Attachment forces of ants measured with a centrifuge: Better 'wax-runners' have a poorer attachment to a smooth surface

W. Federle, K. Rohrseitz, B. Hölldobler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations


The symbiotic ant partners of glaucous Macaranga antplants show an exceptional capacity to run on the slippery epicuticular wax crystals covering the plant stem without any difficulty. We test the hypothesis that these specialised 'wax-runners' have a general, superior attachment capacity. We compared attachment on a smooth surface for 11 ant species with different wax-running capacities. The maximum force that could be withstood before an ant became detached was quantified using a centrifuge recorded by a high-speed video camera. This technique has the advantage of causing minimum disruption and allows measurements in very small animals. When strong centrifugal forces were applied, the ants showed a conspicuous 'freezing reflex' advantageous to attachment. Attachment forces differed strongly among the ant species investigated. This variation could not be explained by different surface area/weight ratios of smaller and larger ants. Within species, however, detachment force per body weight (F/W) scaled with the predicted value of W-0.33, where W is body weight in newtons. Surprisingly, our results not only disprove the hypothesis that 'wax-runners' generally attach better but also provide evidence for the reverse effect. Superior 'wax-runners' (genera Technomyrmex and Crematogaster) did not cling better to smooth Perspex, but performed significantly worse than closely related congeners that are unable to climb up waxy stems. This suggests an inverse relationship between adaptations to run on wax and to attach to a smooth surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-512
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Adhesion
  • Ant
  • Ant-plant
  • Arolium
  • Attachment
  • Crematogaster
  • Epicuticular wax
  • Macaranga
  • Oecophylla
  • Technom yrmex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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