Lions That Hunt Ants

As a young boy, I loved bugs (and just about every other kind of varmint, too).  My parents loved nature also, but were new to the area we lived in, so we learned about much of the local flora and fauna together.  I wasn’t so interested in the flora as I was in the fauna, but it helped to have a working knowledge of both.  Another of the advantages of growing up in a part of the country that had a very warm climate for most of the year was the profusion of varmints there were to learn about.  I’ve written about a few of the more interesting varieties, the horned toads, the harvester ants, and some of the fish, but there is one tiny inhabitant of my home area of which I was especially fond as a child.

Since I’ve not seen any of these little critters in the foothills of the Ozarks, where I’ve made my home for the last thirty-some years, I’m not sure if many of the folks who read this conglomeration of words on a regular basis will be familiar with it.  I hope you’ll excuse me if I bore you with the details of a subject well-known to you.  The little fellas were known only to us as children as “doodlebugs”.  I will not include a photo of the bug (or larvae) itself, since I have received a few derogatory comments regarding the menacing ant picture which was posted here a week or so ago.  Honestly, this little creature is quite ugly and might be considered nightmare worthy, even more so than that ant..  I’m amazed at the number of entrepreneurs which use the bug’s nickname in their business listing, thinking that it’s a “cute” name to use.  Daycare centers, arts and crafts stores, and motor vehicles are named for the creature.  Why, there’s even a woman who bills herself as “Doodle Bug the Clown” and is available for children’s parties!   I’d certainly hate to see her costume if it’s realistic at all.  My guess is that none of them uses the image of the homely insect in their advertising.

Having said that, I do want to show and describe to you the doodlebug’s lair, which is actually a cunning trap for all sorts of prey.  These bugs are actually known as “antlions” and not without good reason.  The larvae is only about 1/4 inch long and has an odd, kind of “hinged” head section in front of its abdomen.  This head section includes a large set of pincers which it uses on its unlucky prey, mostly insects about the same size, although sometimes it catches bigger game in its little cone shaped abode.  Selecting loose, fine soil for its excavation, the antlion digs a hole which varies in size, but is usually only about one and a half inches across at the top and must be level with the ground.  The hole narrows down to a point where the bug can just fit across the bottom.  It carefully removes all debris, leaving only the fine, sandy soil on the angled sides and then burrows into the little bit of dirt at the bottom of the miniature pit to await its reward for all the hard work.  Unsuspecting ants and other small bugs which are unfortunate enough to fall into the hole struggle to climb back up the sides of the trap.  The cascading dirt alerts the antlion that the trap has been sprung and he uses his wide head section to flip the falling dirt back up at the insect, thus causing it to lose its footing even more, bringing it ever closer to the bottom and those waiting pincers.  Sometimes, the would-be victim is large enough to get a leg up to the top edge and pull itself out, but most of the time, the small quarry is captured and quickly dispensed with.  The trap is immediately cleaned up and any damage repaired and is ready for the next episode within minutes, with no trace of the life and death struggle which ended so violently just a short time before.

Somehow, “doodlebug” seems to me to be a sweet name for such a dangerous creature.  From the perspective of a young boy’s eyes, with no danger of sliding into that trap, they were cute and hours of fun.  We’d lean over the cones and blow gently on the sides or touch them gently with a twig, starting small landslides to trigger the instinctive dirt flipping reaction from the eager hunter below.  There was no fear of the creatures for us.  And in fact, it was that way for the victims, just moments before they reached the bottom of the pit.  They were just out taking care of daily tasks, finding food, carrying loads back to their own holes, only to slip into a hole, just a small hole, but how deadly it proved to them.

These voracious insects somehow remind me that life for humans is also a dangerous place.  There is not always a big sign, saying “Danger” near the snares that await us.  Sometimes they’re right in the route we travel daily, the names innocent sounding, the atmosphere almost welcoming.  But, I’m reminded that the Apostle Peter described our enemy as a roaring lion seeking victims to devour.  Sometimes the lion attacks in the open, but just as often, he waits in the shadows, letting us be drawn in on our own, only to meet spiritual sabotage and carnage as he springs the trap, and we’re caught.  Like the antlion’s deceptive hole, a start down that “slippery slope” can end up in a tumble to disaster.  We have to be alert and vigilant.  The journey down only requires the first step or two in that direction.

I still love the doodlebugs.  I will now admit that I even helped them along years ago, by dropping in an ant or two now and then.  Well, I was only a boy, and that sort of thing went along with the “snakes and snails, and puppy-dog tails.”  I can’t be held accountable for that.

Disney World: A trap for humans operated by a mouse…

“A snare is laid for him in the ground and a trap for him in the way.”
(Bildad, Job’s friend, speaking of wicked men)

One thought on “Lions That Hunt Ants

  1. and the ant deserved that end by it’s mere existence. One of my earlier memories is that of getting into trouble for crawling under the car in my Sunday clothes to inspect a doodlebug lair. What interesting little bugs that teach us such an important life lesson.

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