The sensory basis for the trap-jaw mechanism in the ant Odontomachus bauri

W. Gronenberg, J. Tautz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Ants of the ponerine genus Odontomachus have evolved a mechanism that allows them to instantaneously close their long mandibles to catch prey or defend themselves. This trap-jaw action is triggered by contact of trigger hairs with a potential prey item. Two of these long mechanosensory hair sensilla reside proximally on each mandible and are supplied by giant sensory cells. Extracellular recordings demonstrate that the sensory cells respond to tactile stimulation. Their phasic responses encode amplitude and velocity of hair-deflection away from the midline, but not hair position. The discharge of action potentials follows stimulus frequencies of more than 300 Hz. During sinusoidal stimulation, the cells adapt very little, sustain discharge rates of more than 200 Hz for more than 20 s, and reach peak spike rates of about 450 Hz. The afferent axons of these sensory cells give rise to huge axon terminals within the suboesophageal ganglion. One of the afferents has a prominent contralateral branch, the other is confined to ipsilateral neuropil. Anatomical data indicate that the 4 afferents may be coupled and may serve as the substrate for a very fast reflex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-60
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1994


  • Ants
  • Electrophysiology
  • Mandible
  • Morphology
  • Neuroanatomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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