology of their thorax between soft tissue and cuticle of the head as well as the muscles located outside the joint in the thorax play a major role in resistance to heavy loads. Because they do not have wings like their queen, worker ants have a predominant first thoracic segment. They also have powerful muscles that strengthen the joint that connects the head and thorax. This morphology then allows the worker ant to dig, cut and carry thanks to its powerful mandibles. However, the small size of Formicidae should not make us forget that the effort they provide is similar to that which humans would produce to carry a mass of 300 kilos.

Are all ants capable of carrying up to 1,000 times their weight?

If all species of these eusocial insects are capable of carrying insects, seeds, leaves or reliefs from your picnic, not all are morphologically prepared for this performance. Thus, if the mandibles of worker ants and their thorax can drag up to twenty-five times their weight on the ground, the same is not true for queens or other individuals in the colony. The more imposing head as well as the large and powerful mandibles of warriors do not allow them to carry out the tasks of the media ant responsible for harvesting food or maintaining the foundations and structure of the nest.

Is the ant really the strongest insect?

While the ant impresses us with its strength and its social structure where everyone is destined for a specific task, it is not the ant that holds the record for transporting heavy loads in the fascinating world of insects. At only a few millimeters long and no more than a few grams, Onthophagus taurus can tow a load more than 1,100 times its weight. Better known as the bull dung beetle, it can move up to 1,141 times its body mass to attract females. However, in mass/strength comparison, our beetle is ultimately not the champion. It’s a moth that steals the show, Archegozetes longisetosus, which lifts up to 1,180 times its own weight.

But are they really so strong when a simple shoe or a car tire can destroy their existence? When we know that the exoskeleton of Phloeodes diabolicus or diabolical beetle allows it to withstand pressure 39,000 times greater than its body mass, we can wonder if it is not the strongest insect in the world!

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