Are Antlions Harmful? Uncovering the Truth About These Insects

The Reality of Antlions: Harmful or Harmless?

Antlions are fascinating insects known for their unique hunting method, trapping ants and other small creatures in cone-shaped pits.

While these hunters might seem intimidating, many people wonder if they are harmful to humans, pets, or the environment.

Adult antlions are often mistaken for damselflies, but they are harmless as well, mainly active during calm, late-summer sunsets, and evenings.

While they might be unsettling for some to encounter, understanding that antlions are not harmful can lead to a greater appreciation for these intriguing insects.

Do Antlions Have a Bite? Are They Harmful?

While Antlions possess the capability to bite humans, such instances typically occur when they perceive threats, feel cornered, or experience excessive stress.

Although their bites may cause a momentary stinging sensation, the discomfort usually subsides within a few minutes. It is worth noting that certain species of Antlions can, in rare cases, induce radiating pain.

However, it is important to highlight that Antlions are not known to be carriers of diseases, and despite their ability to bite, such occurrences are infrequent.

Antlions generally prefer loose, dry, sandy soil for their pits and thrive in areas protected from rain and wind, like sunny south-facing slopes or beneath eaves of houses.

Their primary prey are ants, and their presence can be considered beneficial for controlling ant populations.

Understanding Lifecycle and Orientation of Antlions

Lifecycle and Metamorphosis

Antlions are fascinating insects known for their unique predatory behavior and interesting life cycle. Let’s explore the lifecycle and metamorphosis of antlions:

Egg: The lifecycle of an antlion begins with the egg stage. Female antlions lay their eggs in sandy or loose soil, typically near a source of food.

The eggs are small, oval-shaped, and usually laid in clusters. The exact number of eggs laid can vary depending on the species.

Larval Stage: Once the eggs hatch, antlions enter the larval stage, which is the longest and most distinct stage of their life cycle.

Antlion larvae are commonly referred to as “doodlebugs” due to their peculiar, meandering trails left behind in the sand.

The larval stage is characterized by a specialized body shape and behavior. Antlion larvae have elongated, grub-like bodies with large, sickle-shaped jaws used for capturing prey.

They are primarily predators and feed on other small insects, such as ants, beetles, and even fellow antlion larvae.

Antlion Larva

The larval stage can last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on environmental conditions and food availability.

Pupal Stage: When the larva reaches a certain size and has gone through several molts, it enters the pupal stage. Antlion pupae are inactive and reside within a cocoon-like structure constructed from silk and sand particles.

This cocoon helps protect them during the pupal period, which is a transformative stage leading to adulthood.

Adult Stage: After a period of development within the pupal stage, the antlion emerges as an adult insect. Adult antlions resemble damselflies or dragonflies, with long, delicate wings, elongated bodies, and large compound eyes.

Antlions Belong to the Neuroptera Family

The Myrmeleontidae family, which belongs to the order Neuroptera, consists of over 2,000 antlion species.

  • Similarities: Both antlions and other members of Neuroptera share delicate, veined wings and undergo a complete metamorphosis during their lifecycle.

  • Differences: Antlion larvae have unique methods for catching prey, with conical pit traps setting them apart from other Neuroptera. Additionally, antlion adults have distinct wing patterns and body shapes.

FeatureAntlionsOther Neuroptera
Delicate, veined wings
Complete metamorphosis
Prey-catching methodsUniqueMore diverse methods
Wing patterns, body shapesDistinctVarying in other Neuroptera

Examples of other insects within the Neuroptera family include lacewings and owlflies, though they differ from antlions in terms of prey-catching methods, body structures, and ecological roles.

Antlions as Predators

Antlion larvae construct cone-shaped pits in loose sand or soil, which serve as traps for unsuspecting prey. They position themselves at the bottom of the pit, buried under the sand, with only their jaws visible.

When a potential meal, such as an ant, walks near the edge of the pit and disturbs the sand, the antlion larva quickly flicks the sand upward, creating a mini-avalanche that drags the prey down into its waiting jaws.

Feeding Mechanism

Antlions, also known as doodlebugs, are insects with unique feeding mechanism. Their larval stage has:

  • Flattened, soft-bodied appearance
  • Segmented abdomens
  • 6 legs
  • Large, sickle-like pincers, often with spines

These pincers are used to grasp and capture their prey, typically ants and other small insects.

Hunting Techniques

Antlion larvae are experts in creating cone-shaped pits, also called traps, in the soil or sand. These pits are:

  • Up to 2 inches in diameter and depth
  • Designed to capture ants and other small insects

As the larvae wait at the bottom of these pits, they use their powerful jaws, or mandibles, to grab their prey. When a victim falls into the pit, the antlion quickly injects venom through its mandibles to subdue it.

Example

A common prey species is the ant. When an unsuspecting ant enters the cone-shaped pit, it loses its footing and gets trapped by the soil or sand structure. Quickly, the antlion larva seizes the opportunity, grabbing the ant and injecting the venom.

Comparison Table

TraitAntlionsAnts
FeedingPredatoryScavengers
Hunting StyleSit-and-waitForaging
Trapping StyleCone-shaped pitNone

Beneficial Aspects of Antlions

Ecological Role

Antlions play an essential part in the ecosystem. They help maintain a balance in the insect population by preying on small insects, such as ants and other insects.

As larvae, antlions create unique conical pits in soft, dry soil. This activity not only helps aerate the soil but also provides a beneficial habitat for other insects.

Insect Control

Antlions are considered beneficial insects due to their predatory nature, feeding on various insects that could potentially harm plants and flowers. For example, they feed on:

  • Ants
  • Small beetles
  • Mites

These predatory insects also serve as food for other beneficial species like lacewings. Adult antlions have a diet consisting of pollen and nectar which aids in plant pollination.

Comparison of Antlions and Lacewings

FeaturesAntlionsLacewings
HabitatSoft, dry soilVarious habitats
PreyAnts, beetles, mitesAphids, mites, insect eggs
Adult food sourcePollen and nectarPollen, nectar, honeydew
Life cycleLarva, pupa, adultEgg, larva, pupa, adult
Beneficial aspectsInsect control, soil aerationInsect control, pollination

In conclusion, antlions play a crucial role in both the ecosystem and insect control. They contribute to maintaining a balance in the insect population, provide a suitable habitat, and support other beneficial insects in the process.

Physical Characteristics

Adult Antlions

  • Adult antlions are larger than their larvae and resemble drab damselflies
  • They have elongated bodies and four intricately veined wings mottled with browns and black

Adult antlions are physically distinct from larval stages. They are larger and resemble drab damselflies.

With elongated bodies, they sport four intricately veined wings mottled browns and black. These creatures have clubbed or curved antennae that are about as long as the combined head and thorax.

Antlion Larvae

  • Antlion larvae are oval, plump, and flattened with soft bodies
  • They possess segmented abdomens, bristles, and six legs

In contrast, antlion larvae have oval, plump, and flattened bodies that are segmented and typically dirt-colored. Their bodies are adorned with bristles and six legs.

Comparison Table

FeatureAdult AntlionsAntlion Larvae
SizeLargerSmaller
AppearanceResemble drab damselfliesOval, plump, and flattened dirt-colored bodies
WingsFour intricately veined wingsNone
AntennaeClubbed or curvedNone
Legs66

Antlion larvae reside in sandy soil across North America, where they can remain motionless or play dead as a means of survival. This characteristic allows them to avoid detection by predators, while in their natural habitat.

Interaction With Humans

As Pets

Antlions are mostly harmless, although they might occasionally bite. They can create a sense of curiosity for their unique hunting strategies, making them an interesting choice for a pet.

They prefer sandy areas when in their larval stage, so keeping them in a container with a sandy environment is ideal. Some of their main dietary needs include:

  • Fruit flies
  • Aphids

Although antlions might not be as popular or easy to care for as other pets, they provide a chance to observe the marvels of nature up close.

Research and Observations

Antlions have been subject to various research and observations as part of their ecological significance.

In a study published in Biology Letters, researchers found that antlions have unique relationships with other insects, such as the chalcid wasp (Lasiochalcidia igiliensis), which helps them survive and thrive.

When comparing antlions to another group of insects called owlflies, we can observe various differences:

CharacteristicAntlionsOwlflies
Larval habitatSandy areasOverhangs
Adult appearanceWinglessLong wingspans
Predation stylePit trapsAerial hunting

Antlions are also related to the Palpares genus, which can be differentiated by their unique wing venation patterns.

Environmental Impact

Although they might seem like a potential nuisance, antlions have very little negative impact on human activities. They help control populations of small insects in sandy areas, such as beaches or deserts.

They are considered an important part of the ecosystem and can even act as indicators of environmental health.

Conclusion

 Antlions are fascinating insects with unique hunting strategies and beneficial contributions to their ecosystems. They are not harmful to humans, pets, or the environment, although they might occasionally bite.

Understanding their physical characteristics, lifecycle, and interactions with other insects helps in gaining a deeper understanding of these remarkable creatures.

Readers’ Mail

Over the years, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about antlions. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Antlion: Glenurus gratus on the wrong coast??? NO: Glenuris luniger.

Trippy Dragonfly-Hemet, California
Hi Bugman!
I was searching initially for what was attacking my tomatoes…your site is wonderful and I will begin treatment after I send you this photo of a dragonfly I caught flying at night a few weeks ago.

It is SO beautiful, but my pix are not. ‘Twas hard to get a good one. When I released him after his photo shoot, he seemed to disappear!

The black and white markings seem to work well at night! What is he, and is he common to southern California?
Teresa
Hemet, California

Hi Teresa,
Your Antlion photo has us quite puzzled. This is a near perfect match to Glenurus gratis, an Antlion that BugGuide lists as ranging in: “Southeastern United States: New Jersey, Indiana, Missouri, south to Florida. ”

That leads us to three conclusions. The range for the species is grossly underestimated, or this is a west coast species or subspecies in the genus, or this is a rogue escapee somehow transported to the far reaches of Hemet California. We are contacting Eric Eaton to get his opinion.

Daniel:
The genus is correct, but depending on what resource you use, there is one or two species in the western U.S. So, it is a Glenurus, just not Glenurus gratus.

We could use these images over at Bugguide. John Oswald sometimes visits and can probably put a species on it eventually.
Eric

Hey Daniel,
I did as told (I think) and got the pix to Eric @ BugGuide. Thank YOU for the interest. It has given me and my family untold fun to be a part of this scientific adventure. You and yours rock!
Teresa

Ed. Note:  May 28, 2017
Thanks to Lionel who commented on this old posting that this is
Glenurus luniger.  The oldest BugGuide posting is from August 2008, and we did not notice it when we went live with this posting at that time.

Letter 2 – Antlion Larva or Owlfly Larva

Not your average South Carolina Doodle Bug!!!!
Hi Guys!
My 6 year old Daughter Laura has found what appears to be a gigantic ant lion larva! I didn’t have a scale to put next to it (I must get one for this purpose) but it was a little more than 3/4″ long and looked just like a typical “doodle bug” yet huge and with some additional frilliness around the edges .

She found it out in the open on the stone border of our backyard flower bed. We are located along the southern coast of South Carolina and have an unusually large assortment of backyard wildlife for our little bug lover to observe.

In the photo its on its back with its head bent toward its belly in an attempt to turn over… the legs did not extend outside the outline of the body and weren’t much good for turning over but they could grip very well even on smooth paper.

We photographed this critter and Laura carefully returned it to the spot where she found it. In 42 years of digging in the dirt I’ve never seen an ant lion larva so large.

After looking all thru your site, we saw the more typical ant lion larva and the super sized adult ant lions, but nothing in the larva department which seemed this large.

Also, thank you for your diligent detective work several years back when you identified my very scary looking, yet ultimately harmless, male Southern Crevice spider.

Your site has provided many educational opportunities for Laura and she was thrilled (with a little help from Daddy) to identify an assassin bug she found a few weeks ago!

Since the Crevice spider ID, just about all spiders and other critters have been carefully escorted out of the house under Laura’s careful supervision. No unnecessary carnage here! best regards,
Kert , Liz and Laura Huggins

Dear Kert, Liz and Laura,
We suspect that you have been finding younger Doodlebugs in the garden and this specimen may be getting ready to pupate. We found a photo on BugGuide with a ruler that approximates the size of your Antlion Larva.

Possible Correction: (05/14/2008) WTB correction
Daniel:
I have a minor potential correction, sorry: The “doodlebug” may be something even more exciting. While it could be the larva of one of the giant antlions like Glenurus gratus, it is more likely the larva of a related insect, an owlfly (family Ascalaphidae).

Instead of making pits like some antlion larvae, the larvae of owlflies lie in ambush just under the surface of the soil, or even out in the open on foliage. Neat find!
Eric

Letter 3 – Spottedwinged Antlion

Lacey-wing insect to be identified
I found this beauty (see pic below) clinging to my kitchen curtain, and have never seen one like this, in my 36 years of living in this location (northwest Mississippi ). It appears similar to some pictures of fishflies on your site, but not exactly.

As shown by the picture, it has no mandibles so it is not a dobsonfly, either. It has been clinging there since early this morning, and it is now midnight . There was no reaction when I was taking pictures or when I moved the curtain slightly to hold a ruler within a couple of inches of its body.

Perhaps it is waiting for a mate to come along? Our outside mid-day temperatures have been hovering on both sides of the 100 degree mark for the past couple of weeks.

Perhaps it was attracted to the cooler air from inside the house, when we had the door open? Length of body & head is approximately one inch.

Total length, antennae to tip of wings, approximately 11⁄2 inch – 1 3⁄4 inch. The thorax is very slender. Can you tell me “what’s that bug”? Thanks so much for a great website!
Pat G.
Byhalia , Mississippi

Hi Pat,
This is an Antlion, probably in the Spottedwinged Antlion, Dendroleon obsoletus.

Letter 4 – Antlion Primping in the Mirror: Potential Calendar image for 2011

Clear wing wasp?
June 10, 2010
I was told by an Ag Agent that this is a clear wing wasp, but didn’t see any like it on your site.
This came in through a window one night in August, I had never seen anything like it so snapped a couple of pics. I livein middle TN on the Highland Rim.

I thought it was a dragon fly until I saw the wing arrangement- they were not perpindicular to the body, rather in a “v” shape away from the body when extended, and ran the length of the body when folded.

The photo doesn’t do justice to the beautiful blue shimmer on the wing tips, they actually appear kind of pink in the photo.
Any idea what this was?
PS: Awesome site!
Teresa in Cookeville
Cookeville, TN

Antlion in the Mirror

Wow Theresa,
This narcissist is an Antlion, Glenurus gratus, and it appears to be admiring the distinctive markings on its wings.
If we were half this good looking as this Antlion, we would primp in front of the mirror all day. Antlions are Neuropterans and they are related to Lacewings and Owlflies. This photo is absolutely gorgeous. 

We took the liberty of correcting the color balance by eliminating the yellow glare of the incandescent lightbulbs.  That has enhanced the pink coloration on the wing tips.  We are going to run your photo as teaser for a possible 2011 wall calendar. 

We are trying to ascertain the interest of our readership before we begin designing the calendar.  We hope you would consider allowing us to use this image if we decide to produce a calendar.

An Antlion!  At last, an answer!
He really did appear to be admiring himself in the mirror- I thought perhaps he had newly acquired his wings because he was flexing them down, then up as if to dry them, but now that you mention admiring himself I think he was.

You’ll be glad to know he was released unharmed.
Feel free to use the pic for your calendar- he was a beauty.

Thank you Theresa.  It is still too early for us to determine if there will be a 2011 Calendar since putting it together will be considerable additional work.  Keep checking back with our website for updates, especially closer to the end of the year.
Daniel

Letter 5 – Antlion: WTB?’s response triggers doubt

Large flying insect
Location: Eglin AFB, FL
September 16, 2011 8:02 pm
I’ve never seen an insect like this. My second graders would like to know what it is.
Signature: insect identified

Antlion

Antlion.

Ed. Note:  Our staff tries to respond to as many requests as possible, and many are never published live to our site.  Occasionally our response is a concise identification, like our response above.  Sometimes that results in additional dialog.

The insect I saw was about 4 inches long. It was as big as a dragonfly.  The antlion is smaller than what I saw.  Thank you for your thoughts.  See attached photo.

Perhaps we should have supplied you with a link, but time does not always allow us the luxury of research for every response.  We properly identified your insect as an Antlion.  Further research leads us to believe it is Vella americana and you may verify our identification by comparing your photo to this posting on BugGuide.

Thank you your were a great help.
—Lucy

Letter 6 – Antlion: Glenurus gratus

Subject: Gorgeous(!) Pink Lacewing(?)
Location: Goose Creek, SC, USA
August 11, 2012 5:56 pm
This beautiful creature flew into my shed and hung out with us for several hours. After I rescued her(?) from being stuck to the back of the fan she rewarded me by posing for a few shots. My neighbor says she’s a damselfly.

I am thinking lacewing. But PINK? She was so shiny and reflective. Is she a mutant? Thanks for your help. Last I saw, she was chilling on the velvet Last Supper painting. She can stay as long as she likes.
Signature: Kerry Bateman

Antlion: Glenurus gratus

Hi Kerry,
This is actually an Antlion and they are closely related to Lacewings as both are in the insect order Neuroptera.  Your Antlion is
Glenurus gratus, but sadly it has no common name.  “Gratus” does mean pleasing in Latin according to BugGuide.

Letter 7 – Possibly Antlion Larva from India

Subject: Bug id
Location: Murbad, Maharashtra, India
August 16, 2012 10:24 am
Recent visit got 2 amazing sighting. This one looks like a human face mask. The insect did not move what with all the camera movement about. Looks surreal.
Signature: Ru

Probably Antlion Larva

Dear Ru,
This appears to us to be the larva of an Antlion.  Most North American species have larvae that lie buried in the sand at the bottom of a pit where they wait for ants or other small insects to fall into their waiting jaws.  They are commonly called Doodlebugs. 

We understand that some tropical species are free living and do not lie in wait buried in the sand.  If this is not an Antlion larva, then we suspect it is the larva of some other member of the insect order Neuroptera.  We will be away from the office for the weekend, so we are postdating this submission to go live on Saturday during our absence.

Letter 8 – Neuropteran Larva, most likely an Antlion from Australia

Subject: Bug in bed
Location: Wallsend NSW Australia
November 27, 2012 4:58 am
Hi,
My daughter found this bug in her bed.
We live in Wallsend NSW Australia and back onto bush. We have never seen this bug before.
Found yesterday (26/11/2012) unfortunately now deceased.
Signature: Kerrie

Neuropteran Larva

Hi Kerry,
This is the larva of a Neuropteran, most likely an Antlion.  It doesn’t quite match this Owlfly larva from the Brisbane Insect Website.

Letter 9 – Antlion: Glenurus gratus

Subject: Insect ID
Location: Lakeland, Florida
June 21, 2013 6:09 am
Hello-
Saw this cool looking insect on my house last night while walking one of my dogs. I snapped a shot with my cell phone. Very interesting and beautiful insect. I thought it might be of the Damselfly family?
What do you think?
Thanks,
John
Signature: John

Antlion:  Glenurus gratus

Antlion: Glenurus gratus

Dear John,
It is easy to see why you confused this Antlion with a Damselfly.  This is Glenurus gratus, and it is arguably the loveliest Antlion in North America.  It is unfortunate that is has no specific common name.  See BugGuide for additional information.

Thanks so much Daniel for the quick response. It is a very beautiful insect. I hope I see it again sometime.
Appreciate it,
John

Letter 10 – Antlion: Glenurus gratus

Subject: Long flying insect
Location: Central Florida
August 19, 2013 8:41 pm
This 2 inch long flying insect was parked on a shady concrete surface in a humid and hot Central Florida climate. I have never seen it before and curious what it is. Thanks.
Signature: N/A

Antlion:  Glenurus gratus

Antlion: Glenurus gratus

Dear N/A,
This lovely Antlion does not have a common name, but its scientific name is
Glenurus gratus.

Letter 11 – Tree Hole Antlion from South Africa

Subject: Damselfly
Location: Durban_South Africa
February 10, 2014 10:18 pm
Hi
This damselfly? was spotted early in the morning on 10th April 2014 in Durban, South Africa. Mid summer.
I have never seen one like this before. At fist I thought it was a moth or butterfly because of the shape of the wings. Total length about 60mm.
Input appreciated.
Regards
Roland
Signature: Roland

Antlion

Tree Hole Antlion

Dear Roland,
This is not a Damselfly, but rather an Antlion in the family Myrmeleontidae and in the Nerve Winged Insect order Neuroptera, which also includes Lacewings and Owlflies.  We thought this would be an easy Antlion to identify, because of the large, unusual wings. 

We thought we were off to a good lead when we located this image on Beetles in the Bush of an individual in the genus Palpares, but all the examples from that genus have rounded tips on the wings, while your Antlion has pointed tips. 

Though it is strictly North American species, we turned to BugGuide for some help, and we noticed that the general in the tribe Nemoleontini on BugGuide, including Glenurus gratus, have pointed wings.  Alas, The Antlions of South Africa lists many species and genera, but does not have photos of the individuals.  It is merely a checklist. 

Continued efforts on our part led to the Field Guide to Insects of South Africa and a photo of a Tree Hole Antlion in the genus Cymothales that has similar pointed wings, and it is described as being:  “small (wingspan 56mm), delicately built, with very long thin legs, and highly iridescent wings intricately patterned in shades of brown and ending in an elegant hooked tip. 

Biology:  Larvae live in detritus in tree holes or in fine sand on rock ledges below overhangs.  Habitat:  Restricted to the region, especially arid areas.”  A photo on Project Noah shows striking similarities.

Letter 12 – Antlion Larva

Subject: strange bug
Location: Frederick, MD
May 27, 2014 12:25 am
This big looks like a cross between a stink bug and a potato bug. It’s about the size of a stink bug, and was found in Frederick, MD.
Signature: MARIANNE

Antlion Larva

Antlion Larva

Dear Marianne,
This is the larva of an Antlion, or perhaps of some other Neuropteran, like an Owlfly.  Most Antlion Larvae are sedentary hunters that dig a pit in sandy soil, waiting at the bottom for any prey, ant or otherwise, that stumbles into the pit, falling into the ready mandibles. 

Those Antlion Larvae are frequently called Doodlebugs.  Some species of Antlions might have more mobile larvae that hunt.  Your inquiry did not clarify where the larva was found.  Here is a similar looking Antlion Larva that is pictured on BugGuide.

Letter 13 – Possibly Antlion Larva from Namibia

Subject: Insect in Namibia
Location: Namibia
February 1, 2015 4:14 am
This insect was in the namib desert in Namibia :
https://goo.gl/maps/2OQMc
Thanks for your research !
Signature: A traveler

Antlion Larva we believe

Antlion Larva we believe

Dear A traveler,
According to our mailbox, we received at least 8 identification requests from you in rapid succession, and while we appreciate your enthusiasm at getting your critters identified, there is a dearth of information regarding the sightings except to indicate the country of Namibia and GPS coordinates. 

We would love to have details about this desert sighting.  For example, did it wander into your tent, was it found lurking around your food, or was it dug up from the bottom of a pit it dug in the sand?  We believe this might be the larva of an Antlion, called a Doodlebug in North America, but there is not enough detail in your image to be certain.  In the future, please try to provide us with valuable information on the sightings.

Letter 14 – Spotted Winged Antlion

Subject: Bug identification
Location: Central Virginia, United States
October 3, 2015 4:19 pm
This bug was found in Central Virginia at Michie Tavern. It was found late September. Unfortunately it was found dead.
Signature: Walker Catlett

Antlion

Spotted Winged Antlion

Dear Walker,
This elegant creature is an Antlion, a member of the family Myrmeleontidae.  Based on images posted to BugGuide, we believe it is a Spotted Winged Antlion,
 Dendroleon obsoletus.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults often come to lights; larvae live in dry tree holes and are seldom found.”

Letter 15 – Antlion Larva from Australia

Subject: What on earth is this
Location: Perth western australia
December 10, 2015 9:04 am
I found this on my back porch and ive never seen it before
Signature: E. Broughton

Antlion Larva

Antlion Larva

Dear E.,
This is some species of Neuropteran larva, and we believe it is an Antlion larva in the family Myrmeleontidae.  There isn’t a great website for Western Australian insects, but the Brisbane Insect site has many species of Antlions represented and some of those may also be found in Western Australia.  We will be postdating your submission to go live during our holiday absence.

Letter 16 – Spotted-Winged Antlion

Subject: Scorpion fly female?
Location: South central Virginia
August 2, 2016 6:35 pm
Hi, I took a photo of this pretty insect and was trying to identify it. I think it might be a scorpion fly female. I’m in south central Virginia. Thank you!
Signature: Nina Eagle

Spotted-Winged Antlion

Spotted-Winged Antlion

Dear Nina,
This is not a Scorpionfly, but we do acknowledge some visual similarities between Scorpionflies and this Spotted-Winged Antlion,
Dendroleon obsoletus, which we identified on BugGuide where they are described as”Large, with black circular spots on wings–distinctive in much of range. Antennae slightly clubbed, with pointed tips, often (or always?) pinkish in the middle (based on photos in the guide).” 

The pink in the antennae is especially prominent in your lovely image.  Antlions are classified along with Lacewings, Mantispids and Owlflies in the order Neuroptera, the Net Winged Insects.  Discover Life indicates the common name for the order as “‘nerve-wings’ or ‘nerve-winged insects'”, the name we have always preferred.  P.S.  If you click on the thumbnails in our links, you will get a new window with an enlarged image.

Letter 17 – Spotted Winged Antlion

Subject: What is this bug?
Location: Central Indiana, USA
August 19, 2016 7:45 am
This guy or gal was hanging out on my porch last night. The picture doesn’t give much indication of scale for size, but I would say it was about the length of a half dollar. I’m in central Indiana where we are into late summer. Thank you for any help in identifying!!!
Signature: R. Morris

Spotted Winged Antlion

Spotted Winged Antlion

Dear R. Morris,
This is a Spotted Winged Antlion,
Dendroleon obsoletus, and according to BugGuide:  “Large, with black circular spots on wings–distinctive in much of range. Antennae slightly clubbed, with pointed tips, often (or always?) pinkish in the middle.”

Letter 18 – Antlion Larva

Subject: ID this!
Location: Johns River, Australia
September 12, 2016 2:11 am
Found on the Mid North Coast, Australia. Just came into Spring on a sink with water.
Sorry for the low quality pics
I look forward to your reply!
Regards,
Signature: Tom Galati

Antlion Larva

Antlion Larva

Dear Tom,
This is the larva of a Neuropteran, probably an Antlion, which you can verify by comparing your individual to this image on The Brisbane Insect website.  In North America, Antlion larvae are known as Doodlebugs.

Oh thank you so much for the reply!
Couldn’t ID it myself yay
Regards,
Tom

Letter 19 – Antlion from South Africa

Subject:  Dragonfly or Moth?
Geographic location of the bug:  Dolphin Coast South Africa
Date: 01/18/2018
Time: 05:22 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi Bugman,
This bug flew into our 1st-floor apartment last night. When flying it looks like a dragonfly. Up close it resembles a moth as it is hairy. 

The wingspan is around 20 cm or 7 inches from tip to tip so it is quite large. If it is a type of dragonfly then it is by far the largest I have ever seen and we get some pretty big dragonflies here.

The head resembles a bumble bee and has what looks like a beak.  It stayed the night and then flew out this morning.
How you want your letter signed:  Terry

Antlion: Palpares speciosus

Dear Terry,
This is an Antlion and we found this image on FlickR of
Palpares speciosus that looks very similar to your individual.  Wikimedia Commons also has an excellent image identified as the same species and Minden Pictures has a gorgeous image by entomologist Piotr Naskrecki that is identified only by the genus.

Antlion: Palpares speciosus

Hi,
I know the larvae stage of this insect very well. I don’t think I have ever seen the adult form or perhaps have just mistaken it for a dragonfly.
It’s amazing how big they can get. Thank you so much for answering my question.
Kind Regards,
-Terry

Letter 20 – Antlion: Glenurus gratus

Subject:  Metallica meets dragonfly or damselfly?
Geographic location of the bug:  Shenandoah Valley VA
Date: 08/09/2019
Time: 10:01 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello. I cannot Google up other photos to help me identify this insect with the body of a dragonfly but wings that fold back. The wings start clear but then end with a bold black and white pattern.
How you want your letter signed:  C in VA

Antlion: Glenurus gratus

Dear C in VA,
Your subject line really caught our attention.  This gorgeous Antlion is
Glenurus gratus, which you can verify on BugGuide.

It’s an ant lion really?! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given how many “doodlebug” pits there are in the dirt floor of the shed and barn at this property we visited. I’ve just never had the fortune to see an adult. How lucky I am to have had this brief encounter. He? She? is an elegantly gorgeous insect. Thanks for lending me your expertise.

Hi again C in VA,
While you are correct that the larvae of Antlions are commonly called Doodlebugs, and that many Doodlebugs lie in the bottom of sandy pits with only their mandibles exposed waiting for luckless insects to fall in, of
Glenurus gratus according to BugGuide:  “Larvae found in tree holes among sawdust and in burrows of Gopher Tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

8 thoughts on “Are Antlions Harmful? Uncovering the Truth About These Insects”

  1. I believe this is an Owlfly larva. Wikipedia mentioned that the larvae dwell on the ground or in vegetation. So far all the owlfly larvae here in Sabah I found are on tree barks.

    Reply
  2. I have a very similar ant lion (I am a collector) that I found in Thyolo, Malawi.
    Same colour, build, wing shape (with pointed/hooked tips – particularly hind wings) as that pictured above.
    I have seen individuals from the Palpares genus in the area but this is certainly different; I also came to tree-hole ant lion using the ‘Field Guide to Insects of South Africa’ but the individual I collected has a wingspan more like 80mm.
    After trawling the internet I came across this: http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/entomology/entomology_resources/Faunal_Projects/EPHP/htm/Cymothales%20bouvieri.htm
    The individual I have looks EXACTLY like this – with slightly more exaggerated hooks on the hind wings. I can’t find much on the current distribution though.

    Reply
  3. I have a very similar ant lion (I am a collector) that I found in Thyolo, Malawi.
    Same colour, build, wing shape (with pointed/hooked tips – particularly hind wings) as that pictured above.
    I have seen individuals from the Palpares genus in the area but this is certainly different; I also came to tree-hole ant lion using the ‘Field Guide to Insects of South Africa’ but the individual I collected has a wingspan more like 80mm.
    After trawling the internet I came across this: http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/entomology/entomology_resources/Faunal_Projects/EPHP/htm/Cymothales%20bouvieri.htm
    The individual I have looks EXACTLY like this – with slightly more exaggerated hooks on the hind wings. I can’t find much on the current distribution though.

    Reply

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