Behold the Ant Lion


Speaking of astonishment, I learned something new last weekend, and I love learning new things, especially things which remind me of how strange and wonderful the world is.

Have you ever heard of an ant lion or antlion?

I was out tracking with the lovely Channel Islands Tracking Team (if you live near Ventura, CA and want to learn how to track animals for fun, look them up). We were under a tagged-up bridge, in a dry river bed.  Someone pointed out a hole or divot in the sand and quizzed us: what made the hole?  I had no idea. It was a divot that could have been made by a big man’s thumb. I might think it was made by dripping water, if there was ever any water anywhere in this dry land.

The answer was “ant lion” —  and I was the only one among them who did not know the answer. Ant lion??? It was such as strange conjunction of terms  (see jackalope) that I thought they were pulling my leg. When I got home and checked the Internets, I realized that, as always, truth is stranger than fiction.

The name ant lion is a simple translation of their genus name, Myrmeleon— “ant-lion”.  Ant lion because they eat ants rather fiercely. This activity, and so the name, only applies to the larval stage of the insect. The larvae are also sometimes called “doodlebugs” in North America because of the linear, wandering trails they leave in the sand when not killing ants. Ant lions are found all over the world, in any region which has a dry, warm climate–and sandy soil.

Dry sand is necessary for their predation style. They dig holes in which to capture their prey. The hole I saw, like the hole above, is called a lion ant trap. (And a wicked trap it is! Arrggg matey!)

What dug the hole?  This:

This is an ant lion in its larval stage. And believe me, there are scarier pictures of these guys on the Internets, but none free of copyright restrictions. Go look at them if you’d like to have nightmares.

So, this creature digs sand pits and hides in the bottom of them waiting for a hapless ant to wander by. The ant slips on the crumbling edge of the pit and tumbles in. The ant lion is waiting in hiding at the bottom and may grab the ant when it first falls. If the ant  is lucky enough to regain its feet and start out of the hole, the ant lion kicks sand at it, barraging the ant with heavy fire until it slides back down to the bottom of the death pit and is caught in those fearsome pincher jaws. There is no escape from the ant lion.

Cunning. Efficient. Voracious. This is the ant lion. This is a baby ant lion, the larval stage. It makes you shudder to think what it’s like when it’s grown up, right?

Behold the adult ant lion:


It looks like a damselfly or dragonfly but is not related to either. The adult ant lion is sometimes called an antlion lacewing. They are not much seen by humans, because despite those beautiful wings, they are weak fliers, and mostly lurch around in the bushes at night trying to find another bumbling antlion, so they can mate. In the daylight hours they rest on branches, where they are well camouflaged.

From pinchered, death pit-digging predator to delicate, bumbling, romance-seeking nectar drinker. You just never know where life will take you.


Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for all of the photographs in this post.

How You can Help Dragonflys


Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

Want to help dragonfly populations? The Migratory Dragonfly Project is a citizen science project you can participate in. All you need is a pond or wetland to visit and a computer.

Participants monitor the timing, duration, and direction of travel of migrating dragonflies, and note any additional behaviors in a directed migratory flight such as feeding or mating. Photos or videos are strongly encouraged to aid in identification. When gathered across a wide geographic range and throughout a span of years, these data will provide answers to questions about which species are regular migrants; the frequency and timing of migration in different species; sources, routes, and destinations of migrants; and patterns of reproduction, emergence, and movement among migratory dragonflies along their flight paths.

Who’s Visiting Your Garden While You’re Not Watching?

My beautiful picture

I did a little experiment earlier this month and left our new CritterCam on for a period of five days, pointed at our backyard shed, to see what animals are visiting. The motion sensitive camera picked up seven visits from a possum, six birds, four skunk visitations, two rats, one raccoon and two house cats. I need to let the camera run for a longer period to get a better sense of what times of the day or night are the most active, but so far the hour of 2 am picked up the most activity (after the bars have closed on Sunset Blvd. perhaps?).

My beautiful picture

The pictures are showing what I think are mini wildlife corridors. Note the similar direction the possum and skunk seem to be heading.

The cat (which belongs to a neighbor):

My beautiful picture

And the raccoon (below) are also headed in the same direction.

My beautiful picture

That raccoon pic is another reminder for me to recheck my chicken coop’s fortifications.

My beautiful picture

And the rat is telling me to lock up the chicken food at night.

Reviewing these images has given me a less adversarial feeling about our mammalian visitors. They are just so damn cute, especially the skunk.

Next up in my CritterCam experiments will be to see who is visiting the bird bath. I’ll need some help from readers for that, since I don’t know my birds.

Are Bees Mammals?

Log hive.

Log hive.

This was the provocative question radical “apiculturlist” Michael Thiele posed at the beginning of his lecture at this year’s Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa.

Thiele pointed out that bees:

  • Maintain a hive temperature of around 94°F/35°C
  • Have a low number of offspring, if you consider a swarm to be their offspring
  • Are nurtured by mother’s “milk” (technically sister’s milk)

These are all characteristics of mammals. Thiele inspiration is a book The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism, by Jürgen Tautz who calls bees,”the mammal in a thousand bodies.”

Golden Hive.

Golden Hive.

Thiele’s next point was that if we think of them as a mammal than we’re going to have a different relationship with them. Practically, this might mean different housing. If a bee is a mammal what they live in becomes their skin and fur. To keep their hive temperature steady they need insulation, both in warm and cold climates. He suggested that the standard Langstroth box is too thin. Maybe they’d be happier in the two hives Thiele had on display, a hollowed out log or the insulated Golden Hive box (which had movable frames).

Thiele’s talk took a metaphysical turn when he said that we need to “go beyond the left brain” in our relationship with bees. He also, provocatively, suggested that we need to “know ourselves” before approaching bees. I took this to mean understanding our intentions, our goals, and our attitudes.

Back to housing. Langstroth was very much the product of a “left brain” industrial age whose point was the domination of nature. Given the problem bees are having, perhaps it’s time to strike a balance between the intuitive and analytical and, literally and figuratively, think out of the box.