Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

December 24, 2014
Antlion larvae use ditch-like sand traps to capture prey

Antlions, also known as “doodlebugs,” are known mainly for their odd and clever way of hunting ants and small arthropods during their larvae stage.

In fact, antlions were given the nickname “doodlebugs” because when they seek a place to dig, they create doodle-like markings in the sand. Antlions construct their own personalized sand pits that can vary in depth about one to three inches. Their larvae begins digging after first picking a destination that suits their satisfaction.

Antlion larvae are physically flat-bodied, possess long-sickled mandibles and are equipped with legs that are intended for crawling backwards. When they begin digging, they do so by spinning and continually flinging sand out by using their flat heads. After doing this, they eventually form a steep and sloped pit and the larvae will submerge itself under the sand at the bottom-center, where it will patiently wait for a victim to pass by and fall in.

Most prey, particularly ants, are immediately pursued with the larvae’s jaws and are pulled underneath the sand, drained of their body juices. Once the larva has finished feeding from its previous captured insect, it will then flick the corpse out of the pit and continue waiting to capture its next victim.

If an insect is lucky enough to avoid the antlion’s grasp and attempts to crawl out of the pit, the larvae then resorts to a different tactic. With fleeing insects, antlion larvae will swiftly fling sand at the insect repeatedly, causing the pit’s slope to both slide and eventually force the insect to fall back into the pit. Unfortunately, for most insects, it is not likely they will escape an antlion’s death trap.

Adult antlions physically resemble damselflies, and depending on the species, some are known to be carnivorous, although most prefer to feed on nectar, pollen and aphid honeydew. Antlions mainly inhabit sanded terrains and are seen worldwide.

These insects are harmless to both humans and vegetation throughout all their life stages and they actually help the environment by feeding on ants and other pests. Antlion larvae can also be found under leaves, pieces of wood or rock crevices.

 

Taylor Lindsay is a writer and photographer of wildlife creatures big and small. She can be reached at CritterChatter@live.com.

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