Biomechanics of the movable pretarsal adhesive organ in ants and bees

Walter Federle, Elizabeth L. Brainerd, Thomas A. McMahon, Bert Hölldobler

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177 Scopus citations


Hymenoptera attach to smooth surfaces with a flexible pad, the arolium, between the claws. Here we investigate its movement in Asian weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) and honeybees (Apis mellifera). When ants run upside down on a smooth surface, the arolium is unfolded and folded back with each step. Its extension is strictly coupled with the retraction of the claws. Experimental pull on the claw-flexor tendon revealed that the claw-flexor muscle not only retracts the claws, but also moves the arolium. The elicited arolium movement comprises (i) about a 90° rotation (extension) mediated by the interaction of the two rigid pretarsal sclerites arcus and manubrium and (ii) a lateral expansion and increase in volume. In severed legs of O. smaragdina ants, an increase in hemolymph pressure of 15 kPa was sufficient to inflate the arolium to its full size. Apart from being actively extended, an arolium in contact also can unfold passively when the leg is subject to a pull toward the body. We propose a combined mechanical-hydraulic model for arolium movement: (i) the arolium is engaged by the action of the unguitractor, which mechanically extends the arolium; (ii) compression of the arolium gland reservoir pumps liquid into the arolium; (iii) arolia partly in contact with the surface are unfolded passively when the legs are pulled toward the body; and (iv) the arolium deflates and moves back to its default position by elastic recoil of the cuticle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6215-6220
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number11
StatePublished - May 22 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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