Antlions are fascinating insects with a unique life cycle and hunting strategy. These creatures belong to the Myrmeleon species and are part of the Neuroptera order.
As larvae, antlions are known for constructing funnel-shaped pits to capture ants and other prey.
Antlion larvae, also called doodlebugs, create sandy pits by carefully excavating soil in a circular motion.
The pits serve as effective traps for unsuspecting insects and can be up to two inches in diameter and depth.
When prey, such as ants or other small insects, fall into the pit, the antlion larvae quickly capture them with their sickle-shaped jaws and devour them.
The adult stage of an antlion resembles a damselfly and has a comparatively short lifespan, lasting only about a month.
Interestingly, the two-toothed mandibled larvae of the Glenurus gratus antlion species live in tree holes, while the adults can be found flying in forested areas during summer months.
What are Antlions?
Antlions are small, predatory insects belonging to the family Myrmeleontidae and order Neuroptera. They are commonly found in arthropoda and insecta.
These creatures have two major life stages: larvae and adults. Let’s take a closer look at their characteristics:
They have an elongated body, four intricately veined wings mottled with browns and black, and clubbed or curved antennae about as long as the combined head and thorax2.
Difference between antlion larvae and adults
|Body Shape||Oval, plump & flattened||Elongated|
|Size||Small||Larger than larvae|
|Wings||None||4 veined wings|
|Antennae||None||Clubbed or curved|
Life Cycle of Antlions
- Larval stage: Larvae, often called doodlebugs, live just beneath small, conical pits they create in sandy or loose soil1. These pits help them hunt their prey, often ants1 and other small insects.
- Adult stage: Adult antlions only live for about a month or a little longer3. They nourish themselves with nectar and pollen3. Most of their lives are spent in larval stages, being voracious predators of ants and other small insects3.
Physical Characteristics and Behavior
Size and Appearance
|Aspect||Larval Antlion (Doodlebug)||Adult Antlion|
|Size||Plump, oval-shaped body||1.5-inch long|
|Unique Features||Sickle-shaped mandibles||Veined wings, clubbed antennae|
|Habitat||Sandy or loose soil||Eaves during the day, nocturnal|
|Feeding Habits||Ants and small insects in traps||Predators, capturing spiders|
|Life cycle stage||Predatory focus||Short, reproductive focus|
Digging and Trap-Making
Larval antlions create unique, funnel-shaped pits in sandy or loose soil to trap their prey, such as ants and other small insects 3.
They dig a pit by moving backward in a circle, using their abdomen to shift soil up and outward, often found in dry and sandy habitats 5.
Adult antlions, on the other hand, prefer to hide in eaves to capture prey like spiders 6.
The larval stage is primarily focused on feeding.
Doodlebugs camouflage at the bottom of their funnels, with only their mandibles protruding 7. Once prey falls into the trap, they swiftly grab it with their jaws and drag it below the soil to consume it.
Adult antlions are mostly nocturnal predators and have a shorter life span of about one month 8.
Are they beneficial or harmful?
Antlions are beneficial predators that help control populations of ants and other small insects.
However, they can become a nuisance if they inhabit areas where humans prefer not to have pits in the soil.
Reproduction and Development
Mating and Laying Eggs
Antlions undergo a life cycle that starts with mating. These insects tend to mate in the spring.
Once the male finds a female, they engage in copulation, after which the female lays her eggs1.
An adult antlion has a slender body resembling a damselfly, further characterized by:
- Elongated, mottled wings with intricate veins
- Antennae that are curved or clubbed
- Colors ranging from shades of brown to black
To lay her eggs safely, the female picks a suitable habitat consisting of sandy or loose soil and overhangs. These eggs are often hidden well, protected from observation and other wildlife2.
Larval Stage and Predatory Behavior
The larval stage is where most people recognize antlions, known as “doodlebugs.” These larvae are:
- Oval and plump
- Flattened with segmented abdomens
- Six-legged with dirt-colored, mottled bodies
- Equipped with large, sickle-like pincers on their heads4
Antlion larvae are cunning predators that prey on insects like crickets.
They dig funnel-shaped pits using their shovel-like heads to trap prey, which they then inject with venom and digestive enzymes3.
Here’s a comparison of antlion larvae and their prey:
|Feature||Antlion Larvae||Prey (e.g., Crickets)|
|Size||Small and oval||Larger than larvae|
|Movement||Sedentary, in pits||Agile, jumping|
|Hunting method||Trap building, pit||N/A|
|Defense mechanisms||Venom, pincers||Speed, jumping|
Adult Antlion Lifecycle
The adult antlion life cycle involves metamorphosis from larva to pupa and finally adult, similar to many other insects in the Animalia Arthropoda Insecta group.
As they transform into adults, their color and slender body becomes more evident5. Adult antlions are usually found in areas, such as Mexico and Florida, where sandy or loose soil habitats are abundant6.
Here are some key features of adult antlions:
- They are more fragile than their larvae stage
- Adults have a longer and slender frame
- The adult phase involves flying and mating
The life cycle of antlions is an interesting aspect of entomology and a fine example of the diverse adaptation and behavior observed in the insect world.
Antlion Coexistence with Other Species
Natural Predators and Prey
Antlions are fascinating insects that primarily feed on ants and other small arthropods. Some common prey for antlions include:
- Small insects
- Other arthropods
The antlion larvae, also known as doodlebug larvae, create pitfall traps to capture prey by ambush in a unique, clever way.
In terms of predators, antlions face threats from various creatures such as:
- Larger insects
Impact on Ecosystem
Antlions play a critical role in the ecosystem by:
- Controlling ant populations
- Maintaining balance in insect communities
Despite their hunting methods, it’s important to know that antlions are generally harmless to humans and other large creatures.
However, they might bite humans if threatened. Some reports reveal that their bites may cause radiating pain, although they rarely bite humans.
Comparison table between antlion and lacewing
|Primary Prey||Ants and small arthropods||Aphids and other small insects|
|Hunting Method||Pitfall traps (for larvae)||Ambush or active pursuit|
|Role in Ecosystem||Controls ant populations||Controls aphid populations|
|Relationship with Humans||Inspiration for literature||Beneficial for pest control|
Antlions look captivating with their unique hunting strategies and fascinating life cycle. The larvae, known as doodlebugs, construct funnel-shaped pits in sandy soil to effectively trap and consume ants and other small insects.
In their adult stage, antlions resemble delicate damselflies and mainly sustain themselves on nectar. Their important role in controlling insect populations emphasizes their significance in maintaining ecological balance.
Over the years, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – DOODLE BUGS
WHAT IS THE SCIENTIFIC NAME FOR THE DOODLE BUG?
The doodlebug is the larval form of the Antlion. The doodlebug digs a pit in the sand and waits for ants and other insects to fall into its waiting jaws.
The adults are winged. The scientific name of the Family is Myrmeleontidae. There are over 89 North American species, and a common one is Dendroleon obsoletum.
Letter 2 – Doodlebug
What might this be?
Location: North East Pennsylvania
January 10, 2011 7:24 pm
Came home today and our cats where playing with it. It you would think where the pinchers are at was the head…. but it walks in the opposite direction.
This is a Doodlebug, the larva of an Antlion. The reason it walks backwards is because the Doodlebug spends its larval life buried in sandy soil. It waits at the bottom of a conical pit with only its mandibles exposed.
Any insect that falls into the pit is quickly devoured. The big mystery for us is where your cats found this Doodlebug in the middle of the winter. Do you perhaps have a dirt floor in the basement?
Letter 3 – Doodlebug
whats this bug?
Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 4:17 PM
It lives in what looks like a place where water from an eve has fallen in the sand and made a little crater. when a bug falls in the crater it eats it. it looks like it has a long neck with pincher’s.
We always love posting images of Doodlebugs, the predatory larvae of Antlions. Doodlebugs dig a crater in loose sand and wait patiently buried in the bottom with only their impressive mandibles visible.
When a hapless ant or other insect approaches the edge of the pit, the sand crumbles away and the insect finds itself skewered on the Doodlebugs jaws.
Letter 4 – Doodlebug
Can’t find it anywhere . . .
I checked your archives and couldn’t find this bug. I don’t think it’s an adult. Perhaps it’s a larva of something easily recognizable when it’s full grow? The bug lives in my shed, in a light layer of dirt atop the concrete floor.
I first noticed it building a cone/trap. It would burrow in a circle, just under the surface and flip out the dirt with it’s head. It would continue to go round and round until it had excavated its trap and then bury itself at the bottom of the cone, sometimes with its head exposed, other times not.
The pictures were taken last June 2008 in Elkton, OR (SW Oregon, Douglas Cty). This first picture shows its trap – a shallow cone-shaped depression in the dirt. You can notice a pale, round object at the bottom of the cone. That’s the critter’s head.
Closer inspection of the head: Next time I looked, there were 3 cone-shaped depressions (there’s now 8), and in the bottom of one cone, I noticed this drama (don ‘t know what the prey is, either): Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and with a blade of grass, I dug out one of the cone builders: I put him back in his cone when I was done with him. Any idea what it and its prey are? Thanks,
PS – Great site and great service you provide. I take pictures of bugs every day, and you can be sure I’ll be back.
What a great photo of a Doodlebug, the larva of an Antlion. We would need additional time to identify the prey, but the upsidedown angle might make it difficult.
Update: September 1, 2014
Interestingly, we always refer to adult Antlions as just Antlions, and we refer to the larvae as Doodlebugs. The name Antlion is derived from the sophisticated hunting methods of the larvae, which dig a pit, waiting in the bottom with only the grasping, toothed mandibles showing.
The angle of the slope of the pit which is dug in sandy soil is so steep that any ants or other insects that get close will slide into the waiting jaws of the Antlion.
Letter 5 – Antlion from Australia
Location: Paynesville, Victoria, Australia.
January 29, 2013 4:30 am
A friend and i found this interesting bug and are unsure what it is… Please help!
Signature: Cheers, JJ Petho
This is an Antlion in the family Myrmeleontidae. Though it doesn’t appear to match the individuals pictured on the Brisbane Insect Website, that is a nice place to learn more about these fascinating creatures. The larvae are called Doodlebugs in North America.
Thanks for taking the time to get back to me, will most defiantly look into it more. Thanks again.
Letter 6 – Doodle Bug
“Dirt hole” bug
I found this bug in a dirt “hole” that the bug apparently created himself. I noticed him in the bottom of it because of a small termite that was trapped by the soft-dirt sides, and could not crawl out of the hole.
The bug was completely covered in the bottom of the hole, and only its pinchers would come out to try and grab the termite when it slid back down to the bottom. Just wondering what kind of bug it is.
I live in north Alabama, if that helps.
What a great photo of a Doodle Bug, the immature Ant Lion. As you observed, the larvae live at the bottom of a pit with only their formidable jaws exposed. There they wait patiently for ants or other insects to slip into their waiting mouths.
Letter 7 – Doodlebug
Help Identify This Bug For Us
Please help. We have about 20 of these bugs digging in the dirt right outside our front door. They are digging these funnel shaped holes in the dirt. I have enclosed a picture.
Please let me know if these bugs are dangerous to plants etc. Also, please note these bugs play dead when you capture them. If they are harmless that would be fine. We just want to make sure they are not a nuisance.
Thank you again,
Mark and Erika Blume
Hi Mark and Erika,
Nice photo of a Doodlebug, the immature Ant Lion. They are actually helpful if you have ant problems. The larva dig pits and wait at the bottom for ants to stumble into their waiting jaws.
Letter 8 – Doodlebug
I know this is probably a common bug that everyone on this planet apart from my partner and myself have seen but curious got the better of us and we can’t find it in the encyclopaedia (mainly because we don’t know where to start looking).
At first we thought maybe Ant lion, then cockroach, then alien larva from mars, then back to mutant crossbreeding of cockroach/ant lion. So I guess any help would be good
Thank you for sending in the photo of a Doodlebug. We have gotten several letters, but have not received a photo until yours. This is the larva of the Antlion, Family Myrmeleontidae.
Letter 9 – Doodlebug
My name is Bill and I live in Ringwood New Jersey which is the northern section of the state, my Daughter and I have noticed these cone shaped pits around the house. The top of the pits are about 1 1⁄2 inches and funnels down to a point.
Whenever an ant or any other bug gets caught in these pits they slide to the bottom and then they get ambushed by this bug and then dragged underground. This all happens in a split second. This picture was taken under a 15 power microscope.
The largest one is about the size of your pinky nail. Thank you and keep up the great work, your site is one of the best…
This is a Doodlebug, the larva of an Antlion. Your description is right on.
Letter 10 – Doodlebug
Location: Coronado National Memorial, Hereford, AZ
March 23, 2011 9:54 am
I spotted this bug yesterday while eating lunch. I am more of a plant guy so I am clueless.
Oak Woodland/desert grassland habitat. Decomposed granite soils.
This is sure a marvelous photograph of an Antlion Larva, commonly called a Doodlebug. They remain buried in the sand at the bottom of a pit with only the mandibles exposed. They prey upon any hapless insects that fall down the pit and into the waiting jaws.
Letter 11 – Doodlebug
Subject: Doodlebugs in Western WA?
Geographic location of the bug: Puyallup/Tacoma
Time: 11:18 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: We recently bought a new home and have found these numerous tiny divots all over the bark in the yard. I did some digging and found the culprit to be, what looks like, doodlebugs.
Yet, I read that they seem to live in warmer, sandier climates. Should I be surprised to have found these little guys here? Thanks!
How you want your letter signed: Shannon BH
This is indeed a larval Antlion or Doodlebug. Though they are frequently found in sandy soil, that is a generalization. According to BugGuide data, Antlions are found in all 48 continental United States.
Letter 12 – Doodlebug, AKA Ant Lion Larva
Subject: Never seen this bug before
Geographic location of the bug: Knoxville, TN
Time: 11:21 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I thought this bug looked cool and was trying to identify it! Found it on the bed in my house.
How you want your letter signed: Jessie
This is an Antlion larva, commonly called a Doodlebug. They are generally found at the bottom of a pit in sandy soil where they lie buried with only their impressive mandibles exposed, waiting for unsuspecting prey, often Ants, to fall into the pit right into the hungry Doodlebug’s waiting jaws.
Interestingly, we just posted an image of an unknown larva that the querent mistook for an Antlion larva.
Letter 13 – Doodlebug found in Home
Geographic location of the bug: Berkeley Heights, New Jersey
Time: 11:02 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I found this Bug in my towel in the bathroom
It looks scary, and I have a 2 year old and a 4 year old.. should I be concered
Thank you very much
How you want your letter signed: thank you
This looks to us like the larva of an Antlion, commonly called a Doodlebug. It poses no threat to your children, but it is a predator and it is possible a mild pinch might occur because of the prominent mandibles if one of your children tries to catch and hold the Doodlebug.
The big mystery for us is “why was it in your home in a towel in the middle of the winter?” Most Doodlebugs dig in sandy soil, waiting at the bottom of a pit for ants and other unwary insects to tumble into their open jaws.
Letter 14 – Doodlebug from Australia
Location: Queensland. Australia
August 3, 2010 5:10 pm
Hope this gets there okay. A wandering doodle bug (antlion). Poor ants, those jaws must be a nasty surprise when they fall in a pit trap.
Thanks for helping us to improve our submission form. Your Doodlebug photo is awesome.
Letter 15 – Doodlebug from The Bahamas
Subject: Underground bug
Location: Long island bahamas
September 3, 2016 12:28 pm
This bug was crawling under not on top of soil. What is this?
Signature: Doesn’t matter
Letter 16 – Doodlebugs
pic of bug
THis is the bug that I dug up from the dirt volcano reversed I wrote you about 2 days ago. It isn’t the best of pictures, but it looks like a weevile or beetle of some sort. Instead of antena’s it has pinchers.
When you shake them around they play dead, but with their pinchers open ready to bite. They are the size of a raisen. Any info would be helpful. Are they bad for my house?
You have Doodlebugs, the immature larva of the Ant Lion. The Doodlebug waits at the bottom of its burrow for ants to tumble in and then eats them. They will not harm you nor your home.
Thank you so much. I love your web site. What a great idea!!! I just found it a few days ago and I have been looking at it for days, and all the ugly bugs that people find. You’ve been very helpful and so quickly too.
Yesterday I did set the doodlebugs free and alive. I had hoped they were harmless. If not they would have met with Mr. Raid very quickly.