The Doodlebug: Avoid the Pit!

What are all these little pits in the sand?

 

Have you ever seen a Doodlebug? They are also known as Ant Lions. They have an amazing way to catch their food. You can learn a lot from these creatures. Have fun learning about the Doodlebugs.

Strange Creatures:

Ant lion adults look a lot like tiny dragonflies, however, if you look closely, you will notice several differences. If you look at their antennae you will notice they have little clubbed-shaped nodules on their ends. If you see an ant lion adult flying you will also notice that they are weak fliers compared to the mighty dragonflies.

Scary Looking Larvae:

If you use a spoon to dig under the larvae in the pits you will notice they are hard to see since they are the same color as the sand around them. Watch for movement and you will find a creature with long sickle-shaped mandibles  and a very hairy body. In one of the Star Trek movies a similar looking creature was created as a parasite that entered the ears of their victims. Well, the ant lions don’t harm humans, so don’t be afraid to handle them. They are, however, a real threat to ants and other small insects and spiders.

How They Capture Their Prey:

Rather than hunting their prey, they trap them by digging little funnel-shaped pits in the sand by going backwards in little circles while flipping out sand as they dig. This is why they are called Doodlebugs because they seem to doodle in the sand. Once the pit is dug the larvae stay just under the surface with the tips of their mandibles slightly sticking out. When an unsuspecting ant crawls by it creates a small vibration. When the ant lion feels this it shoots out tiny grains of sand that knock the victim off the edge and into the pit. Once in the pit the ant lion further disturbs the sand so the pit collapses around the ant trapping it. Next, the long mandibles are inserted into the ant and a digestive juice is injected into the victim’s body. This chemical also paralyzes the prey. The ant lion then sucks out the fluid inside the ant like sucking soda through a straw. Once the ant is drained of fluids it it flung out of the pit and the Doodlebug reconstructs a new pit for another victim.

If you find these tiny pits in the sand you can catch an ant and drop it in to watch the action. If you want to see the larvae you have to dig them out.

Do You Want To See Them?:

 

If you Click below  you can open the Power-Point presentation which shows some I caught in Idaho while visiting. You can also open it in Keynote, if you have that app.

 

 

The Doodlebug

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2 thoughts on “The Doodlebug: Avoid the Pit!

  1. I just shared this with the Krager and Frye kids from church. How fun! I have an insect photo I’ve been meaning to show you to see if you know what it is, but I think that it might be an ant lion now that I’ve seen this!

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  2. They make great pets. You put them in a a glass jug after putting in about an inch of sand in the bottom. Leave the top open so they can get air. They only need a few ants every couple weeks. They will eventually stop eating and form a tiny sand ball (pupa) about the size of a pea. After some time they will emerge as adults. They may take up to three years to go through the whole cycle. I used to have a jar of them in my classroom and the kids would catch ants to feed them. They are very low maintenance and can go for weeks without eating if you go on vacation.

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