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Ant Lion

( Originally Published Ealry 1900's )



Mr. Maynard worked on his mother's farm, studied nature from his earliest youth, and by his hard work and investigations has become recognized as one of the leading Naturalists of New England. Birds and Butterflies have largely occupied his attention, but he has added to our stock of knowledge of Shells and Sponges also. He is the author of " The Naturalist's Guide " and many other valuable books.

THE ant-lion is not a formidable creature, being one of the insects which by its skill is able to make a reasonably good living on ants and other small fry that come to its net, the net being a neatly excavated pit. What is known of the ant-lion is usually stated at less than a page and experience has shown that the text-books have errors that they might correct.

A number of little pits in the sand in Florida seemed to be deserted, but on dropping a bit of twig into one of them I found that there was a creature there that reached out and seized it. Near my summer home on Cape Cod I found the same kind of pits, and there I began the study of the insect and returning to Newton I brought some fifty which were homed in a sand-garden protected by netting.

The ant-lion is the grub or larva of one of the lace-winged flies and in this state of existence is a hairy insect. The hairs and the legs point forward, which seemed an anomaly until it was found that the creature always moves backward. If held in the hand this little " bug " exerted a surprising strength and could escape quite readily from the hand through the gap which the little finger leaves when closed against the palm. The ant-lion is armed with formidable jaws, but it does not bite. It has no indication of wings and it has no mouth. There is no aperture at all that in any way corresponds to the mouth of other insects or other creatures. After considerable investigation in which dissection had its part, it was found that the jaws or horns are hollow, and have holes near the tip. These horns are plunged into the ant or other creature and the juices are extracted by a curious kind of pump operating within the jaws. The creature, therefore, while seemingly inactive is all the time vigorously sucking the nutriment from its prey.

The ant-lion excavates a pit in the loose sand which is perhaps a couple of inches in diameter, the sides sloping at an angle of forty-five degrees, and the ant, step-ping on the loose slopes slips down away. The ant-lion is always somewhere near at hand. He does not always stay at the bottom of the pit as has usually been asserted, but sometimes wanders about through- the loose sand. When the ant makes his misstep, it gives the alarm to the ant-lion and he hurries at once to the bottom of the pit. His progress has repeatedly been noted by watching the movements of the surface sand, and in this subway course it is able to make nearly as good progress as if on the surface. If the ant has not fallen to the bottom of the slope, the lion throws at him or. above him grains of sand, which start him down again, and when once within the reach of the ant-lion, the jaws reach forth and he disappears beneath the surface of the sand. The lion, when away from his pit, has repeatedly been seen wandering about under the sand, to reach up and seize an ant or other insect which was walking over the surface in just the same manner as it does when at the bottom of the pit. The food of the ant-lion is not exclusively ants, but it was found that scarcely any small insect came amiss to them when they were hungry, small locusts, bugs, beetles, flies and even small caterpillars were dragged down beneath the sand and their fluid contents eaten.

From the curious way in which the lace flies, which are the adults, are prevalent during one season with a scarcity of them for a number of years I incline to the opinion that they do not change every year, but may pass a number of years in the larval state before making their cocoons. The flies are as different from the larve as is possible: they have their legs developed normally and walk and fly forwards, and are nocturnal, while the ant-lions themselves like the sunlight and sleep at night like well-ordered creatures.



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