Thursday, June 9, 2011


Large jaws awaiting you at the bottom of a pit whose sides crumble beneath you as you attempt to scramble away. Sounds like a horror film right; only if you happen to be an ant. Antlions, family name Myrmeleontidae, are interesting inhabitants of the UCSD campus and have stoked the imaginations of science fiction writers and video game developers. The larval form can be found along the sandy walkways of the ecological reserve on campus living in self made pits.

Antlions start their lives as small eggs that look like small little balls of tightly packed sand. Once hatched, these little guys look a bit like monsters. They sport a pair of large sickle-like jaws that also contain sharp teeth similar to needles they use to drain the fluids of small insects. To form the pit trap, some species walk backwards in a circle flicking sand to form a funnel shape that is nearly impossible for a small insect to crawl out of. The antlion larva or doodlebug, as it is known in North America, sits at the bottom, hidden in a tunnel with its pinchers wide open. When a victim falls in their trap, they flick sand up to knock them back toward their awaiting jaws.

The adult antlion resembles a damselfly, but they have long antenna and wings positioned differently. They are mainly active in the evening when they are fluttering about looking for a mate, so they are hard to find in the wild.

So if you would like to see an antlion in action, try tossing little grains of sand down their pit and they will show themselves.