Antlions are incredible creatures that your kids will love to learn about. Inspecting these tactful creatures is a curious delight for young children; they will especially love seeing their tiny homes, and capturing them in their hands for a closer look.
What is an Antlion?
Even if the name is unfamiliar, you’ve probably come across antlions at least a few times in your travels.
Antlions are the larval stage of the adult in the family Myrmeleontidae. When antlions become adults they resemble damsel flies (or miniature dragon flies), and observing them is a great wildlife exploration activity for kids of all ages.
Hunting for antlions can be fascinating. By taking the time to watch them, you can learn what they eat, how they capture their prey, and how they make their trap. Best of all, you can hold them (gently)!
Where can you find antlions?
They hang out in many backyards, tucked quietly in the dirt under some weather-aged stairs. Chances are that you’ve seen their homes before, but didn’t know what they were or where they came from. This is because they rarely emerge from their homes unless there’s a very good reason to do so (like catching their dinner).
If you’re not lucky enough to find their little inverted cone homes at your place, you can hunt for them anywhere you see fine-grained dirt and protection from the elements – and lots of ants, of course!
Look under demountable buildings, under play equipment in a park, or in undeveloped city lots. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll see them almost everywhere.
Are antlions safe?
Antlions are harmless. Their mandible is usually too small to bite you, so holding them is considered quite safe.
What you can learn by observing antlions:
Parts of an antlion
To have a closer look at an antlion, blow gently on their cone trap. Keep blowing until you see the antlion at the base. Gently pick it up with your thumb and pointer finger (or scoop it up with a spoon) and place it in the palm of your hand. Put him on his back with his legs in the air. If you’re patient, the antlion will flip over and start to move around in a circle on your hand.
What they eat
Antlions predominantly eat ants but will eat anything else they can capture in their trap, such as tiny crickets and other crawling insects.
How they capture their prey
If you’re patient enough, you may see an unsuspecting ant fall into an antlion pit (or if you’re willing, you could drop one in yourself). They wait patiently in the bottom of their inverted cone and ambush their prey. The pit holds their prey just long enough for their strong jaws to grasp the insect.
Don’t be scared off by the video below.
To an ant, they’re an effective and lethal predator, but to us, they are harmless tiny creatures that young wildlife-rangers-to-be will love to study up-close. I grew up hunting for antlions with my Dad, a memory from my childhood I will always cherish. I’m glad to be sharing it with you.
How they make their trap
After you put the antlion back onto the ground, he will start digging his pit right in front of your eyes, flicking giant dirt rocks out of his pit. What an excavator he is!
Tools for antlion observation
- A magnifying glass – not necessary, but helpful to get a better view
- A spoon to scoop them into your hand
- A camera to document your hunting journey
- Remember, antlions live near ants and their nests – wear shoes to avoid getting bitten
Want to learn more? Why not learn an antlions prey and participate in an Ant Investigation.