It is an interesting question. Apart from the fact that the answer may be more or less curious and fascinating, I think the two intrinsic questions that accompany this question are more suggestive. Do all ants have this behavior? Only ants carry larger volumes than them? Probably, the reader has read that some ants can lift up to fifty times their own weight and up to thirty times the volume of their body. It is true, and this record - among the ants - is held by some species of the Atta genus, leaf-cutting ants that inhabit the jungles of South America. These ants, contrary to what it seems, do not eat the green leaves of the trees, which they have cut with their jaws from the petiole or have trimmed their fronds. They use them exclusively to feed a colony of specific fungi that they grow underground, inside their nest. Ants do feed on these fungi.
Fungi feed on the chewed leaves of the plant that the ants supply. In this way, the anthill becomes an underground garden-shaped crop. A certain part of the fungus, which contains food reserves, is the only food that ingests this class of ants. The more fungus available, the more food the insect colony generates for its maintenance. Therefore, an almost continuous supply of these leaves is necessary for the survival of both. The ant has not only had to specialize in hauling leaves, but must do so in a constant and uninterrupted manner. You can do it faster, or you can transport more quantity per trip. And, apparently, they have resorted to this second option.
The strength of the selection and the biological evolution itself have shaped this ant to be a perfect carrier of leaves. In this regard, not only have the natural structures of an insect intervened, which, as we will see later, are prepared by default to manipulate or move heavier volumes than they are. They have also had to specialize the cephalic muscles and the head - pronotum junction (something like the ant's neck). Recall that the blade, fifty times heavier and thirty times the volume, is transported on its head and held between the jaws.
Seeds larger than them
Are all ants capable of carrying weight? Yes, most ants get food from outside, often far from the nest, and must take it to the anthill to feed the larvae, breeding individuals and other non-peking workers. Whatever the feeding regime of each species of ant (carnivorous, omnivorous, granivorous, etc.), all are prepared to transport the food, in its crop or carrying it, from the place where they get it to their nest. In our regions, for example, it is common to observe rows of specimens of a granoric ant of the genus Messor that transports seeds of different plants between its jaws, often of a size larger than them.
And the last question: Do ants only carry larger volumes than they do? At all, most insects are able to separate, drag or transport masses much larger than them. The beetles, due to their corpulence and the hard shell that covers their bodies, stand out particularly. The rhinoceros beetle, a common insect in our territory during summer nights, comes to bear loads on its own body fifty times greater than its weight. These animals develop in decaying wood. It is usual, when the time comes for their emergency, that they have to make their way between stumps, branches and other obstacles to reach the outside. Using your strength you can displace these impediments and make your way. But these activities do not refer to an active transport and directed by the insect itself, which would result in greater praise.
The latter can be found in dung beetles, which knead, drag, direct and bury the excrement ball with which they will feed their larvae. The volume and, above all, the weight of these balls are excessive compared to the animal that works them. And it is not surprising that among them we find the strongest insect in the world, as British and Australian scientists discovered in 2010 and whose results they published in a prestigious scientific journal. It is the Onthophagus taurus, a small black beetle, barely a centimeter in length, which is capable of dragging 1,141 times its own weight. In human terms, it would be the equivalent of eighty tons. And another thing more. We don't have to go far to find this award-winning animal. In the own gardens of the city of Valencia and in the old channel that crosses the capital, there are populations of this beetle that subsist thanks to the feces of the dogs and horses that go there and that are ignorant, like their owners, of the great favor What do this animal do?
By Sergio Montagud.
Biologist, University of Valencia, for the magazine Method.
Humans have long used animals as beasts of burden.
Since the Stone Age in the West, horses were used for this purpose.
While a 2008 study suggested that light horses should not carry more than 20% of their body weight, cargo horses were specially reproduced to be strong.
By selectively raising the largest animals, giants such as Shire and the Clydersdale, also known as draft horses for their strength.
And indeed, they dragged us through the Industrial Revolution, first pulling carts and carriages, and then boats and wagons of material for the railroads.
"The Shire have the same musculoskeletal structure as the other horses," says Angela Whiteway of the Shire Association of Market Harborough, UK.
"But nevertheless, it is believed that by having their hind legs more attached they can lift weight more effectively".
Whiteway notes that the Shires they can comfortably drag twice their weight which, on average, is 1,000 kilos.
In Asia, the elephants They have been used to transport people and products for thousands of years.
Historically they have been an important element of the timber industry.
According to data from the United Nations, an elephant working in timber operations in Sri Lanka drags three to four tons a day.
John Hutchinson, of the Royal Veterinary College of London, studied the locomotion of Asian elephants and attributed their strength to several specific aspects of these pachyderms.
In many mammals skeletons represent 10% of their body weights, but in elephants that figure is closer to 20%, so that they have a more robust frameworkor.
Hutchinson also says that his straighter limbs they allow them to better withstand descending or gravity force and maintain their own weight, plus any additional load.
And they have their impressive tubes formed by up to 150,000 bundles of muscle fibers. With this multi-purpose organ a large male elephant can lift a trunk of up to 300 kg.
African elephants can weigh a ton more than Asians, so they can be even stronger.
The poder of the little ones
In terms of pure tonnage, elephants may well be the strongest animals, but there are very small creatures like ants famous for their extraordinary power.
Its strength varies between different species, but some may lift 10 to 50 times their own weight.
Some researchers from the University of Cambridge photographed an Asian weaver ant (Oecophylla smaragdina) lifting 100 times your weight.
Ants depend on their powerful jaws For the real heavy lifting.
Beetles are another group of insects that have a talent for lifting weight.
It is the case of the Hercules (Dynastes hercules), belonging to the group of rhinoceros beetles.
However, the often repeated legend that he can lift 850 times his body weight is as unfounded as the record attributed to Paul Anderson.
Locomotion expert Rodger Kram, who now works at the University of Colorado in Boulder, USA, tested another type of rhinoceros beetle and found that you can barely lift your own weight 100 times,
In 2010 a new beetle became crowned as the strongest in the world.
Rob Knell of Queen Mary University of London found that a dung beetle (Onthophagus taurus) can lift up to 1,141 times its own weight.
When investigating their mating tactics, Knell discovered the power of males by using their "horns" to defeat rivals, taking them out of tunnels and away from females.
The proportional strength of that dung beetle is only comparable to that of a Oribatid mite (Archegozeteslongisetosus), which weighs just 100 micrograms.
In 2007, researchers discovered that this microscopic animal can lift 1,180 times its own weightand drag 540 times your body mass.
The extraordinary power of these minimal creatures is due to a peculiarity of physics.
Already in 1638 the pioneer scientist Galileo Galilei had correctly pointed out in his book "Two new sciences" that smaller animals are proportionately stronger and more robust than larger ones.
Everything is due to the strength-to-weight ratio.
A larger beast may have bigger muscles, but much of its strength is destined to support its own weight.
In addition, there are additional biological factors that favor smaller animals.
The larger the animal, the more energy it will need to maintain essential functions such as breathing and blood circulation.
With simpler and more compact internal systems, animals such as beetles can invest more energy to build strong exoskeletons, which support weight better than soft tissues.
That means that while they can exhibit incredible proportional strength, one cannot extend an ant to the size of a human and expect it to retain its power.
"It would be incredibly weak because the cross-sectional area of its legs would increase much less than the volume of its body," says biologist and BBC Earth collaborator Claire Asher.
"I could neither stand up and, worse still, not breathe. Ants use spiracles to circulate oxygen, but on a human scale those holes would be too small to supply to the whole body."
The idea of King Kong does not work and neither does the giant ants "
These principles apply to all animals and mean that each type of body can only function in a limited range of sizes. "The idea of King Kong does not work and neither does the giant ants," says Archer.
And that implies that the current strongest animals in the world can be quite representative of those that have existed in other times.
Earth has had giant creatures like dinosaurs, but those huge beasts may not have dragged much more weight than elephants.
After all, it seems that force has its limits.