07 Aug

The Predator of the Sand

If you’ve looked closely at sandy soil, protected from rain, you might notice something peculiar. Amid the silt you’ll see groups of small pits that resemble inverted cones. Some are the diameter of a dime, while others can be larger than a half-dollar. If you’ve ever wondered what made those holes, you’re about to find out.

The pits you’re seeing were created by a skilled predator. Some people refer to it as the lion of the sand. If the image of a mountain or African lion just invaded your mind, you can banish it. This lion isn’t a cat, rather it’s an insect and it’s called the antlion.

What on earth is an Antlion?
You can find this brazen bug throughout southwestern America. Antlions prefer the sandy soils found in arid to semi-arid regions and can live up to 3 years. You might think they are just another bug; however, these insects have an amazing set of skills that set them apart.

· They can draw: Have you ever heard of an insect that loves art? People also call antlions doodle bugs. As the larva is searching for a patch of perfect sand, its body creates drag lines. If there are numerous antlions, you’ll see hundreds of lines that resemble spaghetti noodles thrown haphazardly by a toddler.

· They can dig: You knew those holes didn’t get there by accident or mistake. When the antlion larva finds a spot protected from the rain, it uses it plump abdomen like a shovel. Once a nice hole is formed, the larva climbs inside, piles dirt onto its head and throws sand out of the divot. The larva keeps digging until the hole is 2-3 inches deep and then buries itself in the center. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the slopes of the holes are steep and made up of loose sand. Antlions don’t dig for fun; rather they are creating a death trap.

· They can kill: Take one look at an Antlion and you’ll know it isn’t nice. Armed with massive pincers, the insect is built to kill. You can watch them in action. Find yourself an antlion pit, catch an ant and drop it inside. The ant will try to escape, but the sides are too steep and soft. If the antlion is interested, it will start throwing sand at the unsuspecting ant. The antlion will then strike with those massive jaws, inject venom, and pull the victim under the sand. The venom turns the insides of the ant into a frothy soup which the antlion drinks. After lunch is complete, the antlion larva will toss the carcass out of the hole, clean up the trap and get ready for you to toss in dinner.

· They can fly: After 3 years, the larva forms a cocoon and develops into a winged adult. Adult antlions look like mini dragonflies. Don’t worry, they eat pollen.

Next time you see a cone shaped depression, you’ll know that no ordinary insect is hiding in the depths, but a skilled predator of the sand. Now it’s time for you to find an unsuspecting ant.

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