How Many Ants in 350 Pounds Can Lift?

August 19, 2023
David Sunnyside

If ants had wings, they could lift a hundred times their own body weight. That's because ants, like most insects, are strong according to the law of scaling. If an ant were shrunk to the size of a human, it would be as strong (and probably even stronger) than we are.

Ants are also amazingly strong because of their hard exoskeletons. They don't have internal bones, so their muscles need to provide very little support and can therefore be focused on lifting objects. The neck joints of ants are particularly strong. Engineers at Ohio State University wanted to find out just how much force the ants' necks could stand. To do this, they anesthetized some Allegheny mound ants, common field ants in the United States, and then imaged them with electron microscopy and X-rays using micro-CT.

The ants were then glued to the floor of a centrifuge—an apparatus that's a souped-up version of the rotor carnival rides that spin people around until their bodies pin them to the wall. The researchers spun the ants until the force applied to their necks reached 350 times their body weight, at which point the necks stretched and then ruptured.

The team was surprised to learn that the ants' neck joints only stretch when subjected to forces equal to or greater than their own body weights. It's a remarkable design feature, and the engineers believe it could help them create robots that mimic the ant's ability to hoist heavy loads on Earth and in space.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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