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Miracles of Weird: The Antlion

Genus: Myrmeleon

Range: Arid, sandy locals across the world

Weird Feature(s): Super mandibles, death pits

Of all the Star Wars monsters, the sarlacc is probably the last thing we would want an earthly equivalent of, but the larval phase of the antlion is close enough (minus the tentacles). Being a few thousand times its size, us humans are not in danger. Ants, on the other hand, are seriously screwed should they trip into the death pits antlions build for them.

When the antlion has found a suitably sandy spot, it begins to circle around backwards and uses its massive mandibles to fling sand skyward. Once it has made a concave cone 2-inches across and deep, it wriggles its entire body into the base of the pit, leaving only its jaws exposed. When an unfortunate ant (or similarly sized bug) slips into the pit, it tumbles down into the hungry jaws of the antlion. And once the antlion has a bug in its grip, hollow mandibles inject venom into the victim, making it more digestible.

If a bug does somehow manage to avoid the jaws and try to clamber up the sides of the pit, the antlion will fling sand above it, making it virtually impossible for the bug to gain footing. Flinging sand is the antlion’s equivalent of sending tentacles at Lando Calrissian.

“Antlion” is a properly intimidating name for these creatures, but their alternate name, “doodlebug,” is not. That name comes from the winding trails the animals leave in the sand as they are scouting out spots for their next death pit. When antlions scuttle about, whole areas can wind up looking like zen gardens.

The antlion’s beastly behavior only represents one stage of this critter’s life. After a period of bug trapping, the antlion buries itself in a sandy cocoon for a month and then emerges as a long-bodied fly.

HT: Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, Calodema

PHOTOS: Antlion1 by Jonathan Numer

VIDEO: Monster Bug Wars – Trap-Jaw vs. Antlion by The Science Channel

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  1. Illusion-XIII says:

    I love the “Miracles of the Weird” segments.  I suppose it’s a futile request, but if possible, it would be great if you could find video of these different creatures that doesn’t feel the need to add in phony sound effects to “enhance” the drama.  These creatures are fascinating in their own right, and hearing these fake monster noises dubbed in is really annoying.  They’re obviously put in there to “dumb it down” for television audiences (whom they assume don’t have the attention span to watch something without an action soundtrack and crazy sound effects to tell them that it’s dramatic), but the Nerdist crowd is a cut above that.  Let’s stay away from the cheap, overproduced, mainstream crud (if possible. I know you guys have to take time to find this stuff).

  2. Cyrus says:

    The noises the insects are making…

  3. Jake Hawken says:

    Surprisingly, not a single reference to Half-Life in this entire post.