Ant Lions-Myrmeleontidae

 

The adults of the family Myrmeleontidae, the ant lions, closely resemble dragonflies. They differ in having long, club-shaped an- tennae, and in being considerably more soft- lrodied than the Odonata.

The ant lions are large with transparent wings, sometimes specked with brown. They are nocturnal, and can sometimes be seen sleeping on the stems of grassy plants during the day. After sunset, however, they become active and are strongly attracted to electric lights.

Although the adult ant lions resemble dragonflies and damselflies, they are markedly less strong in flight. Their fairly feeble flight is also very fluttery.

Ant lion larvae, which prey on ants and other insects, are distinctive-even peculiar -in appearance, having elongated, sickle shaped jaws. The actual "ant lions" that gave the family its popular name, these larvae are also known as doodlebugs. They are rather flat, fat animals; the larvae of the largest species measure approximately an inch in length.

The larvae of some species of myrmeleontids-Myrmeleon formicarius, for example-dig pits or traps in dry or sandy soil. Watching a larva construct its conical pit is an interesting experience. On the proper kind of loose, dry soil, sand, or dust, the larva begins to dig down by moving back- ward. It continues around and around in backward circles, tossing its head all the while. The purpose of the head-tossing is to rid itself of the sand that piles up on its head.

The completed pit is usually iV2 to 2 inches across and 1 or 2 inches deep. The myrmeleontids wait in the bottom of the trap for their prey to stumble in. They are capable of waiting for enormously long periods without food or water. Digging a larva from its pit is difficult because, when it is bothered, it usually remains motionless. Even when it is extracted, the myrmeleontid larva is so covered with sand that it is not easily seen.

In the United States, ant lions are much more common in the South and Southwest than in other parts of the country.  


 

INDEX : Insects     September 16, 2008 01:44:18 PM