Antlions feast upon ants by digging pits with steep sides in sandy soil. An ant that ventures over the edge will slide down the side of the pit riding a wave of unstable sand. At the bottom of the pit, the ant is within the reach of the antlion mandibles. Attempts to climb the sides is rarely successful as the ant slides back down repeatedly. Antlions can block escape by tossing sand at the ant which triggers a slide. Is an ant in an antlion pit doomed?
The Trap Jaw Ant, Odontomachus brunneus, has powerful mandibles that snap shut to puncture prey. If the jaws fail to hit prey and strike a solid surface, the ant will recoil. When a Trap Jaw Ant snaps its jaws against the bottom of an ant lion pit, the recoil can fling the ant into the air and out of the antlion pit. Fifteen percent of Trap Jaw Ants that entered antlion pits were observed* to successfully use this escape technique.
*Larabee FJ, Suarez AV (2015) Mandible-Powered Escape Jumps in Trap-Jaw Ants Increase Survival Rates during Predator-Prey Encounters. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0124871.