Myrmeleon formicarius

Physical characteristics: Antlions are very long and slender insects. The head and thorax are short and thick, while the abdomen is very long and slender. The body is brown with tan markings. The antennae are thickened, especially at the tips. The wings are long, narrow, and transparent with brown, black, and white spots. The larvae are robust and egg-shaped with large curved jaws. Their body is built or adapted for burrowing backward through sandy soil.

Geographic range: Antlions are found in Western Europe.

Habitat: Antlions live in a wide variety of habitats, especially grasslands and sandy deserts.

Diet: Adults capture all kinds of flying insects on the wing. The larvae seize any small insects that fall into their pits.

Behavior and reproduction: Adults are active at night and rest on foliage during the day. The long body and brown color helps them to blend in as they lie perfectly still and flat on a twig or branch. The larvae dig cone-shaped pits in loose, sandy soil. They rapidly flick sand out of the pit with their flat heads. They hide at the bottom of the pit with only their jaws exposed. When a suitable prey falls into the pit, the larva will quickly impale it with its jaws and inject it with paralyzing venom. It will then pull the prey down into the sand. They will abandon their pits and quickly burrow deep in the sand when threatened by anything larger than a small prey animal.

Adult females lay their eggs in sandy soil. The larvae burrow through the soil until they find a suitable place to dig a pit. They prefer sandy areas under rocky overhangs or in caves. By choosing these protected sites, the larvae avoid rain that will ruin their pits or cause them to drown. When fully grown, the larva spins a spherical cocoon made of silk coated with particles of sand.

Antlions and people: Antlion larvae, or "doodlebugs," have fascinated humans for centuries. They are featured in folktales, especially in the chants and charms of European children. The charms specifically refer to their cone-shaped pits and backward movements.

Adult antlions are active at night and rest on foliage during the day. Their long bodies and brown color help them to blend in as they lie perfectly still and flat on a twig or branch. (Illustration by Barbara Duperron. Reproduced by permission.)

Conservation status:

threatened.

This species is not listed as endangered or

Adult antlions are active at night and rest on foliage during the day. Their long bodies and brown color help them to blend in as they lie perfectly still and flat on a twig or branch. (Illustration by Barbara Duperron. Reproduced by permission.)

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