(12 May 2017) The Australian antlion has helped shape the Theory of Evolution. So, who is this clever critter?
If an ant enters the conical pit of the antlion, it’s time for its last rites: it won’t escape alive. The ant slips to the bottom, where it is immediately seized by the lurking antlion. If it attempts to scramble up the treacherous walls of the pit, it is speedily checked in its efforts and brought down by showers of loose sand which are thrown at it from below by the predator.
The antlion is the larva of a – nocturnal – flying insect resembling a lacewing. Itsd fierce image not only give it its name in English, but even its scientific name: Myrmeleo is derived from Ancient Greek léon (λέων) “lion” + mýrmex (μύρμηξ) “ant”. In the USA it is called “doodlebug” because of the odd winding, spiraling trail it leaves in the sand when relocating to a new spot. Most pole-houses on the mountain have resident antlions in the sand under the ground floor.
The antlion’s head includes an enormous pair of sickle-like jaws with several sharp, hollow projections used for injecting venom to immobilise the victim. The larva can live up to several years, but the adult antlion lacewing only lives for a few weeks.
Charles Darwin wrote in his diary in January 1836, when traveling near Bathurst NSW that he discovered an antlion, very similar to the European antlion, but obviously a different species. He wondered why a creator would have made two different ant-lions instead of one: “Surely, two distinct creators must have been at work”.
It triggered his thinking about Evolution even more: religion did not give satisfying answers.
Taking a photo of an antlion is hard work. As it normally hides under the sand, one needs to scoop up an entire pit and find the antlion in the sand. Because it is covered in tiny sand particles it is hard to see, and cleaning it with water works if you take time enough to let it dry up. Then back in the sand, and take the photo before it disappears again. Being only 6mm long, it required my 60mm macro lens: f/11, 1.6 sec, tripod, torch light and ISO 100 provided enough depth of field.