What Eats Antlions? Mystery Unveiled

Antlions, often recognized by their distinctive sand traps, are a marvel of the insect world, showcasing nature’s predatory design. 

Yet, even these adept hunters have their own adversaries in the ecosystem. 

In this article, we’ll uncover the various creatures that have antlions on their menu. 

Additionally, for those who encounter these insects in their gardens or homes, we’ll explore eco-friendly strategies to manage their presence. 

Dive in to understand the delicate balance between antlions, their predators, and our shared environment.

What Eats Antlions
Antlion

Are Antlions Dangerous?

While antlion larvae possess sharp mandibles designed for capturing prey, they are known to bite humans only rarely

Their primary focus is on smaller insects like ants, beetles, and other ground dwelling creatures.

Can They Be a Nuisance?

Yes, for avid gardeners, the conical pits of antlion larvae might be seen as a disturbance, especially if they are numerous.

In areas with sandy soil, antlions might be found near homes, patios, or under raised foundations. 

Their presence, while not harmful, might be unsettling for some homeowners.

Again, antlions do not discriminate when it comes to their prey. Beneficial insects, like pollinators, could fall victim to their traps.

What Eats Antlions?

Given their nuisance value and the way they affect homes, many people would like to know how to get rid of antlions.

One of the easiest and most natural ways to get rid of antlions is by attracting predators of these bugs.

Let’s discuss the main predators of antlions in the sections that follow.

Bird Predators

Birds, with their keen eyesight and diverse diet, often feed on antlions, helping regulate their numbers in various habitats.

Here are some species that are particularly fond of antlions.

  • Sparrows: Common ground-feeders, they often spot and consume antlions.
  • Warblers: These insectivores might pick off antlions from sandy areas.
  • Flycatchers: With their agile flight, they can snatch adult antlions mid-air.

Attracting birds by keeping birdfeeders in the garden can be an easy way to get rid of antlions.

Doodlebug

Spider Predators

Spiders, especially ground-dwelling species, often come across antlion larvae and can capture them, thereby helping in controlling their numbers in certain areas.

Here are a few species that are often interested in an antlion meal:

  • Wolf Spiders: Active hunters, they roam the ground and can easily spot and consume antlion larvae.
  • Jumping Spiders: With their keen vision and agile movements, they can target both larvae and adult antlions.
  • Ground Spiders: These spiders, which often reside in similar sandy habitats as antlions, might come across and prey on them.

Insect Predators

Larger insects often target antlions, especially during their vulnerable larval stage, helping to naturally regulate their populations.

Here are some insects that commonly attack antlion larvae pits.

  • Beetles: Certain ground beetles, with their sturdy mandibles, can capture and feed on antlion larvae.
  • Predatory Bugs: Assassin bugs and other predatory true bugs might target antlions as a food source.
  • Larger Ants: Some bigger ant species, when in groups, can overpower and consume antlion larvae.
  • Scorpions: Researchers have found that three species of scorpions in the desert regions are also predators of antlions

Amphibian Predators

Amphibians, especially those that thrive in areas overlapping with antlion habitats, can consume these insects, aiding in balancing their populations.

  • Frogs: Many frog species, with their quick reflexes and sticky tongues, can snatch up antlion larvae or even adults when they come across them.
  • Toads: Ground-dwelling toads, often found in sandy or loamy soils, might encounter and consume antlion larvae during their nocturnal hunts.

Antlion Defense Mechanisms

Even as predators themselves, antlions have evolved various strategies to defend against their own set of predators. 

Camouflage

Both larvae and adult antlions possess colorations that blend seamlessly with their surroundings. 

This natural camouflage helps them remain undetected, reducing the chances of being preyed upon.

Pit Construction

For the larvae, the conical pits they dig serve a dual purpose. While they act as traps for their prey, they also provide a hiding spot.

Antlion Larva

Rapid Burrowing

If threatened, antlion larvae can quickly burrow into the sand or soil, disappearing from sight and evading capture.

Flight

Adult antlions, equipped with delicate wings, have the advantage of flight. This allows them to swiftly escape ground-based threats.

Mimicry (in some species)

Certain antlion species might resemble other, more dangerous insects, deterring potential predators from approaching.

Alternative Methods to Control Antlion Populations

While predators play a natural role in controlling antlion populations, homeowners and gardeners might seek alternative, non-predatory methods to manage or reduce their presence in specific areas. 

Here are some effective and non-harmful strategies:

Habitat Modifications

Moisture: Antlion larvae prefer dry, sandy soils to create their pits. Regularly watering sandy areas can deter them from setting up traps.

Soil Alteration: Mixing the sandy soil with compost or mulch can make it less suitable for antlions to create their pits.

Natural Repellents

Diatomaceous Earth: Sprinkling food-grade diatomaceous earth can deter antlions. It’s a natural and safe powder that can be disruptive to many insects without harming plants or pets.

Citrus Peels: Some gardeners believe that the scent of citrus peels can repel antlions. Scatter fresh peels in areas where antlion activity is high.

Physical Barriers

Mesh or Netting: Placing a fine mesh or netting over sandy areas can prevent adult antlions from laying eggs in the soil.

Landscaping Fabric: This can be laid beneath the top layer of soil or sand, making it difficult for larvae to create their pits.

What Eats Antlions
Antlion

Relocation

If you find antlion pits and wish to relocate them, gently scoop up the larvae and move them to a more suitable location away from your garden or home.

By employing these methods, homeowners and gardeners can effectively manage antlion populations without resorting to harmful chemicals or practices, ensuring a balanced and eco-friendly approach.

What Do Antlions Eat?

The predatory nature of antlions comes out during their larval stage. 

The antlion begins its life as a larva, often referred to as a “doodlebug.” These bugs are renowned for making conical pits in sandy terrain. 

These pits serve as traps for unsuspecting prey. The steep, loose walls of the pit make it difficult for prey to escape once they’ve fallen in.

These pits allow the antlion to remain concealed and expend minimal energy while waiting for prey to stumble into their trap.

Do Antlions Eat Only Ants?

While their name suggests a preference for ants, antlions are not exclusive in their tastes. Ants, due to their abundance and ground activity, are frequent victims. 

However, the antlion’s diet also includes other small insects like beetles, spiders, and various arthropods.

How Antlions Eat

  • Once prey falls into the pit, the antlion larva uses its mandibles to grasp the insect securely.
  • The larva then injects its prey with digestive enzymes. These enzymes break down and liquefy the soft tissues of the captured insect.
  • After the internal contents are liquefied, the antlion sucks out the nutritious liquid, leaving behind the exoskeleton of its prey.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do antlions have predators?

Yes, antlions do have predators. Despite their own predatory nature, especially during their larval stage, antlions are not exempt from the food chain. Some of their predators include:
Birds: Many bird species, especially those that feed on insects, will readily consume antlions when they come across them.
Spiders: Various spider species, particularly ground-dwelling ones, can capture and feed on antlion larvae.
Larger Insects: Certain beetles and other predatory insects might prey on antlion larvae or adults.
Amphibians: Frogs and toads, which feed on a variety of insects, can also consume antlions if they encounter them.

What is the prey of antlion?

Antlions primarily prey on small insects, with their diet varying slightly depending on their life stage. As larvae, they eat ants and other smaller insects such as beetles, spiders, and various arthropods.
Adult antlions primarily feed on nectar. However, some species might also consume small insects, but they are not as voracious predators as they are in their larval stage.

Is the antlion the prey or predator?

The antlion plays both roles in the ecosystem. In its larval stage, the antlion is a formidable predator. It creates conical sand pits to trap small insects, with ants being a primary food source. 
When these insects fall into the pit, the antlion larva grabs them with its sharp mandibles, injects them with digestive enzymes, and consumes the liquefied insides.
But despite their predatory nature, antlions are not exempt from predation themselves. They are preyed upon by various creatures, including birds, spiders, larger insects, and amphibians.

How do antlions eat their prey?

Antlion larvae trap insects in conical sand pits. Once an insect falls in, the larva uses its mandibles to grasp the prey, injecting it with digestive enzymes. 
These enzymes liquefy the insect’s insides, which the antlion then consumes, leaving only the exoskeleton behind. 
This efficient method maximizes nutrition while conserving energy.

Conclusion

With their distinctive predatory tactics and intriguing lifecycle, antlions play a significant role in the ecosystem. 

As predators, they help control populations of ants and other small insects, contributing to the intricate balance of nature. 

However, in areas where human habitats intersect with their natural environment, they can be perceived as both fascinating and potentially bothersome. 

While they pose no direct harm, their presence in gardens or homes might prompt individuals to seek control measures. 

Antlions face predation from birds, spiders, larger insects, and amphibians. Encouraging these predators in your garden can help keep their populations in check.

They can also be managed through habitat modification, natural repellents, and physical barriers.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, 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 – Antlion

 

Any luck yet?
Have you had any luck identifying that clear spotted wing insect picture I sent you. In case the attachment didn’t go through I am sending it again. I keep seeing these all over my porch and out by the pole lights. I have done numerous searches on the web including your site and bug guide and I am unable to locate this insect. It isn’t in any of the guides I own either. Any help is appreciated.
Thank you
Shelly
Savannah, MO



Hi Shelly,
You can locate images and information on the Antlion on our Neuropterans page.

Letter 2 – Antlion

 

Having problems IDing some bugs
I have several pictures. I have been on your website for the past 3 1/2 hours and have been unable to locate all of our bug picture collection. I have sent you a few of them. I would appreciate your help. My 7 year old son and I have been collecting bug pictures for quite some time and have looked in several books and several web sites. Your’s by far is the best. Thanks. p.s. we live in central Oklahoma, that might prove helpful in the identification. Thanks again.
Mitzi



Hi Mitzi,
In order to streamline our posting, we will try to identify your creatures one at a time. Our favorite is the Antlion photo.

Letter 3 – Antlion

 

neuropteran?
Insect below observed July 27, 2005 in Jackson County, Alabama. On siding of house next to light left on all night. Size about 5+ cm . What’s that bug? Clear wings with lots of veins and the terminal ends of the forewing look liked they were dipped in wax.
Some sort of neuropteran?
Paul



Hi Paul,
We searched on BugGuide for a species name for your Antlion, which is in fact a Neuropteran. We believe it to be in the genus Glenurus, maybe G. gratus. Would you mind if we also posted your image on BugGuide?

Letter 4 – Antlion

 

Stonefly – Damselfly Cross With Black & Pink Wing Tips
Dear Bugman:
OK, if that subject line didn’t catch your attention and you don’t look at the photos, I’m toast. I live in far northern Arkansas in Carroll County within a few miles of the Missouri state line. This beautiful creature showed up at our lights this morning. We were expecting moths, but this is a wonderful bug. I have exhausted my field guides and searched every site I know on the internet. This is your cue to reply that I have sent a very common bug, known to even 8 year olds. But no matter, I am now so curious that I just want to know what I’ve found. I love your site, but like my own collection of photos it has grown to enormous proportions. Keep up the great work guys and thanks for any help you can give me.
David



Hi David,
This magnificent specimen is an Antlion, Glenurus gratus.

Letter 5 – Antlion

 

Subject:  Flying insect covered in white hairs Geographic location of the bug:  Southeast Florida Date: 09/30/2017 Time: 08:09 AM EDT I’ve been living in Florida all my life but this is a first. I did not kill it or disturb it.I just took a picture it.I was at a park and it was resting on a fence post.Can you tell me the name of this thing and what it does? How you want your letter signed:  George M
Antlion
Dear George, This is an Antlion in the genus Vella.  The common name refers to the larvae, also called Doodle Bugs, that live in sandy soil at the bottom of a pit where they wait with only their mandibles exposed, ready to eat anything that tumbles into the pit. 

Letter 6 – Antlion

 

Subject:  Possibly a female Eastern Dobson fly ? Geographic location of the bug:  Virginia – Northern VA rainy night Date: 07/21/2018 Time: 11:40 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  This seems to match the female Eastern dobson fly photos best, if the wing patterns can be variable and the lovely orange middle part to the antenna is permissible, except the mouth parts are not quite as large as usually shown on female dobson flies (I could not get a good mouth photo as she was so tight to the concrete and fidgety) and she was under two inches which seems small except it’s likely posted photos are often the exceptional and impressive individuals (thus the prevalence of male dobson photos)… so what bothers me is Mainly the abdomen seems much longer and somewhat more slender than any of the dobson photos. That last detail has me concerned that it’s some closely related insect and not exactly a dobson. Relative body length seems to be a somewhat odd thing to have be so variable… Thank you so much for the time and attention that goes into this entire web site. It’s super helpful and always fascinating! How you want your letter signed:  My insect collection is all photos
Antlion
This is an Antlion, not a female Dobsonfly and we believe we have identified it as a Spotted Winged Antlion, Dendroleon obsoletus, thanks to images on BugGuide.  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 (based on photos in the guide)” and “Adults often come to lights.”  Because of your image based insect collection (which we are guessing is a class project) we are tagging your submission with the Bug Humanitarian Award.  We have gotten both praise and grief in the past for not identifying some requests because we believe students need to learn to do research, but since your submission contained an actual attempt at identification, we have relaxed our policy on doing homework. Wow! Thank you! I really was off… No, my image based bug collection is Not a “class project” – I’m 63 and although life can certainly include (and really should) prolonged or never-ending education, I’m not enrolled in any college classes anymore. I just like bugs – you can relate no doubt! I do carry spiders outside and never squish a smaller critter, but my award is undeserved in this case, not being a student (except life-long)… Wanted to be an entomologist when I was a kid, became a psychologist, and yet I still love the insect types of “buggies”… Again, many thanks for the correction and I’ll make that correction on my photo title.  

Letter 7 – Antlion

 

Subject:  What is this bug Geographic location of the bug:  Ocean City Maryland Date: 08/14/2018 Time: 09:06 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  We saw this insect or bug on a fence post on the dunes August 14, 2018. Do you know what it is How you want your letter signed:  Dee Lis
Antlion
Dear Dee, This is an Antlion in the family Myrmeleontidae.  Larvae are called Doodlebugs.

Letter 8 – Antlion

 

Subject:  Flying insect identification. Geographic location of the bug:  Patagonia Az Date: 09/07/2021 Time: 03:08 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  We saw this creature clinging to the wall of a public restroom. It is about 2.5 inches long How you want your letter signed:  Tommy and Julia
Antlion
Dear Tommy and Julia, This is an adult Antlion.  The larvae known as Doodlebugs bury themselves in the sand at the bottom of a pit waiting for ants and other hapless insects to tumble into waiting jaws.

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.

1 thought on “What Eats Antlions? Mystery Unveiled”

  1. I discovered an Antlion on the outside screen on my Lanai. It has just been sitting there for about an hour. I live in Grand Island, Florida (09-18-2021). My photo matched yours almost exactly with a slightly different design on the wings. Length is about 3 inches.

    Reply

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