A Little Revenge on Ants

I hate ants. You know I hate ants. Everyone who has ever met me knows I hate ants. So how have I gone this long without talking about antlions?

This came to me the other day when a coworker approached me as I was crouched over a patch of sand, dry under the cover of an awning. I had a look of wicked glee on my face. He asked me what I was doing, and I pointed to several small, perfectly conical pits, each about the diameter of a silver dollar. “I’m feeding ants to antlions.”

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Y’know. As one does.

“Antlions? Isn’t that a monster from a video game?”

I logged that topic away for future conversation. “Yes,” I told him. But I was confused. Didn’t he play with these as a kid?

He had not. No one I have ever spoken to has. Yet somehow that information keeps surprising me. So buckle up: you’re about to hear about my one opportunity to give ants their comeuppance.

Antlions are the larval stage of Mermeleontidae, a Family of lacewings. Some people call them “doodlebugs.” The adults look kind of like little dragonflies or dobsonflies. They fly around at night with relatively weak wings and eat mostly pollen and are nothing special. But the larvae are something else—small, armored, armed, and fierce. They look like a lentil with a few bristly little legs, but on the business end is a massive pair of sickle-shaped jaws, full of poisonous grooves and able to snap shut like a bear trap.

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They’re not much to look at, and you can’t usually see them. Which is kind of the point.

The larvae are ambush predators and dig sand traps. Look anywhere dry, under cover, with a layer of soft sand. You’ll see the pits. The antlion makes a long, spiral excavation, continuously tossing out jawfuls of sand, until it has a stable pit that collapses at the slightest touch. Then it buries itself at the bottom, spreads its mandibles wide, and waits. Sometimes for years.

Should an ant stumble in (or, hypothetically, get tipped in by a vengeful human), it slides down the steep sides of the pit. Sometimes it scurries for its life, “treadmilling” on the loose substrate but it is no use. Finally, it ends up at the bottom whereupon a pair of enormous jaws erupt from the ground and snap shut in a flurry of dust, terror, and shattered chitin. Arthropoid legs flail and antenna twitch as the doomed ant fights for its life but is, eventually, pulled beneath the sand, never to emerge.

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Ha ha ha! Ah-HA ha ha!

Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes! Die, you filth! Death to all ants! Into the abyss! To the depths! Meet your fate at the bottom of the pit of doom! Whenever I see antlion pits I immediately look for ants to drop in. One time I caught a mosquito between my fingertips and sent it down. It was the greatest moment of my life.

Fuck ants.

 

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