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Live vibes.

How do leaf-cutting ants, which carry leaves to their nests, make such clean cuts? A new study shows they use vibrations - just like humans who use vibrating electric knives.

The ants' mouthparts vibrate when they emit high-frequency chirps. (Sounds, after all, are vibrations.) As the ants bite down on a leaf, their vibrating jaws slice through.

The vibrations probably help keep the leaves taut, says Mike Whittlesey, of Energy Beam Sciences, a company that makes vibrating knives. If you hold material loosely while cutting, he explains, the downward force of the blades will push the object down.

"But vibrating blades move back and forth rapidly over a short distance," Whittlesey adds, so there's less of a tendency for the blade to pull what you're cutting out of shape. Result: "a finer cut."

Why would ants need clean-cut leaves? Not to make their nests look neat, say the scientists who discovered the vibrations, but rather, to make leaf-carrying easier: Smooth-edged leaves are less likely than jagged-edged ones to "catch" on other leaves and fall.
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Title Annotation:the vibrating mouthparts of leaf-cutting ants aid them in making clean straight cuts
Author:Jones, Lynda
Publication:Science World
Date:Mar 24, 1995
Words:173
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