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Reverse engineering the mechanical design of an ant neck joint

Ants can carry ~100-1000 times their own body weight. During normal function, loads are lifted with the mouthparts, transferred via the neck joint to the body, and distributed over 6 legs. While ants, and more generally insects, have been explored for unique structural and material design features, relatively little is known about the mechanical behavior of their joints, especially the neck, which is the single joint that withstands the full load carrying capacity of the ant. Insect joints are mechanically distinct from those of vertebrate joints. Where vertebrate joints use multiple stiff components where the range and degrees of freedom of motion are determined by the complementary geometries (i.e. ball and socket), insects body and limb segments are connected by soft membraneous material where the range of motion and degrees of freedom are determined by the structure and mechanical properties of the membrane and internal components, and the geometry of the neighboring hard exeskeletal components. We are using a combination of structural imaging with micro-computed tomography (microCT), 3D structural modeling, scanning electron microscopy imaging, finite element analysis, and mechanical testing on custom built instrumentation to characterize the structural design and material properties of the neck joint. Here we show a structural model created from microCT data using the modeling program Simpleware. The scale bar is 250 μm.

For the more details on this work check out our recently published manuscript:

Nguyen, V., Lilly, B., Castro, C.E. The exoskeletal structure and tensile loading behavior of an ant neck joint. Journal of Biomechanics

Research team: Vienny Nguyen, Hiromi Tsuda.

Support: The Ohio State University Institute for Materials Research