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Do Ants have Teeth? (Yes, They’re Called Mandibles)

Ants have external teeth, called the mandibles which help them in breaking down the food into finer granules and hence play an active part in their food intake process as well in the digestion process.

Ant with large mandibles

Apart from food processing, ants use the mandibles for a wide range of other tasks, from doing their daily chores to defending themselves from predators.

Ant teeth are quite strong in nature which further allows them to fiercely attack their predators.

Do Ants Have Strong and Sharp Teeth?

Ants, like most other insects, have got a pair of appendages known as the mandibles that play a very important role in their lives.

Ants use their mandibles for carrying out a wide range of tasks in their daily life. Mandibles are curved and quite sharp. This allows them to grasp and deeply wound their predators.

In fact, as some studies show, ant jaws can develop a force of about 300 times their body weight.

How are Ant Teeth so Sharp?

Ants do a wide range of tasks using their teeth. As the most important function of the ants is to defend their nest and to attack other organisms using the mandibles, throughout evolution their teeth have developed in a way that helps in serving this purpose in a better way. 

As this research shows, ant mandibles are heavily populated with zinc, which make up about 8% of the total weight of the mandibles and are evenly distributed everywhere. The presence of the zinc atoms serves two important purposes:

  • Increases the overall sharpness and hardness of the mandibles which helps in increasing the cutting efficiency. 
  • Helps in energy conservation. It is only because of the presence of these zinc atoms, the ants can exert heavy damage while biting without spending loads of energy. 

It is estimated that the presence of the zinc atoms allows the ants to use a force of 60% or lesser than they would have to in case their teeth were made of the same material as our teeth are. So this further helps in better energy conservation.

What do Ants use their Mandibles For?

Even though ants perform a wide variety of tasks with their mandibles, their use of mandibles is not as diverse as some of the other insects.

This is because ants are social creatures, so certain tasks are being performed by certain ants as a result of which the function of their mandibles remains limited to the kind of duties they are given. The various functions of mandibles in ants are as follows:

1. For Carrying Food

Ants unlike many other insects do not possess forelegs that will allow them to grasp stuff. Hence they use their mandibles to carry stuff back and forth, more like hands in humans. They use their mandibles to carry food particles of different sizes and even liquid food items. 

2. For Building Nests

Often you will encounter ants carrying debris and dirt which essentially are used to build their nests. Many ant varieties end up making anthills which in fact are just the entrance of their underground nest.

So they build their underground nests or wooden nests (in the case of carpenter ants) with the help of these mandibles alone. Ant nests contain many compartments for different purposes and can go really deep. 

3. To Look After Younger Ants

There are dedicated ant members in every colony whose whole task is to look after the ant eggs, pupa and larvae. They are termed “attendant ants” and they often move around the eggs, pupa and larvae from one chamber of the nest to another as per the need.

They also end up regularly feeding these ant larvae. They do all this stuff with the help of their mandibles. 

4. For Consumption of Food

It may come as no surprise that mandibles play an important role in the food processing system in ants because that’s the most fundamental function of any kind of teeth right?

Ants often use their strong mandibles to tear through and grind their meaty food. This food processing is important as it helps in the better digestion of the food materials.

5. As a Viable Weapon

The strong mandibles help the ants in both their offense and defense. They use their sharp teeth in defending themselves against predator attacks.

They also end up using their mandibles for hunting as looking out for prey is a viable part of their food foraging routine. 

There are several ant species around the world that are capable of taking care of large animals all with the help of their mandibles alone.

Their strength is in their numbers and when a large number of ants go after a common target with their sharp mandibles and venom, it makes them capable enough to tackle animals that are a thousand times larger than their size. 

Soldier Ant
Soldier ants use their strong mandibles to protect the colony and move obstacles

Ant Teeth vs Human Teeth

There is little to no similarity in the structure or arrangement of the ant teeth and the insect mandibles.

The only similarity lies in the functional aspect. Both the human teeth and the ant mandibles participate in grinding the food for easy digestion. That is where the similarity ends.

Ant teeth Human teeth
Used as a substitute for forelimbs so is used for performing the daily chores.Not used as a forelimb, owing to the presence of hands. 
Plays a crucial role in defending against predators and in finding new prey for food.Human teeth are mainly responsible for processing food. On rare occasions, it is used for defensive purposes.
Ants contain a pair of mandibles.Adult humans generally consist of 32 teeth which help in fulfilling processing activities.
Ant teeth are externally present, outside the mouth. Sharpness is attributed to the presence of atomic zinc particles which are distributed equally on the mandibles. Human teeth are present inside the mouth so it’s internally present. Hardness is attributed to the presence of enamel in the teeth. 

Conclusion

Ant mandibles are undoubtedly one of their most important and heavily used body parts. They use their mandibles for performing both the tasks of a forearm and that of the teeth. 

They use it for breaking down bigger food items into smaller parts, in carrying eggs, pupa larvae, and food from one place to another, in actively engaging in building nests, and in fighting off predators.  The presence of zinc particles and the shape of the mandibles make the ant teeth perfectly suitable for piercing through obstacles and enemies. 

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