Mandibular morphology, task specialization and bite mechanics in Pheidole ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Cristian L. Klunk*, Marco A. Argenta, Alexandre Casadei-Ferreira, Evan P. Economo, Marcio R. Pie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Ants show remarkable ecological and evolutionary success due to their social life history and division of labour among colony members. In some lineages, the worker force became subdivided into morphologically distinct individuals (i.e. minor versus major workers), allowing for the differential performance of particular roles in the colony. However, the functional and ecological significance of these morphological differences are not well understood. Here, we applied finite element analysis (FEA) to explore the biomechanical differences between major and minor ant worker mandibles. Analyses were carried out on mandibles of two Pheidole species, a dimorphic ant genus. We tested whether major mandibles evolved to minimize stress when compared to minors using combinations of the apical tooth and masticatory margin bites under strike and pressure conditions. Majors performed better in pressure conditions yet, contrary to our expectations, minors performed better in strike bite scenarios. Moreover, we demonstrated that even small morphological differences in ant mandibles might lead to substantial differences in biomechanical responses to bite loading. These results also underscore the potential of FEA to uncover biomechanical consequences of morphological differences within and between ant workers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20210318
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number179
Early online date9 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021


  • cuticle
  • division of labour
  • finite element analysis
  • mandible
  • trulleum
  • worker polymorphism


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