Mini-lecture of the day: Antlions

I would like to share some little snippets of what I’m learning with you. While I won’t have internet access every day, on the days that I do, I’m going to post a short note about some topic I find interesting. It could be an animal, a plant, or a theoretical topic in ecology.

We took an orientation walk in the forest today, guided by Smithsonian researcher Hector Barrios and our course instructor, Yves Basset. Dr. Barrios taught us interesting information about common plants and herbivores as we observed the vibrance life surrounding us. At one point, he had us stop to look at some small circles in a sandy area of the trail, and asked if we could guess what they were.

“Antlions?” I asked, rather hesitantly. Yves heard me and nodded, and I said it again more confidently. Thank you, YSI animal curators.

An antlion is an insect that in its adult form looks rather like a skinny dragonfly. More interesting is the antlion larvae, which are carnivorous. They dig small pits in sandy soil, and wait for other small insects to walk by. Insects will frequently slip on the edges of the pits, and fall down toward the antlion, which quickly strikes and grabs its prey with its mandibles. There were ten to fifteen of these small traps, and we spent a few minutes poking them gently with twigs, getting the antlions to shift and snap. Yves dug up one of the antlions for us to see more closely: it was brown, with a hard, segmented shell, and scurried around quickly until it was dropped back into the sand.

antlion nest
antlion nest

 

Antlion larva
Antlion larva

 

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