Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ant lion or Myrmeleontidae

Odd how things trigger a memory.  Working in the yard last week, I saw two dozen small depressions in the sand--odd inverted cone shapes, perfectly dug.  A sight I haven't seen, or perhaps not paid attention to, in over 30 years.

The sight took me back to the long summer days of childhood, where everything was new and worth studying, whether it was tadpoles in a ditch, or mysterious pits in the ground.  For at the bottom of these pits lay the deadly ant lion.  And if an ant wandered into the pit and slid to the bottom, the ant lion would erupt up from its hiding place, seize the ant in its jaws, and eat it.

I used to fish for ant lions with a bit of pine straw.  Pull them up, examine them, and then drop them back into their carefully dug homes/traps.  An ant lion is not a pretty bug.  It's a homely sort of thing, and doesn't appear quick or nimble.  It's an ambush predator that relays on camouflage and concealment and it preys on very tough critters like fire ants.

Today I learned that people call them doodlebugs because they leave tracks in the sand that look like random drawings.  The interesting thing is that the creature at the bottom of the pit is only the larva form.  Eventually, this ferocious ambush bug will transform into a long-winged flyer and resemble a dragonfly.  From hiding in the dark ground, it will emerge to soar in the air.  Imagine if monkeys changed into birds!

There are many wonders in the world, and some are in our back yards.

(Edgar Allan Poe wrote about ant lions in one of his stories.  And Charles Darwin mentions them in his work.  I found the cool illustration here.  And a great resource for everything ant lion here.  Thanks to both these sites.)

(If you liked this article, please support my writing by purchasing one of my novels.  Thank you!)

No comments:

Post a Comment