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Fastest Muscles in the World

Scientists in Panama observe termite's extraordinary jaw-snapping speed

  • Roger Di Silvestro
  • Oct 01, 2007
RESEARCHERS at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama have filmed the fastest muscle-powered movement ever observed. A termite known among scientists as Termes panamensis, or more colloquially as the Panamanian termite, can snap its jaws shut at the speed of 228.8 feet per second. The four muscles that power this movement are so big that they take up half the area in the termite's head.

The insects snap their jaws against creatures invading their nests. The jaws span a distance of only 0.069291339 inch, to be precise, so the closing can almost be called instantaneous. To make their video, the researchers had to shoot film at 40,000 frames per second. Motion picture film of the type seen in theaters moves as 24 frames per second.

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close-up of a carpenter bee on a flower