This month’s bug is an alien – or at least it looks like one. But you don’t need to live a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to find this movie creature; you can find the Terran version in temperate and warmer regions around the world: the juvenile stage of antlions.
Antlion larvae burrow into sandy soil, constructing pits and settling in at the center, where they await their next meal. When an unsuspecting creature falls in, the pit slopes are so steep the victim is forced into the hypodermic-like mandibles of the larva at the center. The larva injects the victim with a mixture of paralytic venom and digestive enzymes, and slurps up its liquefied guts.
Unlike their movie cousin, antlion larvae are tiny and prey on ants and other small invertebrates, making them quite helpful in the garden. So if you spot one of these larvae in your yard, be thankful you’re not an ant, and May the 4th be with you!
- Written by Alyssa Branca
Coelho JR. 2001. The natural history and ecology of antlions (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontidae). Ex Scientia 7:3-12.Scharf I and O Ovadia. 2006. Factors influencing site abandonment and site selection in a sit-and-wait predator: a review of pit-building antlion larvae. Journal of Insect Behavior 19(2):197-218.
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