Spot the antlion!

February 22, 2020 • 1:00 pm

Matthew sent this tweet which shows a cryptic antlion—the predatory larva of a neuropteran insect in the family Myrmeleontidae, whose flying adult looks like a lacewing. (The adults are much less well known than these predatory larvae, which I used to keep as pets as a child).

This is rated very easy, but we haven’t had a “spot the. . . ” feature in a while so have a look. It also shows you once again how remarkably good natural selection can be in matching animals to their backgrounds

Enlarged. See the big mandibles spread out, waiting to snap shut on a hapless victim?

Antlions like the one above are free-roaming, getting their prey on the hoof. But others, like the ones I used to keep, dig pits that trap unwary prey, similar to this one from a BBC Earth video. (I collected my ant lions from the dirt of vacant lots and put them in dishes to recreate their pits. Then I’d feed them ants. I am a bad person.)

14 thoughts on “Spot the antlion!

    1. Around here, we have these little black ants called piss-ants that invade our home in the summer. When I see them, I put out ant traps and feel no guilt. Thousands of these guys can invade a house in hours if they find an adequate food source. I think this is the type of ant Feynman used to experiment with at Princeton and Cal-Tech.

  1. I am a Bad Person as well, then.
    The principle of the sand trap is that the conical sand pits are stable at a delicately balanced slope artfully called “the angle of repose”. This is where sand higher up is resting on sand that is lower down.
    Any disturbance in this delicate balance causes a mini-avalanche, as seen in the video.

  2. Yes, that one was easy; and, like you, I marvel at how natural selection can match an animal to its background.

    I’m also bad; as a lad I’d find red ant nests (very aggressive ants), and I’d put a grasshopper or beetle on the mound and watch the swarm react. Though as a god, I wasn’t wrathful; one of my “rules” was if the insect/spider escaped, I wouldn’t chase after it and re-catch it. I’d let them have their life. I’d say the ants were fed 50% of the time. I’m glad karma doesn’t exist. 😉

    1. I liked feeding fire ants although I put caterpillars in their midst after causing some minor damage to their mound (considered it a dinner bell).
      Important part is why kids do it. If they are doing it to feed the ants that is ok. If they are doing it to see the prey suffer and/or die, they may have conduct disorder or some other serious psychological problem.

      1. Yeah, killing animals (even insects) for fun is not healthy. I did it to feed and observe the ants’ frenzied behavior. I enjoyed it when the “prey” made it out alive too.

  3. I’m currently keeping several Vermileonidae larvae that have traps very similar to those of ant lions. A fascinating case of convergent evolution. 🙂

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