Exclusive Video Shows How Indian Jumping Ants Leap

Indian jumping ants can leap, making them one of only about 100 ant species capable of doing so, out of about 13,000 ant species known. National Geographic

Out of the approximately 13,000 known species of ants, only a little more than 100 can jump. This rare jumping trait occurs in four genera (the taxonomic grouping above species) and likely evolved independently in each of these four cases.  

As Newsweek reported in December, trap-jaw ants—famous for propelling themselves at speeds above 130 mph with their mandibles—can also jump using their legs. As seen in this exclusive clip from the National Geographic show The Strange Truth, which will air Sunday, January 17, at 9 p.m. ET, so can a species known as the Indian jumping ant (Harpegnathos saltator).

The Indian jumping ant is unique in many ways. First of all, some its workers—all female—can mate, which is unusual in the ant world. These workers are called gamergates (not to be confused with the 2014 video game controversy), but don’t usually mate as long as the colony’s queen is still around. If she dies, however, the workers compete for dominance to become queens, in a fierce battle that can last more than a month, and eventually mate. (“Gamergate” derives from two Greek words and translates to “married worker.”)

The insects can also jump and use this ability to attack prey, as can be seen in the video. They also “wag their abdomens like a tail,” says Clint Penick, an entomologist at North Carolina State University who studies the ants, in the clip from the show.

These ants also possess large eyes, and “when you walk in the room, they notice when you’re there,” Penick says. “So if I move to the left [or right], her head will follow my movement. They’re unlike any other I’ve ever seen before.”