ANT LIONS AT RICKUBIS.COM
This page was born 08/09/2011.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update:  05/26/2014

Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2014 Richard M. Dashnau

Here are my other Brazos Bend and/or critter pages:
 ----------------------------------------------------------------                  OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Introduction                 Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Snakes-nonvenomous 1-------------------------------------------     Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Snakes-nonvenomous 2-------------------------------------------------Insects, non-toxic
Snakes-nonvenomous 3------------------------------------------------Spiders
Snakes-venomous------------------------------------------------------Mammals
Birds-Waders----Birds-Raptors---------------------------------    Lizards!--Turtles!

----------------------------------
Welcome to the Visitor's Center at Brazos Bend State Park. That's me with the giant walking stick (06/20/2004). As I get more material in my domain, I'm able to give a separate page to various animals. This page features non-toxic insects. I feel that toxic insects each should have their own page for easier reference. 

August 08, 2011 I finally got another chance to try with the antlion pits outside at the park. Using the same setup from July 24, this time I was able to catch some antlion action, this time with an ant in the pit. The two images below are frame-captures from video clips that I shot. The edited footage is here. (wmv, 20.2mb).       

  ----
                            TOSSING SAND                                                 THE JAWS ABOUT TO CLOSE

July 24, 2011 I had been looking at the antlion pits scattered about the Visitors' Center at BBSP, and started thinking about when I'd filmed antlions before. When I checked, I saw that it was about 5 years ago!!  I updated and edited some of the material from then, and made a new Antlion Page.  On this afternoon, I had a sudden idea, and started assembling some of my various camera hardware as shown below. This is from a collection of odds and ends I've gathered over time.

-------
                          CASIO EX-FH20                                                                THE PARTS                                                   LENS ADAPTOR AND RAIL                                                 ATTACH THE RAIL                      

------
                            MACRO-SLIDE                                                            SLIDE ON TRIPOD                                           MACRO CONVERSION LENS

----
         MACRO CONEVERSION LENS AGAIN                                       INSTALL THE LENS                                         ASSEMBLY ON THE TRIPOD                                    TEST FOCUS ON GROUND      

  --
                     SET UP OVER ANTLION PIT                            ARROW POINTS AT THE PIT IN FOCUS

I was trying to set up so that I could shoot some high-speed video of the antlion at work. When the antlion move, it moves very quickly, and I was hoping to slow that movement down a bit.  Today's RICKUBISCAM is a frame grab from some of the video clips I shot.  I've edited some of them together into this video clip. (13.2mb)     In this clip, the Ant Lion is just setting its trap. Other clips will follow soon.   

April 08, 2006-- The second adult Ant Lion emerged today! This time, I had a bit more time to get pictures before I released it. Here it is, one picture showing it on my finger, and the next one outside, where I left it.  (Images added to this page 5/26/2014)

   ----
                 BRAND NEW ANT LION                                         
RELEASED INTO THE HEDGE                  

After I released the ant lion, I sifted the sand again. Now I had two opened cocoons to examine. I took better close-up shots, and these showed how intricate they were.

 ------

There is apparently a silk lining, which is covered with sand grains. Even without the larva inside, the cocoon kept its shape (although I didn't try to crush them).  Apparently the new Ant Lion pushes partially out of the cocoon, then splits (similar to a dragonfly larva) along the back,. This allows the full adult to emerge. I didn't see how it dug its way to the surface, but it must have enough time to get there before the wings start to expand and harden. I really liked the "hatch" that seemed to form in one of the cocoons.

-----

I've had varied success taking pictures through the binocular microscope. I tried again, getting some reasonable close shots of the cocoons. The first two images above show how shallow the depth-of-field is.   

-----

April 06, 2006-- An adult Ant Lion emerged yesterday (04/05/2006)! But, I had to release it before I got any good pictures. I sifted the sand again, and I found two round, sandy objects. These were the cocoons that the ant lions used. One has opened (which relased the aduly I'd seen) and the other one had not yet. I put the unopened one back under the sand. Below are a few images of the two cocoons. (Images added to this page 5/26/2014)

   ----
      ONE COCOON HATCHED ONE NOT                   
SPOTLIGHTED COCOON                            CLOSER LOOK AT THEM    

January 11, 2006-- After a period of inactivity by the ant lion larvae; I decided to look for them. I carefully put the sand through an ordinary cooking strainer until I found the ant lions. They both looked fine. Here they are, next to a quarter. (Images added to this page 5/26/2014)

   ----
               ONE ANT LION                                     
THE OTHER ANT LION                              BOTH ANT L IONS                 

November 28, 2005--  I found a way to rig a camera to one of the eyepieces of the microscope. This is the setup:

   -----

December 03, 2005-- The images below are frame captures from this video clip (wmv 33mb), shot through the microscope.

   ------
               AIR BUBBLES IN HEAD                           
BIGGER BUBBLE IN HEAD                           EVEN BIGGER BUBBLE                          THE MONSTER'S HEAD

Viewed at such magnification, the dexterity of the mandibles is more than I'd expect.  They are extremely mobile.  In this video clip (wmv 33mb), one can see the formation of voids (or air bubbles) inside the ant as the insides are drained.  Seen at this magnification, the mandibles still look sharp and intimidating. 

November 19, 2005--  The Antlions are still in my kitchen. From time to time I've been able to watch them eat. Since the previous "article", I've been working towards getting better photos through my microscope. I'd really like to show the variance in fluid pressures and how this can be seen. I've been able to see fluid movement ( a sort of "milky" substance) that flows into an ant segment when the antlion has pierced it. I've also witnessed many more times the formation of large voids or bubbles inside an ant as its fluids are drained. I've seen, once, apparent fluid movement in the mandible of an antlion...moving towards the head of the antlion.  This was shown by small bubbles or particles I could observe moving. A softer-bodied insect without the radical separation of body segments--like a cockroach nymph--will actually swell up slightly after being pierced by the antlion. Cessation of movement in these insects happens much faster than in ants. The nymph will swell, and on a few occasions it seemed that fluid might have even begun oozing from joints in the nymph. It appeared that a slight sheen or glossiness appeared at various points, but I can't be sure if that was fluid leaking. If there is enough pressure to cause this effect when the antlion injects its digestive juices, then why doesn't fluid leak from around where the mandibles have pierced the prey?

After a short interval, the cockroach nymph begins deflating as the antlion feeds.
Another fact I've learned as that even though the antlion attack is generally engineered so that confrontation is in the antlion's favor, those long mandibles are not always the best for the attack of for manipulating prey. The tips of the mandibles have to pierce the prey insect. I've witnessed a number of times where the mandibles have closed with the "teeth" clamped around the pedicel (narrow part between abdomen and thorax) and the piercing ends uselessly crossed over the prey insect's back. After the prey is dead, the antlion manipulates the body with those oversized tongs, and has to arrange it so that one or both of the ends of the mandibles can pierce the insect. This can be a laborious process, requiring much manipulation with the mandibles and sharp jerks of the head.
Then the mandible points have to somehow pierce the hard shell. This is often done through a joint or natural opening in the exoskeleton. In fact, watching this, I thought there might be an answer that Dr. Thomas Eisner brought up in his book For the Love of Insects. He considered it quite amazing that the antlion drained an ant's crop without piercing the acid sacs by accident. Perhaps the location of the joints in the exoskeletion covering the ant's abdomen forces the points of the antlion's mandibles to miss the rear of the abdomen just by physically turning them away. The joins seem to run across the axis of the ant's body, so they would might prevent a mandible (which is sort of flattened top and bottom) from turning. This would would keep the curve of the antlion's mandible along the inside of the abdomen, and running around the center axis instead of turning parallel to it (and being able to point directly backwards).
 From time to time I've noticed that one antlion or another allows its pit to collapse and doesn't rebuild it--sometimes for days. Once, all four antlions showed no activity for almost a week, so I scooped into the dirt and sifted it to see if they'd pupated. They hadn't, and twitched their way back underground when I put them back. While I was sifting the dirt, though, I found the two shed exoskeletons in these pictures. These were buried under the dirt (or fine sand--or whatever you want to call what I have them in), so I assume that few people encounter these. All the features of the antlion larva are shown in the shed exoskeletons, including those fearsome jaws. Below are a couple more pictures of these shells.

-------------------
                       MOLD YOUR OWN ANTLION KIT                               THE FRONT SHELL, CLEARER 

By the way, one after another of the pits has been reformed since then, although my mysterious fourth pit (the smallest one) disappeared for a couple of weeks. I thought that one of the antlions that were digging the large pits might have eaten it. I've read that one must be careful to keep the antlions spaced far enough apart to avoid this. The antlions keep moving their pits around, though, so sooner or later there could be a dispute. A few days ago, however, my small pit reappeared.
I'll be posting some better pictures of the antlions here soon.

October 23, 2005--  The image below (PRETTY FEARSOME) shows a beast that many people know about, but few actually see. In keeping with the the media tradition of assigning sensationalistic names to commonplace phenomena, I've decided to refer to this creature as the "CHUPAHORMIDA", thereby relating it to a elusive (though mythical, unlike this one) oddity known as the "CHUPACABRA". That, and the use of GOOGLE is certain to bring people to this page, and to arouse their interest.

-----------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                                       PRETTY FEARSOME
This creature, actually an insect, is actually the larval form of the insect known as the antlion. This is a bit confusing, because it is actually the larva that consumes ants. It is also known to some people as the "doodlebug".
The antlion digs a pit in loose soil by moving in circles and tossing the soil out with swift movements of its head. Eventually a nearly-perfect funnel-shaped pit forms with the antlion lying at the very bottom, buried with only the open jaws exposed.
When a small insect approaches the pit, the loosely-sculpted walls allow the edge to give way. This causes the insect to slide to the bottom. If it manages to stop this slide, then the antlion will start tossing sand at it--with great accuracy--to cause it to continue its fall to the bottom. There, the waiting jaws snap shut on the prey. These jaws look like ice tongs with extra teeth. The outermost points serve as piercing needles. When they enter the insect, digestive enzymes work on the tissues inside, liquifying them and causing the insect's slow death. Then the insect's (or whatever else gets caught) liquified tissues are sucked out by the antlion.  This is all old news to some people. But...most people don't get to see an antlion in action.
Well, we're going to see one here!
I had just read a book called For Love of Insects by Thomas Eisner (Go get it! If you like my pages at all, you'll LOVE that book!), and there was a piece on antlions in it. I'd observed them when I was a child, but my interest was rekindled, and I collected some. I did this by carefully scooping up some dirt which had antlion pits in it. When I got home, I gently sifted the dirt, and found three antlion larva. I prepared a dish with dirt about 2 inches deep and, before putting the antlions in, I took some pictures.

       -     ---
              ANTLION WITH QUARTER                                                DANGEROUS BUT...GOOFY?                                           REALLY PRETTY GOOFY                                       THIS COULD BE TROUBLE
                                                                                         VIDEO CLIP  559kb        VIDEO CLIP  1500kb
The first picture shows my largest antlion near a quarter (WITH QUARTER, above). Seen up close, and out of its element, the antlion larva looks like a child's bad drawing of a nightmare creature. (see DANGEROUS BUT...GOOFY? above)  Although equipped with a really formidable-looking pair of mandibles, the rest of the creature is a ridiculous-looking lump with tiny eyes, tufts of hair sticking out, and some ludicrous stick legs seemingly tacked on.  The next image above (REALLY PRETTY GOOFY) is a frame from a short VIDEO CLIP  559kb showing the antlion as it starts moving across a paper towel. This movement didn't really help change the ludicrous image as it jerked in circles with occasional flips of its head--probably a reflex with the intent to throw dirt.
I introduced the antlions to their new home, where I took another VIDEO CLIP  1500kb. Suddenly, the antlion bore an uncomfortable resemblance to a fictional creature in a movie. The movie was "Tremors" (one of my favorites, by the way), and I felt a slight sense of foreboding as the antlion suddenly moved with purpose into the soil. It wasn't quite as "goofy" anymore. I've edited the clip slightly to remove the slight pauses it made as it slipped under the dirt but I haven't sped up its movement.  After some time, I checked, and found 3 funnels in my bowl (see ANTLIONS AT HOME, below).

----
                      ANTLIONS AT HOME                                                     PHOTO SETUP                                                          THE ATTACK!                                                     CASUALLY FEEDING
                                                                              VIDEO CLIP  2500kb               VIDEO CLIP  537kb
I rigged up a couple of lights, my tripod, and the camera so I could film what happened next (see PHOTO SETUP, above). 

This is the photo setup that I came up with on 11/10/2005:

   ----

What happened next is...a Fire Ant fell into one of the sand traps. There was a flurry of activity, and a pause, and more activity. The image above (THE ATTACK) is a single frame from this VIDEO CLIP  2500kb. Note that the ant seems to have been seized by the thorax. Also note the rapid, violent beating the antlion gives to it. I guess the antlion doesn't seem goofy at all by this point.
After some time, the ant stopped struggling. Then, the antlion began to...feed. With casual deliberation, it moved from one body segment to the next, manipulating the subdued ant with movements of the huge jaws. It would move the ant around, and the points of the jaws would find an opening, and they would pierce the body. The next image above (CASUALLY FEEDING)  is a frame from a very short VIDEO CLIP  537kb showing this manipulation. I like this clip because it gave me the illusion that I was standing on the edge of the pit looking in...and then a few grains slide into the hole...and the clip ends.
The antlion continued this until it drained the ant. Finally, with a twitch of its head, it tossed the empty remains out of the pit. Then, it moved around, reformed the pit, and set the trap again.
I've got an old binocular stereo microscope that I set up over my bowl. I've watched a few feedings since the first one. Unfortunately, I can't take pictures through the microscope. I watched, however, in close detail as the antlion probed with its jaws. Also, a few days later, a new pit formed. This was much smaller, but it was also inhabited by an antlion--although this one had very dark jaws unlike the first 3. I have no idea where this one came from, although it could have been in the dirt I picked up near my apartment. Anyway...I have 4 pits now.
Under a very bright light, the exoskeleton of the ant is almost transparent.  I watched as--one time--one of the antlions pushed the tip of a mandible into the joint where the ant's mandible was attached to its head. Then, I noticed a lighter spot form (after some time). It was an AIR BUBBLE! This was verified when the antlion shifted the ant's position. The bubble inside the head moved to the highest point. This bubble slowly got larger the few times I went back and checked. Imagine that: the invasive piercing of those sharp needles--then the injection of digestive enzymes into the living creature--and finally the slow, deliberate draining of the liquifying bodily tissues.  Seen that way, it's pretty horrifying; especially when contrasted with the "goofy" appearance of the creature doing it.
Dr. Thomas Eisner's book, For the Love of Insects, talks about antlions on pages 264-273. In it, Dr. Eisner mentioned some very interesting facts. Apparently, most of the volume of the material drained by the antlion is the contents of the ant's crop (it's storage stomach). This must happen while the antlion is probing the ant's body with its pair of sharp mandibles (by the way, I noticed that sometimes the points appear to get "stuck", and requires quite a bit of movement on the antlion's part to get them unstuck.). The antlion does this probing without breaking or poking into any acid reservoirs that the ant has inside it for use during spraying offense.
The antlion doesn't have a protective covering. It doesn't need one. While it's in the sand, it is protected by being unseen; and also by the massed grains around it. Dr. Eisner's book had an interesting observation about this situation and ants. In his studies, he used the ant camponotus floridanus, the Florida Carpenter Ant. This is known as a "formicine" ant. It attacks by clamping with its jaws and spraying formic acid into any wounds thus formed. On the other hand, I am using Fire Ants. It's hard to tell, but they are probably RIFA (red imported fire ants) or Solenopsis invicta (wagneri). I learned today that Texas already had native species of Fire Ants, that are nowhere near as destructive as the invading non-native RIFA. The RIFA attack by biting first, and--while holding on with the mandibles--jamming a stinger into their enemy. In both cases the chemical attack isn't made unless the ant grabs something with its jaws! That means that if something attacks the ant, and the ant cannot grab it, then the ant will not bring chemical defences to bear on its attacker. An antlion ambushing from under the sand and shaking the ant around prevents the ant from biting and is probably safe from counter attack. I suspect the violent shaking (which doesn't always happen, but often does) disorients the ant and may either help the antlion's mandible points work in into the ant and/or may hasten action of the injected chemicals.  That "goofy-looking" insect is quite deadly in its element.
Also, the antlion doesn't have an anus. That means that it does not defecate, and that wastes are stored inside the body. These are not released until after the mature antlion emerges from its pupa--that is AFTER it has lived for some time as a larva and metamorphosed. (Eisner, page 270).
Do you think prepubescent human children are hard to get along with sometimes? What would happen if--along with waiting until maturity before they could drive, or vote, or drink, or move out of the house--they had to wait until then to take their first...well, you get the idea.
Now, to get back to that other "name" for the antlion that I came up with. "Chupacabra", when translated from Spanish, means "goat sucker". "Chupa" is a form of one of the verbs for "suck". "Cabra" means goat. Therefore, since "hormida" means "ant", I figured I could call this elusive beast that hides in shadow (well, dirt), strikes without warning, and SUCKS THE FLUIDS OUT OF ITS HELPLESS PREY...the CHUPAHORMIDA, or "ant sucker".

If you'd like to know more about the park follow these links:

Brazos Bend State Park   The main page.

Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer's Page  The volunteer's main page.
 

           Go back to my home page, Welcome to rickubis.com
           Go back to the RICKUBISCAM page.
           Go back to the See the World page.