The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Doodlebugs Are Strange Creatures
by Ro Wauer

I suppose that if doodlebugs were giants and free-roaming, they would star in some of our most scary movies. Instead they are tiny creatures that are very rarely seen. Small ant- sized, doodlebugs live underground in dirt areas in our yards and elsewhere. They actually are the larval form of antlions. They built little pits about one inch in depth in the fine dirt at the edge of buildings and cliffs at this time of year. Each pit is an inverted pyramid with rather steep sides, designed so that when an ant walks across the pit it will slide backward to the bottom. Suddenly, the dirt at the bottom of the pit will be thrown upward, slowing the ant's progress so it will again slide backward into the bottom. It is then that the ant is suddenly grabbed and eaten by the doodlebug.

Recently, I watched this activity for several minutes, as an ant fought furiously to escape by ascending the loose dirt of the pit. But just as it was about to reach the top, the tiny creature hiding underground below the center of the pit flipped dirt upward, and the ant again slide backward. Then, just as the ant was starting its uphill climb again, two tiny pinchers grabbed the ant from underneath, and I watched as the ant was slowly dragged out of sight. I had observed a doodlebug capture its prey, and I knew that below the surface, the predatory doodlebug was feeding on the unfortunate ant.

Such acts of nature occur thousands of times a day, all across the southern states. It is simply the method that this particular kind of insect has developed to capture prey. And these kinds of actions are readily available to anyone with the curiosity to watch.

Our doodlebugs are the larval form of a species of antlion, a delicate, four-winged insect of the family Myrameleontidae. Antlions, about two inches long, look very much like lacewings or pale damselflys. They possess two pairs of long, narrow, multiveined wings and a long, slender abdomen. They are rather feeble fliers and often are attracted to light after dark. And they often can be found during the daytime on the walls and screens of buildings.

Eggs, laid in the dirt, produce a small colony of soft-bodied larvae with strong sicklelike jaws. Each larvae (doodlebug) digs a funnel in the dirt to aid in capturing ants. After feeding on its prey, the doodlebug throws the remains clear of the pit, and the pit is repaired for the next meal. After some growth, the larval doodlebug builds a rough cocoon of sand and silk, from which it will soon emerge as a winged insect.

Anyone interested can find his or her own doodlebug pits and watch nature in the raw.

2 Comments:

At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Old Bogus said...

I live in Texas Creek, CO at an altitude of 7500' and we now have doodlebugs as well. I grew up in Texas with them all around but was amazed to see them here! A result of global warming or just a few mild winters, I have no idea.

 
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