In Quest of the Ant Lion aka Doodlebug

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Ant Lion (Doodlebug) Factoids

Origin

Dry, sandy soils (like under my eaves)

Maximum Size

Larvae 1/2-inch including pincers.  Adults maybe 2-inch wing span.

Housing

Lives in a self-constructed shallow pit

Security

None needed

Temperature

Room temp fine
Breeding Adults are "lacewing" flies that lay eggs in sandy soil

Attitude

Larvae: ferocious ant eaters

Foods

Ants and other small insects

Water

Not needed.  They get water from their victims.
Tough Can go long periods without food
Threats Excessive rain and winter

Prologue:  I've tried to capture these critters for years.  I'd seen their signs (pits, not real estate signs) in my own front yard over long periods of time.  (The east side of my front yard under an overhanging roof.) And, over time, I've tried to dig some out using a tablespoon with zero success.  Then I'd level out the area so I could investigate new pits.  I even  invested a dollar in a set of strainers from the Dollar Tree.  Then I stumbled across a much better tool at Aqualand.  I'll keep you in suspense until later.

LA
I wasted a buck on this thing that almost works.  It's a drain strainer.

LA
Ant lion pits under my house front overhang, June, July, and August, 2010

First Attempts:  I'd carefully dig out each pit with a tablespoon and scrabble thru the dusty debris.  Sometimes before work, sometimes after work -- depending upon how many pits I observed.  No luck.  Obviously ant lions were there.  I just couldn't find them.

LA
Excellent pits but no ant lions to be found.

Multi-Pits:  I'd see beau coup pits -- big pits, little pits, and lots of in between pits.  Still none had an ant lion in them that I could detect.  Well, I found a few acorns and some dried up caterpillar larvae of some sort.  And the pits would magically re-appear except when there was a rain blowing from the east that un-dusted the dusty soil.  The soil dried quickly and the mysterious pits re-appeared.

LA
More pits in late summer 2010.  Still no ant lions.

LA
First pits of the year, 8:45 am, April 4, 2011.  No ant lions.

LA
8:45 am, April 8, 2011.  Still no ant lions.

LA
1:15 pm, May 1, 2011.  Same results.

LA
More pits May 1, 2011.  There was no shortage of pits -- just a shortage of catchable ant lions.

LA
Still no Ant lions in the bag May 16, 2011.

LA
Hot on the trail right after lunch June 5, 2011  The tell-tale track of the doodlebug.

The Doodlebug Name:  Then I saw it -- the track of the doodlebug.  Their tracks look like someone was doodling in the sand.  Thus the name.  By this time I had my new secret weapon which will now be revealed.

LA
Ta da -- my new ant lion capturing super tool.  Works like a charm -- even better than a John Deere tractor.

My New Secret Weapon:  I found three of these strainers in our hermit crab area.  Each had been used then carefully squirreled up above the tarantulas -- out of sight, out of mind.  These are so much better than the no-handled strainers I found at the Dollar Tree.  We use the drain strainers to keep our bettas from going down the drain when we're maybe going a little faster than necessary.  I do have to admit that Kellie and Sam are both about twice as fast as I am in cleaning the betta jars and changing their water.  Anyway, this baby cuts a wide swath thru the dust.  It works better and faster.  Forget the tablespoon tool.  Put it back in your silverware drawer.  I don't know why we call them silverware.  Force of habit.  Anyway, this weapon is made by ZooMed.

LA
The powdery soil sifts right thru the mesh and the hidden ant lion emerges.

Sifting Process:  You have to shake the strainer a bit for the dust to fall out, but ...  It works so much faster than a tablespoon (which didn't work at all).  Best of all, it also sorts out the larger chunks which results in a more ant lion friendly environment over the long haul.  Our new playing field was primo ant lion territory.  Another plus:  The little lions grab hold of the mesh and cling on when you dump the clumps.

LA
Here he is on a tablespoon.  My first very own ant lion.

Do Ant Lions Bite:  I have no idea whether ant lions "bite" or not.  However. I'm not willing to field test that question on a critter that sports blood sucking tongs -- especially because ant lions reputedly inject their lunch with toxins.

LA
Here you can see his juice-sucking ice tong grabbers.

Ant Lions in Captivity:  In these little plastic cups, all the ant lion larvae constantly back up and occasionally flip their tongs backwards.  That's the way they excavate their circular pits in my front yard.  Since I have no ants in my yard this year, I will see how these little dudes react to small crickets.  Even tho they are "small crickets," crickets can be vicious little beasts themselves.

LA
And here's my second one a few minutes later.

I Leveled the Playing Field:  I carefully sifted the entire site to make it ant lion friendly again.  Also to make it more apparent if new lions wandered by.

LA
Next morning the ant lion pits were back, June 6, 2011.

Even Better Success:  I quickly scoped out the situation and scooped out the new visiting ant lions.  I harvested four in about five minutes.  Since I had a limited number of containers, I put three together to find out if they eat or kill each other.  Seems they don't mix well.  Shortly after lunch I had two of the three left.  All the others are now in separate containers.

LA
Loser.

LA
They're all about this size.

LA
I also found three of these.

Ant Lions Pupate:  The first one of these I ran across, I dumped in the rubble pile.  Then it struck me that these symmetrical balls could be pupae.  The next one I found I tried to take apart to see what was inside.  I squished it in the process.  The third one (the one above) I kept.  Ant lions pupate then emerge as insect-eating and fairly attractive "lacewings."  You may see them sampling the winged buffet that surrounds your porch light at night.  They look a lot like mayflies.

LA
Four filled pupae cases plus one empty.

LA
Pretty much an even UFC match.  No holds barred.

LA
Pits back again June 8, 2011.

LA
Three new recruits in about five minutes.  I set up eight in their own covered container.

LA
Not all accepted an alternate diet.

New Food Accepted?  Out of the eight lions, five had dead crickets in their cups the next morning.  I did not see any of the lions grab a cricket or vice versa.  Any snacking occurred over night.  So my jury is still out.  In the meantime, I'll patiently wait to observe whatever emerges from the pupae I collected.  I may collect a few more lions, but the current rainfall (with hail) seems to have muddied the playing field.

LA
Game called on account of rain (and hail).  June 11, 2011.

LA
First one out of his/her pupa stage.  June 12, 2011.  I missed the emergence. 

LA
Mucho larger than his former pupa case.

LA
Pupa case (with hole) plus an unknown white thing and the first emerged lacewing.

LA
Second lacewing emerges from his/her pupa case June 20 looking very scruffy.

LA
Since it looked so desiccated, I placed it on a piece of moist tissue and set it aside..

LA
Still wiggling next am but looking mighty shaky.

LA
Still alive after lunch.

LA
Started fluttering like crazy so I took it outside'  Looks like some pretty good fangs.

LA
I put him outside to (maybe) continue the cycle of life.

LA
Unless, he flutters into one of these pits.  LA

LA
July 18, 11:30 pm my first healthy lacewing emerges.  I released him or her outside.

LA
They're back August 7, 2011.

LA
September 6, 2011 still around.  No ants in my yard.

LA
May 19, 2012 still no ants in my yard.

LA
June 25, 2013.

LA
June 2, 2014 -- back again this year.

 

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