Food processing can exert significant evolutionary pressures on the morphological evolution of animal appendages. The ant genus Pheidole displays a remarkable degree of morphological differentiation and task specialization among its workers. Notably, there is considerable variation in head shape within worker subcastes of Pheidole, which could affect the stress patterns generated by bite-related muscle contraction. In this study, we use finite element analysis (FEA) to investigate the effect of the variation in head plane shape in stress patterns, while exploring the morphospace of Pheidole worker head shapes. We hypothesize that the plane head shapes of majors are optimized for dealing with stronger bites. Furthermore, we expect that plane head shapes at the edges of each morphospace would exhibit mechanical limitations that prevent further expansion of the occupied morphospace. We vectorized five head shapes for each Pheidole worker type located at the center and edges of the corresponding morphospaces. We conducted linear static FEA to analyze the stresses generated by mandibular closing muscle contraction. Our findings indicate that plane head shapes of majors exhibit signs of optimization to deal with stronger bites. Stresses are distinctly directed along the lateral margins of the head, following the direction of muscle contraction, whereas the stresses on the plane head shapes of minors tend to concentrate around the mandibular articulations. However, the comparatively higher stress levels observed on majors' plane head shapes suggest a demand for cuticular reinforcement, like increased cuticle thickness or sculpturing pattern. Our results align with the expectations regarding the main colony tasks performed by each worker subcaste, and we find evidence of biomechanical limitations on extreme plane head shapes for majors and minors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e10162
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • Biomechanics
  • Insect
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Macroevolution
  • Muscular Contraction
  • Worker Polymorphism


Dive into the research topics of 'Mechanical demands of bite in plane head shapes of ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) workers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this