Mandible muscle fibers in ants: Fast or powerful?

Wulfila Gronenberg, Jürgen Paul, Stefan Just, Bert Hölldobler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Ants use their mandibles for catching prey, cracking seeds, cutting leaves, or for the construction of nests and the tender care of brood. The functional morphology of the mandibles reflect the species' adaptations to particular foraging habits and social life. The versatility and specialization of the mandibles depend directly on the design and physiology of the mandible closer muscles and their component fibers. A comparative video analysis of the closing movements of ant mandibles revealed that the maximal velocity varies considerably among species. The speed is correlated with the morphology of the mandible closer muscle, the largest muscle in ants. It is composed of two morphologically very distinct fiber types: long fibers with short sarcomeres (sarcomere length approximately 2 μm) showing all the structural attributes of fast muscle fibers, and shorter fibers with longer sarcomeres (sarcomere length approximately 5 μm) exhibiting the characteristics of slow and powerful fibers. Ants with fast-moving mandibles have a very high proportion of fast closer fibers, whereas the muscles of ants that cannot perform fast mandible movements have only a few or no fast fibers at all. Fast fibers always attach directly to the solid apodeme, while slow fibers often attach to thin apodeme threads. We suppose that the latter kind of fiber attachment is disadvantageous for fast contracting fibers but helps the ants to make better use of the space in the head capsule.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-361
Number of pages15
JournalCell And Tissue Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Ant species (Insecta)
  • Contraction
  • Fiber types
  • Mandibles
  • Muscle fibers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology
  • Cell Biology


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