Antlion (Vella fallax texana)
Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Antlion.
Updated: 1/31/2018; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Large adult Antlions look frightening, but it is their charming offspring that earned them their ferocious name.
The harmless adult Antlion is hard to miss. This species is the biggest of all North American Antlions Its wingspan can stretch to 120 mm (over 4.5 inches) across. While the name seems unusual for an insect, it makes more sense when the feeding habit of its younger self is explored.
The larval Antlion is also called a Doodlebug. They are only able to walk backwards and, in doing so, create a trench as they go. They meander as they walk, creating doodles in the loose soil or sand. These child-like sketches are endearing, but they are also great tools for tracking the actual Antlion to its pit of death. Once the offspring has found a suitable location, it will build a cone-shaped crater in the loose sand or dirt where it will lie in wait for its next meal, much like a lioness. Larval antlions dig these burrows and then sit in them with their heads just below the surface. When a careless ant walks too close to the hole, it falls in, and the larval Antlion snatches it with its huge jaws. It stabs the ant with a straw-like mouth part that injects digestive enzymes into the ant. This chemical reaction allows the Antlion to suck all of the liquified internal parts out of the ant. This method of hunting will continue until the young Antlion develops into a winged adult. Fortunately for people, the mighty jaws of the young Antlion are too small to do any damage to human skin.
Adult Antlions drink nectar and eat pollen. They may also consume other insects. They are attracted to lights at night, like moths, but can be seen in the daytime resting on tree trunks or on the walls of buildings. They are weak fliers and are most active in spring and summer. They are considered beneficial to have around since they control ant populations, help pollinate flowers, and are no threat to humans.