Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ant Lion King

Where to begin ... ant lions are like those smells that instantly bring back memories. "Windsong" perfume = a bevy of high school sweeties, diesel fumes = loading semis at Povia Brothers farm, roasting turkey = Mom's kitchen ... don't even get me started about the smell of the sea ... I could fill this post.

This post is not about smells of course. It's about antlions ..."Doodlebugs" if you please. When I see their little pit traps, I am instantly transported to my grandparent's huge white Victorian house that commanded a curve on Palmer Street in St. Augustine. It's gone now, an apartment complex rises from sacred ground soaked in the memories of our clan.

Doodlebugs are one of those memories. Nana and Papa's house had a cellar ... something almost unheard of in wet Florida, certainly in coastal Florida it was an oddity. The breezeway into the deep, dark cellar had a sandy floor and this spot was doodlebug heaven. Kid heaven too. The house overhead kept the rain off the sand and provided the dry conditions doodlebugs love.

If you were a grandkid at Papa's, all it took was a twig and a bit of spider web from a dusty corner of the cellar and you were equipped for a "doodlebug fishing trip". (There must be a fly fishing pun in there somewhere, but it eludes me now).

Holding your twig "pole", you dangled your spider web "line" into the sand pit of some hapless doodlebug and tried to get him to bite. We didn't catch that many, but we sure had fun trying.

Here's a close-up of the wee beastie. The traps bring back childhood memories, but the ant lion itself makes me think of poor Chekov in one of the early Star Trek movies. The bad guys (Khan?) put a critter in Chekov's ear to control him. I always thought it resembled the ant lion, except it was a lot bigger.

The sand pit trap of the giant critter in the 2nd ... 3rd ...6th ... damn you Spielberg and your weird Star Wars episode numbering system. Arrrghh. You know the one where Jaba makes Luke walk the plank ... That one. Okay, what I'm trying to say (and failing miserably I might add) is that the pit was probably inspired by doodlebugs. Whew!

Doodlebugs aren't mind controlling parasites of course, we have politicians for that. No, every doodlebug is a baby waiting to transform into an adult so different in form, that it defies belief. Someone else has done a superior job of explaining the doodlebug life cycle, so go here for the details.

Be glad gravity keeps insects small on this planet. Watching some helpless ant (admit it, you've tossed a few into these pits of doom ) trying to climb the slippery slopes as the ant lion flings sprays of tiny talus at it is fascinating. If the ant should make it out, I always find myself cheering for him even though I was the one who tossed him, Jaba style, into the pit. Survival of the pittest and all that.

Those who don't make it out are seized in massive jaws and drained of their body fluids. An especially horrifying end to me, so it's good to be big.

Seen with some measureable background (arm hair), they aren't so scary. When the girls were little, we kept some in their bedroom as temporary pets. I wanted Kate and Emma to see what they transform into. They were into the Disney movie "Beauty and the Beast" at the time and I thought they should see the real thing. They were pretty amazed when the transformation took place.
Doodlebugs are easy to keep as a "pet". Get a plastic shoe box and fill it about half full with dry sand. Now take the plastic top and cut a six inch circle out of the center, leaving the snap on edge intact. Cut some screen to fit and hot glue it inside the top so the lid snaps on, but the center is a screened opening. You're done.
Now go catch a doodlebug ... and some ants ... and perhaps,
... some memories.
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Alan said...

With the dry weather we're having it's ant lion heaven lately. They seem to particularly like the area under my cedar trees.

On a completely different note, you watching the forecast for Friday and Saturday? Cutting it sorta fine. Everything on the place is blossoming. I hate this time of year.


robin andrea said...

I don't think I've ever seen an ant lion. Quite a creature. Our house did have a cellar when I was growing up, and it had all kinds of creepy monsters, but not this one.

Anonymous said...


That scene, where the bad guys put the mind-control bug into Chekov's (and the disposable "you-know-he's-gonna-die" RedShirt actor's) ear was horrifying. I really freaked out.

I have these same memories; I purposefully dropped ants into the funnel traps to watch the fireworks.

You're trying to think of the Sarlaac Pit in "Return of the Jedi" - the last Star Wars film I actually watched without pain.

You forgot one little point, but it's a fun one. They walk backwards - remember? What masterful little burrowers, and they do it all backwards. Far out.

Anonymous said...

Check this out:

NERDS! Ha-ha!

ImagineMel said...

are these the little things that curl up into balls if you mess with them? there were bazillions of those in our "pump house" when I was little.

Anonymous said...

I think you're reminiscing over "pillbugs" or "sowbugs", imaginemel.

We used to call them "roley-poleys" - a name that I still prefer.

One last thing, Fc, before I get lost. I maintain that Lucas ripped his idea for the Sarlacc (updated spelling) Pit from this film:

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any satisfactory images of the evil pit monster, so you'll have to get the DVD yourself. Prepare to laugh your butt off if you really do see the movie. It's a classic.

rcwbiologist said...

I had never seen these until I moved to the southeast. I found my first one in a pitfall trap I was using for a driftnet fence. I didn't know what the heck it was until I found it on the internet. Cool bug, and yes, very star warrish.

Dr. Know said...

Cool - speaking as an amateur entomologist. Visited with Lucian Harris in Atlanta as a youngster, Georgia's first renowned and published lepidopterist. Still have his book on the shelf - and several others...
Unfinished projects...
Right click, select Open in New Window if you are trapped in the comment box.

Thunder Dave said...

Definitely brought back childhood memories! Thanks!!!

They may not look that fierce to us, but ask any ant and I'm sure they'll tell you differently! ;-)

Cathy said...

I'm looking at the very vulnerable looking skin and wondering if these ferocious drainers of fluids are able to puncture epidermis.

I think I remember your posting something about writing a novel. Keep going. Your story telling skills are obviously second nature.

Deb said...

I must have missed out on these when I visited Florida as a kid. But then again, I wasn't really into bugs at the time.

Doug Taron said...

I love antlions. We have them here in Illinois, but for real species diversity, go to southeast Arizona during the monsoon season in July and August. There are a whole bunch af species. Some of the adults are huge- they'd almost pass for biggish dragonflies.

Floridacracker said...

I've got a forecast of 38 for the low, not good, but could be worse.

I think cellars and attics attract monsters.

LOL! Red shirt dudes are dead meat on Star Trek.
Thanks for the nerdy Star Wars link.

Yup, pillbugs are what you are thinking of.

Pretty ironic to catch one of these in a pitfall trap.

Pretty neat.

Well, I asked my aunt and ... oh ANT.

No danger from these little guys. Thanks for the encouragement.

You weren't?

Floridacracker said...

I didn't realize until I went to the antlion site that there were so many species.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

This is I suppose a person could spend, maybe, 30-40 seconds observing these things. Only to find out some people have made, like, a life of it.

Floridacracker said...

There's something for everyone.

Deb said...

FC- I don't know why I missed out on bug wonder as a child, but it's a shame. Maybe my suburban neighborhood was so heavily sprayed with insecticides that there were no bugs. Or maybe my dad never caught me an ant lion for a pet. But it's never too late to have a happy childhood!

Hurricane Teen said...

Ah, we saw a field of these little guys' burrows down on the Silver River near Ocala. They were EVERYWHERE.

And I went back and read through your "Stupid Things I Have Done" section again. It was quite amusing.

Floridacracker said...

I love that last line. Words to live by :)

The drought has them building out in the open.
As for the Stupid Things section ... more to come.

Ol' Lurker said...

Just wondered why my comment was deleted?

Deb said...

I think that line has been attributed to Tom Robbins, and a couple others. Robbins is cool, so I'll thank him.

LauraHinNJ said...

I'm late, but wanted to say that I think ant lions are very cool and would love to find one someday.

Great post!

Floridacracker said...

Ol Lurker,
Not by me.
I delete anonymous ones, but no comments with names. You may have experienced what I did at Deb's. A charmingly clever comment that never showed on her site.
Sorry if yours vanished too.

It's clever whoever said it.

I'm thinking they must not range too far north. They are just everywhere here.

Sandy said...

So that's what a doodlebug looks like...My girlfriend tried to show me one, but they always let go of the stick before we could get them out of the hole.