In the Journal of Biomechanics, researchers report that the neck joint of a common American field ant can withstand pressures up to 5,000 times the ant’s weight.
“Ants are impressive mechanical systems—astounding, really,” said Carlos Castro, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at The Ohio State University. “Before we started, we made a somewhat conservative estimate that they might withstand 1,000 times their weight, and it turned out to be much more.”
The engineers are studying whether similar joints might enable future robots to mimic the ant’s weight-lifting ability on earth and in space.
On a human-sized scale, though, ants are overcome by basic physics. Their weight increases with their overall volume (dimensions cubed), while the strength of their muscles only increases with surface area (dimensions squared). So a human-sized ant, were it to exist outside of a horror movie, would likely not be so successful in carrying extreme loads at a human scale.
I have personally witnessed ants working together to carry things like leaves, sticks (and one time, a hot Cheeto) back to their “home base” in a very effective manner. Due to their unique anatomies and muscular structures, the light weight of their bodies allows them to carry objects as much as 50x their body weight. Though their strength does nor carry when scaled to human size, its anatomical properties are being studied in order to learn more about the real world applications of such strength.