How To Identify An Ant Lion
Learn all about the ant lion.These lacy winged creatures have been called doodle bugs for around a century.
Most ant lions are found in woods and forest where there is a sandy soil. Ant lion is the name given to insects of the Myrmeleontidae family, which are grouped with the alder flies and bear some resemblance to dragonflies and lacewing flies. Adult ant lions have long thin bodies and two pairs of slender wings of almost equal size. The head of the ant lion is small with short, thread like antennae that are knobbed at the tips. The largest of the ant lions measure in at a mere 3 inches. Their name was derived from the habits of the larva, which prey mainly on ants. The larvae have short, thick fleshy bodies with overly large jaws that are armed with strong spines and bristles that help to grasp its prey. The word ant lion in its literal French translation is fourmi-lion. Several species of ant lions live in the United States, especially in the south and southwest where they have been called doodlebugs for around a century. There are approximately 600 species of the ant lion.
The larvae of many species are known to burrow in the sand with the entrance to the burrow being a conical pit. These pits are usually around two inches deep and three inches in diameter at the top. These pits are always sheltered from the weather since a sudden shower would destroy the pits and smother the ant lions. In most cases they can be found at the entrance to dry caves, beneath over hanging rocks, below the eaves of houses, under houses and in similar shelter sites. The adult ant lions are active from June to August, in most cases from dusk and into the night. Since their flight is somewhat feeble and awkward small amounts of light afford them better protection from predators. One of the main reasons that this insect is named after its larva is because the adults are very inconspicuous and seldom seen except when attracted to night-lights.
It is believe that the adult ant lion feeds on fruit and small flies. The larva is known to set and spring one of the most spectacular traps in the animal kingdom. Waiting at the bottom of its pit falling grains of sand trigger the approach of its prey. Immediately sand is scooped on to the head by the jaws and the larvae jerks its head forward and upward catapulting a stream of sand with great force and accuracy at its intended victim. This causes the victim to slide down into the pit within reach of the ant lion's jaws. In most cases after mating the female ant lion will lay her eggs singly in the sand. The eggs are white, oval shaped and sticky on the surface causing them to immediately become encrusted with sand that will create an effective camouflage until they hatch. Within a day of hatching the young have already dug their pit in proportion to their newborn size. They go through three stages known as instars. At the end of each of these stages they leave the pit temporarily to hide beneath the sand for seven to ten days. During this time it cast off old skin and digs a new pit. It is estimated that the life cycle of the ant lion from egg to adult is approximately one to three years. When fully grown the larva pupates beneath the soil at the bottom of its pit, within a silken cocoon. After about one month the perfect winged insect emerges, working its way through the soil where it climbs up a plant or tree to hang while the body hardens and the wings expand.