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Ant lions – Part 4 of Africa’s Little 5

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Ant lion larvae. 

These interesting species of ants live mainly within Africa but are also found in places known to have much colder temperatures such as North America. Ant lion larvae look terrifying but are harmless to people and cause no damage to flowers or structures but do hunt on unwary insects.


There are 2000 species of ant lions throughout the world. The largest species has impressive wings with a wingspan of 16cm (6.3 in.)!

Ant lions start out as larvae who help as hosts to parasitic insects and then develop into pupae. They transform from pupae into adult ant lions who resemble dragonflies.

Habitat


These unusual ants are found in sheltered, sandy areas away from rainfall. They call areas such as wooded dunes, forest floors and dry river banks home. Lion ants can even be found in the soil of flower beds, under hedges or in undeveloped city plots.

Behaviour


The ant lion larvae stays in a dormant stage deep within the ground to get through winter. They can remain as larvae for up to three years reaching their full weight before transforming into a pupae. It is from this cocoon they emerge as an adult ant lion, a life cycle which is alike to that of a butterfly!

Adult ant lion.

An adult ant lion is rarely seen out and about in the wild as they are only active in the evening. They rest during the day and remain unseen due to their well-camouflage of their wings and dusk coloured body.


Diet


The ant lion larvae has evolved in such a way that is perfect to build a sand pit. They use this death trap for the capture of their food. They mainly eat other smaller ants and insects while adults eat pollen and nectar, some eat small arthropods as well.

After they have captured their prey either through the method of a sand pit or hiding underneath debris to attack insects, they suck out the body fluids after having injected a special liquefying substance into their prey. Once they have consumed their meal they throw away the carcass.

Death trap – sand pit


Ant larvae are equipped with a large and square shaped flattened head which has a pair of pinchers on the end. They have three sets of legs to tread on and which they use for digging.

These young ant lions settle on a patch of soil which is light and easy to shift for their sand pit. They begin by pushing themselves backwards, to draw a circle on the ground, they then dig deeper in spiral shapes towards the middle. The shape of their head comes in handy when ploughing through the soil.
A sand pit.


When there is more than one young ant lion living near one another, they appear to be considerate and keep spacing between their pits.

The hungrier the ant lion, the bigger the sand pit is!

Reproduction


Once the adult emerges from their cocoon they allow their wings to expand and harden nearby on a tree. These nocturnal creatures hang on twigs with raised wings as a sign of mating and once a partner is attracted, they mate for nearly two hours.

The female then goes on to lay eggs in the sand within a suitable place. She repeatedly taps the sands surface with the tip of her abdomen and then inserts her abdomen into the sand to lay an egg. She repeats this for all of her eggs. During this process her wings remain raised and move at a very fast pace. She will then return back to a tree where more mating can possibly happen again.



We are very lucky to not have monster sized ant lion larvae’s around!




Did you know?

They are called Doodlebugs in America due to the designs they leave in the sand when making their sand pits.

Ant lion larvaes do not poop, all waste is stored internally until the end of their pupal stage. It is then when they excrete their waste into the case of the cocoon.



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