Antlion is an insect named for the predatory nature of its larvae, which trap ants and other small insects in holes dug in the ground. Antlions are found all over the world, mostly in dry, sandy regions. They are large, voracious insects from several different castes, with a hierarchy very similar to that of an ant.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Antlion

Photo: Antlion

Antlions &#8212 ; a group of insects in the order Retinoptera. Within this order, they are further classified into the Antlion family, which is of Greek origin from myrmex meaning “ant” and leon meaning “lion”.

Video: Antlion

Technically speaking, the term “antlion” refers to the immature or larval stages of members of this family. Antlion larvae are predatory, while the adult stage feeds on nectar and pollen. The larvae are voracious predators of ants and other small insects that fall into the constructed conical pits.

Fun Fact: Antlion larvae are also known as doodles. This nickname apparently refers to the winding paths that the young larvae make in the sand, looking for a suitable place to build their larval home. The footprints look like someone was lounging in the sand. The grub house in the sand is also a new insect trap known as the pit.

Antlion larvae are among the most interesting predators of insects. They are found in the Galveston-Houston region, but not in abundance. Antlions are more common in areas with sandy soils.

Hence, they are more common in these areas:

  • Piney Woods (East Texas);
  • Hill Country (central Texas);
  • in the Central Texas Gulf Coast region.

Appearance and Features

Photo: What an antlion looks like

Photo: What an antlion looks like

An adult antlion can be easily identified by its long antennae. He is a poor flier, flying through the night air in search of a mate. The adult does not feed offspring and has a relatively short lifespan of 20-25 days or longer (up to 45 days). Like all animals, without the mating imperative, the genes of this wonderful species would be lost forever. The most incredible part of its life cycle begins after the pregnant female lays her eggs in the sand, and after the immature larvae hatch from the eggs.

Antlion Larva — a fearsome creature, its head has a very imposing and sizable pair of crescent-shaped jaws (known as mandibles) that are armed with numerous sharp, hollow protrusions. The mandibles have the function of piercing and sucking. Having captured the prey, the larva paralyzes it with poison injected at the first bite.

Additional digestive enzymes are injected to destroy the victim's internal tissues, and then the larva sucks out vital juices. After consuming the liquefied contents of the victim's body, the antlion larva rather unceremoniously pulls a lifeless, drained corpse out of the pit. After that, she again builds a hole for the next unsuspecting victim.

The ability to subdue prey much larger than itself is partly due to the fact that the entire body of the larva is covered with stiff bristles, which help to fix it on the sand, while counteracting the efforts of the fleeing prey. In fact, the bristles point forward, which provides additional leverage to firmly anchor its body against the vigorous struggle of its prey. Fully developed, well-fed antlion larvae can grow up to 1.2 cm in length. An adult is 4 cm long.

Where does the antlion live?

Photo: Antlion in Russia

Photo: Antlion in Russia

Antlions are found in limited areas throughout the Galveston-Houston region. Most often found in areas of Texas with sandy soils. The ant lion is just one of the many obscure creatures living south of — western United States. This is an amazing little insect that can be observed in the wild.

Although they live in a highly competitive world, often in disturbed, urbanized areas, they are masters of survival in adverse environments. If their small, crater-like traps in the sand are destroyed by wind, rain, animals, or popular two-, three-, or four-wheelers, they simply rebuild them and quietly await their next prey. In fact, it is this resourcefulness and perseverance that undoubtedly explains the survival of antlions for countless centuries.

Antlion larvae have used this method of capturing prey for millions of years with virtually no change. Like other amazing creatures, their instinctive behavior is genetically programmed, each new generation knows exactly how to perform seemingly impossible tasks with precision and artistic beauty.

Now you know where the ant lion is found. Let's see what it eats.

What does an antlion eat?

Photo: Antlion in the sand

Photo: Antlion in the sand

Antlion pits are shaped like an inverted cone. They are located in dry places, protected from strong winds and bright sunlight. The pits are often built under the shelter of outbuildings, under houses on supports, etc. and are usually 2.5 to 5 cm in diameter and about the same depth. Some species of antlions also hide under debris or a tree and attack passing insects.

An ant lion larva waits at the bottom of its hole for an ant or other insect to slip on loose sand and fall. The unsuspecting prey falls into the center of the pit and the antlion's feeding time begins.

The prey will often attempt to climb up the steeply sloping walls of the pit. Such desperate attempts to avoid circumstances, as a rule, are ineffectual. The antlion larva quickly thwarts such escape attempts by shaking off torrents of loose sand, which further destabilizes the pit wall and thus draws the prey down.

Features of pit architecture, such as diameter, slope, and depth, affect success in capturing prey. Successful capture and consumption of prey depends on both the efficiency of capturing the prey (collision) and minimizing the chance that the prey will escape (holding). These two components should have selective consequences for the design of the trap. For example, increasing the diameter of the trap increases the likelihood of encounters, while a steeper slope and greater depth increase the likelihood of retaining prey.

The larvae feed mainly on ants, as well as other small insects that fall into the hole in addition to small spiders. Adult antlions feed on nectar and pollen.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Ant Lion Insect

Photo: Antlion Insect

Antlions are especially notable for their ingenious traps and their clever way of outmaneuvering prey by creating miniature landslides . Their traps must be effective, because ant flour — they are numerous insects and have been around for millions of years.

Interesting fact: During the year of life, the larva collects hundreds of traps and catches hundreds of insects. And yet, when the timing is right, she instinctively knows how to build a protective cocoon under the sand, where she will gradually develop into a chrysalis and eventually into a winged adult. The sand cocoon with its gleaming crystals of quartz, mica and feldspar — a true work of art.

When the larva starts digging a new hole, it moves slowly in a circle, shaking the sand from the hole using its fangs and middle paws, while it uses its powerful hind legs to dig into the sand.

Pit gradually gets deeper and deeper until the angle of inclination reaches the critical angle of repose (i.e., the steepest angle that the sand can withstand, where it is on the verge of breaking from a slight touch). When the hole is full, the larva settles to the bottom, buried in the soil, and only the jaws protrude above the surface.

When the unfortunate ant unknowingly wanders into the hole and tries to escape, the ant lion knocks out the prey with sand. Throwing loose sand from the bottom of the pit, the larva also undermines the edges of the pit, causing them to collapse and bring prey with them. Thus, it does not matter whether the larva strikes prey with sand showers. In other words, no matter what an ant does, it is doomed to slide back into the jaws of death.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Antlion

Photo: Antlion

These insects undergo complete metamorphosis with the following stages:

  • egg;
  • larva;
  • pupa;
  • winged adult.

Larva — a usually grotesque wingless creature with long sickle-like jaws. Pupation usually takes place in a silky cocoon, however, silk is not obtained from modified salivary glands like in most insects, but is produced by the malpighian tubules and rotates from the anus.

Antlion larvae pupate in the soil. Adults are similar to dragonflies and beauties, except that the antlion folds its wings back like a tent when resting. Later, the larva reaches its maximum size and undergoes a metamorphosis, during which it turns into a winged adult.

The entire span of time from egg to adult can take two or three years. This unusually long life cycle can be explained by the uncertainty and irregular nature of the food supply. When it first hatches, the tiny larva specializes in very small insects, but as it gets bigger, it creates larger holes and catches larger prey.

When fully grown, the larva builds a spherical cocoon of grains of sand cemented together with silk. Cocoons of a common species in the southwestern United States are the same size and shape as large rabbit droppings and can be buried several centimeters deep in the sand. The way the larva does this under the sand without getting sand grains inside the cocoon is quite remarkable.

Fun Fact: Adults are rarely seen in the wild because they are mostly active in the evening. During the day, antlions rest, they are usually motionless and quite well camouflaged with transparent wings and a brownish body. Also, unlike dragonflies, the antennae of adult antlions are quite prominent and tangle-shaped at the end.

Antlions' natural enemies

Photo: What an antlion looks like

Photo: What an antlion looks like

The antlion larva is not free from predators, or at least from parasites. There is a parasitic wasp, Lasiochalcida pubescens, which uses its strong legs to hold the jaws of an antlion larva and lays its eggs on the larva. This is not the only parasitoid wasp parasitizing antlions. Larvae of the Australian horsefly, Scaptia muscula, can also steal prey from antlion pits, a phenomenon known as kleptoparasitism.

Antlions can also grow fungus on their bodies. This fungus, called Cordyceps japonensis Hara, produces spores that stick to the bodies of weakened antlions and grow by taking all the nutrition from the host antlions into the mushrooms. Antlion hosts gradually weaken, and by the time parasitic fungi turn into fungi, the host antlions are dead.

Otherwise, antlions themselves are unsurpassed predators, capable of hitting the victim, leaving her no chance for survival. There are several species of antlions that also do not create these pits, such as Dendroleon pantherinus. They live in the cuts and crevices of trees to plant their prey.

Population and species status

Photo: Antlion Larva

Photo: Antlion Larva

Antlions include over 600 described species. Two of the most common genera in the southwestern United States are the common antlion and the brachynemurus. Like many other members of the order, adult antlions are commonly seen around fires and campfires, especially in late summer and autumn. They have two pairs of long, narrow wings with many veins and a long, thin belly. Although they closely resemble the small and unrelated dragonflies called beauties, they belong to a completely different order of insects. Antlions are in the status of not protected.

The distribution, condition and ecology of antlions were studied at Sandlings in 1997. Monitoring is carried out at several sites to assess the state of the species and to observe changes in current locations as a result of colonization by vegetation or destruction by animal or human activity. The number of holes was published in the annual report of the Sandlings Walks project, and new sites have been discovered since the 1997 report. More coordinated monitoring will be useful in the future. Species awareness has been raised through publications such as Sandlings Walk, Proceedings of the Suffolk Naturalist Society and the new Sandlings website.

The first confirmed record of antlions was in 1931, and single adults have been periodically reported since. In 1997, 1998 and 2000 surveys reported significant populations in Suffolk Sandlings. This data can be interpreted to show that the insect has been in the area for 70 years or more, but because it needs experience to find and identify antlion pits and latent larvae that have largely gone unnoticed. Alternatively, the region may have been colonized by multiple mated females in the North Sea from mainland European populations.

Antlion, like spiders, mantises and beetles, quietly provides humans and the rest of the earth with natural, non-toxic insect control . Their transformation into adults is a great moral change for them — from hyper-aggressive predators they turn into a graceful fly that eats nectar and pollen. They are interesting to look at, and science fiction writers certainly draw inspiration from such creatures.

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