Ant lion larvae look like something you might see in a science fiction horror movie, and creatures that look like ant lions do occasionally appear in such movies. Their real world biology is almost as strange. Many people know these insects as “doodlebugs” and have seen the funnel-shaped pits the larvae build in dry sand and soil. You may have even “fished” for doodle bugs as a kid. Concentrations of ant lion pits are most often seen in dry sandy soil in protected locations, such as under a barn, under a house with a raised foundation, or under bleachers at a sports field.
Ant lion larvae wait patiently at the bottom of the pit. When an unlucky ant or other small insect wanders too close to the edge, the rim collapses and the insect is swept to the bottom of the pit in a miniature avalanche, right into the waiting jaws of the ant lion. The jaws are hollow and are used to inject toxic saliva into the prey and then to suck out the blood of the victim. When they are ready to pupate, ant lions form their cocoons in the soil at the bottom of their pit. The cocoons are round and look a lot like small, sand covered marbles. Adult ant lions have long thin bodies, about two inches long, and two pair of large, net-veined wings that are somewhat longer than the body and are held tent-like over their abdomen when the insect is at rest. But not all ant lion cocoons produce adult ant lions. I have had parasitic flies emerge from ant lion cocoons that I collected in order to get adult ant lions to photograph. Much as in some low budget science fiction movie, the ant lions’ bodies were taken over by alien invaders.
Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service.
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