News / Science & Technology

Worker Ants Could Inspire High-Tech Tools

Leaf Cutter ants have razor sharp blades that don't fracture

Leaf-cutter ants have powerful blades on either side of their head that are as sharp as any man-made knife.
Leaf-cutter ants have powerful blades on either side of their head that are as sharp as any man-made knife.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Ants in the Panamanian rain forest could inspire high-tech tools of the future that are strong and can withstand fracture. During the course of his work, University of Oregon research scientist Robert Schofield also discovered that when the ants are no longer capable of doing their job, nature takes care of these displaced workers.

Leaf-cutter ants have powerful blades on either side of their head. These mandibles as sharp as any man-made knife, but wear out over time, according to University of Oregon research scientist Robert Schofield.   

"It is stuck with one knife for its whole life," he says.  

Schofield built a tiny machine that could cut using blades removed from the ants and found that the colony spends twice as much energy cutting leaves as it would if all ants had sharp mandibles.   

Schofield says ants with dull blades cut slower and are less efficient on the job, harming the colony's ability to sustain itself.  So they stop cutting leaves but they don't stop working. A single colony can harbor as many as five million ants, all specialized workers.  Some are soldiers, others nurse the young and grow the food. Still others forage for leaves and carry the leaves to the nest.  Those leaves are chewed up to provide a nutrient bed for growing an edible fungus, which is the main food source for the colony.

When Schofield compared the blades of ant cutters with ant carriers he discovered that once the mandibles wore down, the cutter ants changed jobs. "And, of course, if they were solitary when they could no longer cut, that would be the end of their lives, but since they are social insects, when they no longer cut, they can rely on their sisters and they can do other work that's beneficial to the colony. They can carry the cuttings back to the nest."  

Schofield says analysis of the mandibles could help in development of new high-tech materials and tools.  "For instance, up to 25 percent of the material in their blades is zinc. And we suspect that this bio-material helps prevent fracture, that it maintains a sharp blade without the blade fracturing."  

Schofield adds that understanding the insect's weakness could help farmers fight against leaf cutter infestations. "We've shown here in this paper that they are very sensitive to wear and so one might guess that crops that produce more wear because there were more abrasives in them, that there might be more resistance to these cutter ants."

Robert Schofield sums up his findings in the title of his study: "Leaf-cutter ants with worn mandibles cut half as fast, spend twice the energy, and tend to carry instead of cut." It appears on line in advance of its publication in the Journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

You May Like

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid